MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The oldest apartment building in Minneapolis is in the middle of a major restoration.

The former Oakland Apartments on 9th Street in Downtown West was built in 1889. It survived four fires, three near teardowns, and now three winters without a roof or windows. But the new developers are determined to spruce this place up.

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“This was in a row of other buildings like this, and this is kind of the last one standing,” said developer John Kistler.

The Oakland seems to have nine lives.

“When it burned, it went up into the roof between the ceiling and the roof,” Kistler said.

For years, developers have shied away from this roofless, fire-damaged 130-year-old building. But Kistler and his partner decided the city’s first-ever apartment building was worth rescuing

“Even some of the burnt timbers, we’re going to be able to use those in furniture and in vanities, so that we can continue to tell the story about this building,” Kistler said.

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When you start to look around, little interesting pieces appear. For instance, the building actually pre-dates electricity itself, so gas lines for a gas lamps are still visible.

“It was glorious, luxury apartments, but then in the Great Depression they got split up from six to 24 really tiny apartments,” Kistler said.

The estimated cost to restore the 24-studio units is about $3 million. But with permit flexibility from the city, Kistler plans to spend a fraction of that to save a priceless building.

“This is a super stout building, and I think it deserves to stay around because it’s survived so much,” Kistler said. “I am sentimental, but I think it’s also important, too.”

On the rooftop of the former Oakland Apartments, you can see just how far the city has come. Glass and steel is built up just about every way you turn. Developers want to add this building to the National Registry of Historic Places to prove once and for all that this place matters.

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Kistler says he hopes the apartments will be ready to rent in about a year and a half.

Erin Hassanzadeh