St. Paul plans to demolish Hamline Midway Library; community members work to save it

St. Paul plans to demolish Hamline Midway Library; community members work to save it

St. Paul plans to demolish Hamline Midway Library; community members work to save it

A St. Paul library will close later this month for decommissioning before a new library is built in its place.

The city says Hamline Midway Library will officially close to the public on May 28 so staff can move everything into storage before construction on the new building starts this fall.

Before it closes, the library says community members can check out books, DVDs and other materials and keep them until the new library opens.

Officials say construction is expected to take up to 18 months from the time it starts this fall.

The new library is set to include features like an outdoor reading garden, an interactive play area for children, study and meeting rooms, a wellness room, an area for teens and space to feature public art. It’s also a one-story building and will feature low shelving for greater accessibility.

This rendering shows the new Hamline Midway Library planned in St. Paul. (City of St. Paul)

It’s something that has been in the process for years, and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s 2022 library budget address included the plan to allocate $8.1 million over two years to the library. After getting input from community members, the city moved forward with a plan to replace the nearly 93-year-old Hamline Midway Library.

“We are thrilled to be moving on next steps to deliver a brand new, state-of-the-art library for our community,” Carter said Thursday. “This is an exciting time to be part of the SPPL story as we continue to bring our Transforming Libraries vision to fruition.”

“We are deeply committed to building a new Hamline Midway Library that will allow us to equitably serve everyone in our community, especially those who are not currently using the library,” Maureen Hartman, the city’s interim library director, added. “We are grateful to all community members who participated in the process and are excited to welcome even more neighbors to the new Hamline Midway Library.”

While Hamline Midway is closed, the city encourages community members to visit any of the other 12 libraries, including the nearby St. Anthony Park, Merriam Park, Rice Street and Rondo Community libraries.

But a community group, calling itself Renovate 1558, opposes the plan and is fighting to save the historic building.

“If you tear this building down and replace it with a modern building, you’re losing a whole history,” said Tom Goldstein, co-founder of Renovate 1558.

He said a small group of neighbors came together three years ago when talks about demolishing the library first began.

Since then, more than 3,000 people have signed in an online petition to save the building, which dates back to 1930.

“The city’s been effective in convincing people this building is falling down. It’s not falling down,” Goldstein said. “We think the needs could be met with this building if the city would just listen.”

The City of St. Paul announced Thursday it plans to close the library to the public for ‘decommissioning.’

“After extensive community engagement to inform the transformation of Hamline Midway Library and guidance from technical experts, we have designed a state-of-the-art library that meets the needs of the community now and in the future,” said Hartman. “The new building incorporates the community’s desire for accessibility, dynamic spaces for meeting and studying, and a library that reflects the cultures of the neighborhood where everyone feels welcome. We also heard a value of history and so the new building honors our past by incorporating elements of the existing library building, like the stone arch entryway and cornerstone as well as salvaged brick and wood.”

“We’re really just excited about what a new library is going to do to sort of just bring energy and investment to the Hamline Midway neighborhood,” said Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library President Beth Burns.

Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library is a non-profit organization that represents people across the city who support libraries through donations, advocacy and program participation.

Burns supports the city’s plan to build a new library, noting she believes the old building does not meet the needs of the next generation.

“The current facility, while understandably nostalgic for folks, does not meet our current understanding of what a safe space looks like, what an accessible space means, what an innovative space can mean for people across the whole city,” Burns said.

Meanwhile, Renovate 1558 is taking steps to put the demolition on pause.

The group applied to have the library listed on the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting the building’s gothic revival architecture and social significance in the neighborhood.

The request was approved at the end of January, making it one of about 1800 properties in Minnesota with such a designation.

5 EYEWITNESS News asked the State Historic Preservation Office why the library was chosen as a historic site and received this statement in response:

“The construction of the library was the culmination of years of dedicated advocacy by the neighborhood, particularly the local Fortnightly Women’s Club. The Hamline Midway Library is associated with the community’s efforts to establish regular library services in the Hamline Neighborhood and its ongoing use as a place for education. The property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history, in the areas of education and social history… The nomination speaks to women’s history in a way other nominations of its type do not. While the official decisions were made by the prominent men in the community, the construction of the building would not have been possible without the work of the female community organizers. This important work is often overlooked in history and this story shows their meaningful impact this place and the built environment.”

We also asked them if being added to the National Register of Historic Places would prevent a building from being demolished. They provided this answer:

“There are several reasons why properties are nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the Nation’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation.  First, listing offers recognition on a national level.  Additionally, the NRHP is considered a planning tool that encourages preservation and continued use of listed places, and integrating consideration of historic places into local and state planning processes and decision-making.  National Register listing can offer some protection under Federal, state, and local preservation laws, access to Federal and state tax incentives, and may qualify for Federal and state grants/funding.  There are several factors for when Federal, state, and/or local preservation laws apply, such as public funding or involvement and level of designation (federal, state, and/or local).”

The City of St. Paul said the designation “does not preclude SPPL from moving forward with a new library” and noted it is participating in a consultation process with the State Historic Preservation Office following the building’s listing to the National Register of Historic Places.

A city spokesperson confirmed demolition is still scheduled for this fall, with construction expected to take 18 months.

Goldstein vows the battle over the library is not over.

“This is just kicking off the next phase. We think we’re going to have to take legal action to save this library because that seems to be the only thing the city respects is if there’s a court order,” Goldsein said. “We believe that the law is on our side, that as a historically designated property, the city has the obligation to demonstrate there’s no other feasible use for this building and we don’t think they can meet that burden.”

For more information on the preservation efforts through Renovate 1558, click here.

To learn more about the city’s plans for the new library, click here.