Justus Ramsey Stone House reports raise possibility of demolition — or relocation – Twin Cities

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When St. Paul restaurateur Moe Sharif applied to the city for a demolition permit this summer, he listed the structure as a “storage shed.” The historic Justus Ramsey House, believed to be the oldest limestone house still standing in its original location in the city, is in the eyes of historic preservationists anything but.

The unusual structure sits on the West Seventh Street patio of Burger Moe’s, and its uncertain fate after a partial collapse of a side wall has drawn the interest of a wide cross-section of the city’s downtown civic leadership, including the mayor’s office.

On Monday, in front of an audience of some 50 onlookers, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted 4-1 to delay a final decision over Sharif’s demolition application — as well as public testimony — until Dec. 5, giving all sides more time to negotiate an amenable solution.

“This is incredibly frustrating,” said Elyse Jensen, president of Historic St. Paul, after the vote. “This is totally unnecessary. We shouldn’t even be here. It sets a really dangerous precedent — demolition by neglect.”

Two-foot limestone walls

Sharif submitted to the city an engineering report from BKBM Engineers this summer that called the ailing structure ripe for demolition and a danger to public safety.

A dueling report from MacDonald & Mack Architects commissioned by the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development found just the opposite: two-foot limestone walls that could yet be repaired, and a house that, if necessary, could be picked up and relocated to another part of the city.

“Due to the simplicity of the interior … returning the interior to an appropriate finish would not be difficult or costly,” reads the city-commissioned assessment.

The Justus Ramsey House condition assessment, filed on Oct. 7 by MacDonald & Mack, a Minneapolis-based architecture firm specializing in historic preservation, indicated that the work required to repair the damage is “not exotic.” The report states that stone in the rubble pile can be used for rebuilding and supplemented with additional limestone.

The report also cited evidence that roof rafters, sheathing, stud and chimney brick were removed other than through natural causes and were not found among the collapsed debris. Sharif, through his attorney, has pointed to building alterations that likely occurred in the 1940s, some 60 years before he acquired the property.

Too much deferred maintenance?

The most significant damage includes the roof, chimney and two walls of the house. The city’s report stated that the “observed deterioration does not correlate with natural deterioration mechanisms.”

“It is unusual to find holes in a roof that does not show evidence of rot through every layer of the assembly in the area of the hole,” the report states. “It is unusual to find a chimney that is not used to exhaust hot air and gasses in poor repair… Rapid deterioration and structural failure of the chimney, especially the section of masonry missing under the roof, must have been caused by another event.”

The city’s report concluded that a majority of the damage to the Justus Ramsey house appeared to have been caused by deferred maintenance and a lack of repair of the structure, and that the damage to the north wall and to the chimney was observed several months ago with “no corrective action being taken at the time.”

After the hearing Sharif released the following statement: “Moe cares deeply about the community and Saint Paul’s history.  He is open to any conversation regarding the best way to preserve the legacy of the building and the history it represents.”

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