ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Hamline University and neighbors are involved in a dispute surrounding a house from the 1880s that the university owns and plans to tear down.

Neighbors say tearing the house down would likely leave an empty lot in its place, as has happened with two other lots owned by the university just down the street. One of them has been an empty lot for roughly 10 years, the other for 25.

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The home at 1549 West Minnehaha Avenue – just off the Hamline University campus – looks worn and tattered, but it wasn’t always this way.

“It was called the G.D. Walcott house, and it was built in 1888 as a home for Professor G.D. Walcott, who was the head, the founder of the philosophy department here at Hamline University,” said Roy Neal, a co-founder of the Historic Hamline Village community group that is fighting to prevent the demolition.

Hamline University’s director of communications Jeff Papas says, however, that the home has “No known historic value, is a Category 2 listed building by the City of St. Paul. As such, it requires special permissions either to sell or renovate.”

Papas also said the cost for renovation is estimated to be more than $400,000.

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In March 2019, the Hamline Board of Trustees voted to demolish the property. Papas said the university has acted in good faith regarding the property with neighbors over a five-year period and will continue to do so, a claim with which Neal disagrees.

“Hamline University’s claim that (the house) has no historic merit is based on a misinterpretation of the results of a historic survey that was lobbied for by Historic Hamline Village,” Neal said.

The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve old buildings and sites, says it has been in talks with Hamline about the property over the past several years. The group tells WCCO it wanted to explore options to use the home as an educational setting and worked with Hamline University to learn more about the property and explore a partnership.

“We did not have a timeline, numbers or an offer on the table (to purchase),” said Doug Gasek, executive director of Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.

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Hamline University says it does not have a timeline for when it will tear down the home.

Erin Hassanzadeh