The Richardsonian Romanesque mansion at the corner of Harmon and Spruce Place in Minneapolis has had many lives: family home, funeral parlor, restaurant, and even movie set for the film “Drop Dead Fred.” Most recently, it has housed Minneapolis Community and Technical College offices.

But damage to the building’s masonry, roof and electrical system, among other structures, would cost the school millions to repair. So college officials are hoping the city will take it off their hands. The school’s board of directors will consider declaring the Wells Family College Center and its adjacent land as surplus real estate at its May meeting. Then Minneapolis could buy the land for $1 and sell it to a developer.

“Given the nearly 20-year history of studies and various failed funding strategies for the Wells building, the college has concluded that it no longer can afford own the building,” board documents said.

The Minneapolis Community College Foundation bought the building in 1993. It housed federal program offices, student affairs personnel and courses for senior citizens learning computer skills. And it had a reputation for being haunted.

“Sometimes when I was working late at night, it would be creepy because the elevator would come up, and I wasn’t sure if there was someone on it or it was just a ghost,” said Jon Westby, former director of a program housed in the building.

The mansion was built in 1887 for Horatio Alden Smith, and designed by architect William Channing Whitney, also known for his work on the Minneapolis Club and the governor’s residence. The house, now on the national historic register, is one of the last of its kind in Loring Park, said Ginny Way, an architectural historian with the Minnesota Historical Society.

“This was a very prominent, upper-class neighborhood, and this is sort of a remnant of that,” Way said.


Jessie Bekker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.