Minnetonka Beach Looks into Getting Water Tower Listed on National Register

City of Minnetonka Beach water tower Photo: Courtesy of AKAY Consulting
City of Minnetonka Beach water tower

June 13, 2018 03:31 PM

The Minnetonka Beach water tower dates back to 1928.

Over the years, it's become a community symbol to residents of the small Hennepin County city, located on a peninsula jutting into Lake Minnetonka.


"It's definitely a landmark around here," City Administrator Susanne Griffin said. "Similar to the Lafayette Country Club or St. Martin's Church, it just adds to the charm of the community, and people like that."

She added, "There's a reason we're called the City of the Village of Minnetonka Beach. People here value that village-type feel. And the water tower is a big part of it."

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In an effort to preserve that connection, city officials have begun the process of exploring whether or not it makes sense to get the 140-foot-tall water tower listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would increase access to various grants that could help in its upkeep.

A survey and evaluation meant to determine whether the water tower would be eligible was completed earlier this year.

"We got a grant to get some money to do the study, and we've made some progress," Griffin said, "but there are a number of steps in the process that still have to be completed. And we have to determine what restrictions would come from being on the list, and if those are restrictions we'd be willing to accept."

She added, "That's a discussion the city council still needs to have. So we're very much still in the investigative phase at this point, exploring what our options are."

If the water tower was added to the register, it would join others in or near the metro area that have been added in recent years. The water tower in Elk River was added in 2012, and the water tower in Osseo was listed last year.

Like the one in Minnetonka Beach, both are hemispherical-bottom towers - a style that was the industry standard in the first part of the 20th century, characterized by its rounded bottom.

"People call them tin-hats, and they really do have a throwback feeling to them," said Alexa McDowell, a Twin Cities-based architectural historian who served as a consultant to Elk River and Osseo in the process of getting those water towers listed, and is now working with Minnetonka Beach, as well as assisting in a just-underway process in Blooming Prairie.

"If you lived in a town with a hemispheric water tower, it probably was part of the memories you had of growing up there."

On the Register

Minnesota municipal water towers currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places

  • Cuyuna*
  • Brainerd
  • Crosby* (no longer exists)
  • Deerwood*
  • Ironton* (no longer exists)
  • Trommald*
  • Kasson
  • Prospect Park (Minneapolis)
  • Washburn Park (Minneapolis)
  • Pipestone
  • Highland Park (St. Paul)
  • Elk River*
  • Osseo*

* Examples of the hemispherical-bottom style

Source: List compiled by architectural historian Alexa McDowell from the National Register of Historic Places

The listed water towers in Osseo and Elk River, however, are no longer in use. The one in Minnetonka Beach still is, and Griffin said the city has not discussed any plans to replace it.

The tower holds a capacity of 50,000 gallons. Griffin said the city also has an interconnected system with Orono it can use in case of emergencies.

In addition, she said the city is currently working on getting a ground storage reservoir with a capacity of 75,000 gallons back up and running.

A total of 13 water towers in the state are currently listed on the National Register, according to McDowell. Of those, seven are examples of the hemispherical-bottom style (though two, those in Crosby and Ironton, no longer exist). The others, including the Prospect Park water tower in Minneapolis known as the Witch's Hat, are examples of even older styles.

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But, hemispherical-bottom water towers are becoming more and more rare. According to the study McDowell helped produce, only eight other such municipal water towers are still standing within a 50-mile radius of Minnetonka Beach.

"The metro area has lost so many of these types of water towers over the years," she said. "Typically, they've been in the suburbs; and when those suburbs really started to grow, the hemispheric-type tower was just too small to meet the needs of the community so they became insufficient."

She added, "and they were usually demolished."

But McDowell said in a community like Minnetonka Beach, the water tower is a part of history - not just the town's, but the surrounding area's as well.

"It's the only one left in that style on the lake, and people all over use it as a point of reference," she said. "You look up and see that tower, and you know just where you are."

Minnetonka Beach City Council Member Andrew Myers, who has played a leading role in exploring the possibility of listing the water tower, said residents and other council members have been supportive of looking into the into the idea. Though a number of people have expressed concern about possible restrictions.

"Most people I've talked to, be it people in the community or other council members, have been happy to move forward with the process," he said, "but they do want to make sure it doesn't come with any big restrictions that would prevent us from taking action if (the water tower) ever becomes unserviceable, or we needed to retrofit it."

Myers continued, "But my understanding from working with the (Minnesota) Historical Society is that the only restrictions would come if we were ever to receive some of the larger state or federal grants. Just being on the list wouldn't prevent us from taking any steps we needed to."

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McDowell said the advantages of being placed on the National Register usually outweigh any drawbacks.

"There's a lot of perceived disadvantages, and any City Council worth their salt is going to investigate what they may be," she said. "But there are typically no restrictions when it comes to what you can do with a place when it's listed.

McDowell said there may be certain guidelines that need to be followed if state or federal funding is involved. However, the grants available, as well as the prestige, make being on the list advantageous, she added.

Zack Carlton, the city planning manager in Elk River, agreed with that assessment. The city is about to undertake a project that would include the pressure washing and repainting of its historic water tower and is applying for a grant that would cover 80 percent of that cost.

He said the water tower wouldn't necessarily need to be on the National Register to be eligible, but the fact that it is likely puts them higher on the list.

"It also opens up some more federal grant opportunities that wouldn't be available otherwise," Carlton said. "Then there's the statement that it makes about historical importance. It shows that what we have in our city is worthy of being recognized on a national level."

Carlton said being on the National Register may make restoration projects a bit more cumbersome because of the prescribed methods that must be followed, but he sees even that as a plus.

"Is it worth it to know you're taking the time to see it's done correctly," he said. "Or do you just want to rush through it to get something done? Because that's when it's possible things could get damaged." 

If Minnetonka Beach elects to continue the process, Griffin said the expectation is the water tower could be added to the list sometime in 2019. It is scheduled to be discussed at the next council meeting in July.


Frank Rajkowski

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