At the heart of preservation and restoration efforts are passionate people like John Kistler of Minneapolis who aim to protect as much architectural history as they can by saving many old buildings from demolition. In addition to a handful of other preservation projects in his city, Kistler was instrumental in saving the Oakland Apartments from destruction, which were built by Harry Wild Jones in the 19th-century.
Local preservationists like John Kistler of Minneapolis stepped in to save the historic Oakland Apartments which were slated for demolition by city code inspectors a few years back. The Oakland Apartments, which were built in 1889 by world-renowned architect Harry Wild Jones, stand as the oldest downtown example of the shared-entrance style of apartment complex in the city. Its presence speaks to Minneapolis’ rich history, so it fell on the consciences of investors and preservationists to ensure the historical landmark survived.
“Everybody has looked at its demolition as a way to avoid a financial loss. But the ultimate loss would be losing the building to time and neglect,” John Kistler of Minneapolis said.
The property suffered a fire in 2016, and it was deemed beyond repair and listed for demolition by city officials following the disaster. Instead, however, the Heritage Preservation Commission voted to deny the demolition permit requested by the city, and instead helped the Oakland apartments find a place on the market.
It was a tough sell to prospective buyers as many were underwhelmed by the assessed $600,000 the property was worth after being scarred in the fire. Before long, though, John Kistler, Norman Kulba, and an unnamed partner struck a deal with the owner of the building to purchase and restore what they could.
In the past, John Kistler and Norman Kubla have partnered together on historic restoration projects in the state with tremendous success. As a team, they essentially saved the Eugene J. Carpenter from demolition and restored the property to its former glory. For the Oakland Apartments, they crafted a plan to remake the complex into 24 units of affordable housing downtown that would be available to the public within a couple years.
“The building itself is a really strong indicator of a different time and place,” John Kistler of Minneapolis said. “It’s a really amazing building that was built in a time when people needed housing right downtown that was walkable to everything — because even the streetcar system wasn’t very developed then.”
The Preservation Alliance of Minneapolis states that the Oakland Apartments building is one of the last surviving remnants of 19th-century residential architecture that was once the focus of the downtown area. Much of the city’s other historical architecture was lost during reconstruction efforts in the 60s, and the Oakland Apartments, along with Minneapolis’ early row houses, are all that’s left of a distant past.
“We just like these old places and feel like Minneapolis is a beautiful city because of the history and what it’s gone through,” John Kistler said. “When we lose them, we lose a little piece of our city’s heritage, so it’s imperative we step up to save what can be saved.”