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Friday November 17th 2017

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The Burma Shave Historic Vine Church Legacy

By Steve Sandberg

The City of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve the Minneapolis Public Schools application for demolition of the historic Vine Church/Hugnad Hall/Winget Manufacturing/Burma Vita building at 2019 East Lake Street in Minneapolis. Commissioners Hunter Weir and Olson voted no. Save the Shave is considering an appeal.

Save the Shave reps Steve Sandberg, Shari Albers, Erin Berg and David West all presented various, historical, environmental, educational and cultural reasons for saving the building and other neighbors spoke up and showed up as well but in the end the politics of money and convenience prevailed over history and imagination.

Many of the Commissioners voiced respect for the rich history of the building and were not aware that the Winget Manufacturing started there with its owner Nell Walter Winget who patented several hat, clothing and undergarment designs and built a predominantly women employed company into a growing and successful concern. At the same time as women got the right to vote Nell Winget was running a nationally recognized business and later developed the Kickernick Building in downtown Minneapolis. The Commissioners seemed to agonize over how to preserve tangible history or possible artifacts from the demolition site even as they voted to destroy it.

Ironically, the staff report to the Commission did finally acknowledge that the building met one of its criteria for historical importance on the same day as the Commission voted to demolish it. Several commissioners thought that it was just too late to save the building at 2019 East Lake.

The history of the building is all about adaptation and change, the changes on Lake Street and the changes in our culture. The building has been a place of worship, a gathering place, a factory, a retail outlet and an office building. One wonders why it can’t be repurposed again as an Adult Education Site since it appears that’s what the Minneapolis Public Schools wants to put there. Strip away the ugliness and preserve the frame and perhaps use it for classes or leave it as a monument to the tremendous innovation on that corner. We should at least give it a good look as Commissioner Olson was saying and not assume we know the structure’s integrity based on a few photographs. Educators now own the building. The word educate comes from the Latin educere to draw forth and the English educe means to make something latent develop or appear.

The building has much to teach us about changing demographics, religion, immigration, commerce, advertising, poetry, fashion, design and of course history. Since the building was moved there in an era when wood frame buildings were something that you didn’t just destroy out of convenience, it might also educate us about reuse.

If only the owners were as interested in education as they are in new construction

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