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Historic Justus Ramsey House saved from demolition, for now

The battle over a 170 year old St. Paul building with diverse history
The battle over a 170 year old St. Paul building with diverse history 02:14

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The battle brewing over whether to preserve one of the oldest buildings in the state and the debate to demolition the building or not, is revealing some interesting history.

One-hundred-seventy years ago, in 1852, Justus Ramsey, the younger brother of Minnesota's first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, lived in a small limestone home on what is now West 7th Avenue, just a few blocks from the Xcel Energy Center.

Today, that house still stands and is named after him -- the Justus Ramsey home. It sits on the outdoor patio of Burger Moe's and is currently owned by that restaurant's owner, Moe Sharif.

"It's still here to show future generations what this town once looked like," said Tom Diamond, one of the several preservationists who stood outside the Justus Ramsey House Monday night into Tuesday to put pressure on Sharif who wants to knock it down.

"If we see any action, we will call the police. Nobody wanted it to come to this point, but it did," said Meg Duhr, another one of the neighbors who is working to preserve this historic site.

Sharif filed for a permit in the fall to demolish the building, citing safety concerns.

building assessment report provided at a Heritage Preservation Commission meeting shows pictures of a collapsed wall, holes in the roof and a missing chimney.

"To this date, since October, Moe [Sharif] has refused to meet with any of the community organizations to just talk about any solution," said Duhr.

Not only do these preservationists want to save this house because it's older than the state of Minnesota itself, but also because of the diversity of who has lived in the home.

"Between the 1890s and into the 1930s, multiple generations of black families lived here," said Duhr.

Pictures, owned by Historic St. Paul, show the Black female-owned hair parlor that was built in front of the Justus Ramsey house in the late 1800s. The parlor owner, Lizzie Battles, lived inside the historic home in the back of the parlor.

"They lived in it, had a shop in it -- it raised families," said Diamond.

Historic St. Paul said the last residents of the Justus Ramsey Home was an openly-gay couple, who turned the home into an antique shop in the 1930s and 40s.

On Monday, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter signed an order for emergency demolition, calling it "structurally unstable and dangerous."

These neighbors filed a temporary restraining order that a judge signed off on early Tuesday morning. Mayor Carter says he will comply with the court.

Neighbors say they are standing watch near the home in shifts.

"We just want to make sure that the restraining order is followed," said Duhr.

A last-ditch solution these neighbors are offering for this home's future is to use grant money to carefully dismantle and rebuild the home on another lot in St. Paul for preservationists to maintain.

Sharif and his attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

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