Renovation of St. Paul's oldest commercial structure nears the finish line

Tom Schroeder is aiming to accomplish a lot of firsts with his long-running effort to convert St. Paul’s oldest surviving commercial building into both a historical interpretive center and microbrewery/taproom.

http://www.startribune.com/renovation-of-st-paul-s-oldest-commercial-structure-nears-the-finish-line/320960021/
Photo by Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Two of the possible firsts include the first taproom in Minnesota to be incorporated as a “public benefit corporation” and the first Twin Cities microbrewery to concentrate solely on the time-consuming production of authentic traditional German lagers.

But to Schroeder — an attorney at the Minneapolis firm Faegre Baker Daniels as well as a historic preservationist and avid home brewer — the “first” he most cares about is the chance to transform his 158-year-old Anthony Waldman House into the Stone Saloon via the first implementation of a new city provision his project helped spur.

He and his wife, Ann, purchased the pre-Civil War limestone structure at 445 Smith Av. seven years ago and undertook painstaking work to restore its exterior. Next week, Schroeder faces a key test when the St. Paul Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) considers the building for official designation status. After that, he’ll seek a “historic use variance,” a first in St. Paul.

The Waldman House seems like a pretty good bet to win the HPC’s recommendation as a St. Paul heritage preservation site: Schroeder has made a convincing case that it is the oldest surviving building in the city originally built for a commercial purpose. His research shows German immigrant Anthony Waldman operated it as “lager saloon” from 1857 to 1863. It and four other limestone houses in the W. 7th Street neighborhood are being considered together under a thematic application.

Should that be approved, next on Thursday’s HPC agenda would be a vote to recommend approval of a historic use variance for the Waldman House under an ordinance passed in June that for the first time allows the original historic use of a structure in any zoning district — something that has been on the books in Minneapolis and other cities for years to encourage adaptive reuse.

“St. Paul didn’t have a historic use variance, and even though it was listed as an objective in the comprehensive plan for many years, for some reason it never happened,” he said. “When we started this project, we realized that was the ideal. We could do our project, plus give the city the gift of a new ordinance that would help other historic projects as well.”

Several more approvals, by the city planning commission and City Council, must follow, but gaining the HPC’s blessing on the variance is crucial and would give the Stone Saloon the momentum to attract financing.

To Schroeder the history buff, working with St. Paul Council Member David Thune, Mayor Chris Coleman’s office and neighbors to help establish a precedent in the city’s preservation regime is probably the ultimate reward. But to Schroeder the beer nerd, the real fun would be to build a 45-barrel-capacity brewery in a new, connected building. Its role would be to enhance a “time travel” experience back to 1857.

In re-creating an authentic St. Paul German lager saloon experience, Schroeder called on brewing consultant Bob DuVernois to recommend the best way to accomplish the very unusual goal of producing lagers using ingredients that would have been present in Minnesota during the territorial and Civil War period, such as two-row barley and German noble hops.

“The unique thing will be the use of horizontal rather than vertical fermentation tanks,” DuVernois said. “This is being done not only to efficiently use a small space, but also because it’s the best way to bring out the flavors of lager yeasts during the six-week process it requires.”

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be contacted athotproperty.startribune@gmail.com.

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