When Mary Lou Maxwell spent more than a year and $160,000 renovating a Victorian house with a partner, she hoped her repairs would last another century.
They lasted less than 25 years before thieves and vandals took their toll.
The Bardwell-Ferrant house, 2500 Portland Avenue S, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as an example of Exotic Revival architecture. Its onion-dome towers topped with copper make it a distinctive local landmark.
But after Maxwell and renovation partner Jean Stewart sold the house in 2001, it fell into disrepair. Now in foreclosure, it's for sale, but with many of its historic features stolen or damaged.
"I hope we can see it get revived again," said Realtor Connie Nompelis, who has been trying to rally Minneapolis preservationists to protect the house.
On her blog, Nompelis described the damage as "the house-lover's equivalent to a murder scene."
The lock on the front door is broken; the door opens with a firm push.
Thieves have pried the original ceramic mantels loose from around the fireplaces. One of the few remaining original stained-glass windows has been bent and broken.
When renovations began in 1985, thieves went after many of the same objects, Maxwell said.
"Shortly after we started restoring it, the original stained-glass windows were stolen," she said. "They'd even pulled some of the fireplace bases off and had them sitting in the middle of the room."
They put the original mantels back. Now they're gone again.
"My immediate concern is security, since this is a historic property," Nompelis said.
The house's Moorish Revival architecture makes it a Minneapolis rarity, said Bob Roscoe, a Preserve Minneapolis board member and former member of the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.
Charles Bardwell built the house in 1883. In 1890, Emil Ferrant bought the Queen Anne home and hired architect Carl Struck to transform it, adding towers, arches and stained-glass windows.
"They were just part of that era when architecture went to extremes," Roscoe said. "They wanted exuberance."
Over the next several decades, the house fell into disrepair as the Phillips neighborhood declined, he said.
Maxwell and Stewart bought the house in 1985 and poured time and money into restoring it, dividing it into four apartments.
"It was in real bad shape when we started, and we did a tremendous amount of work," Maxwell said.
But keeping it up and monitoring tenants became too much work, she said.
"It was challenging, and at first we had a very good time," Maxwell said "The neighborhood makes it really difficult to keep the house up."
Since Maxwell and Stewart sold it, the house has been in decline, Roscoe said.
"As happens in that neighborhood, unfortunately, when new ownerships are not quite as fit as the previous one, it's downward step by step, and that's what happened here," he said.
Historic properties are supposed to be kept in good repair, Roscoe said. A Minneapolis ordinance passed in 2001 holds owners of historic homes to a higher standard of maintenance.
But so far, the ordinance hasn't been enforced, he said.
"It's one thing to have this in the ordinance," he said. "It's another for the inspections department to have the manpower to get out there and actually do it."
The house has fallen between the cracks, Nompelis said. But as a Realtor, she hopes it will find a buyer.
"I think it has a great chance of being sold," she said. "I hope it will appeal to a preservationist who will restore it."
Maxwell, who didn't know about the damage, said she was disappointed to see the renovation she wanted to last a century fall backward only seven years after she sold the property.
"That's too bad," she said. "It's a beautiful house."
Libby Nelson • 612-673-4758