For many writers, Minneapolis-born author and journalist Brenda Ueland’s home near Lake Harriet was a sanctuary for creativity and encouragement.
But the 117-year-old farmhouse has had multiple owners since Ueland died in 1985 at age 93, and it has been altered since she lived there.
On Friday, a divided Minneapolis City Council greenlighted the demolition of the house despite a recent push from locals to preserve it.
Ueland is best known for her 1938 book, “If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.” The book was reprinted by Minneapolis’ Graywolf Press in 1987 and has sold more than 250,000 copies in the United States and Canada.
Ueland lived in the two-story house at 2620 W. 44th St. for 31 years. Developer John Gross has lived across the street for 22 years and bought the house for $840,000 last fall.
The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission voted 6-1 in February to deny the demolition and called for a historic designation study for the property. The Minnesota Historic Preservation Office has to have a study before it can state if a property qualifies for the National Register.
Gross appealed, and the City Council voted 6-5 Friday to allow the demolition.
Area resident Walter Pitt said community members are upset that the house could be destroyed without a study. “If they’re not going to do a study for her, who are they going to do it for?” he said.
Advocates say that because Ueland is a significant person and lived in the home for three decades, the house meets the requirement for the historic designation. Ueland’s step-grandson Eric Utne said some of her most significant essays were created in the house.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents the area, said the home has been altered repeatedly since Ueland left, leaving no reasonable alternative considering the amount of work it would take to restore or refurbish. Palmisano voted in favor of Gross’ appeal.
She said she supports other ways of celebrating Ueland, such as with public art. She said Ueland’s ties to the home aren’t apparent; there’s no plaque saying she lived there.
“There’s the opportunity to bring so many more people into the public fold of knowing who this great person was and honoring her legacy,” she said.
Gross has voluntarily committed $70,000 for public art in honor of Ueland.
In a letter to city officials, Linden Hills resident and author Cheri Register wrote that it’s important for communities to preserve“seemingly obscure places” to share history with future generations.
“It can be life-changing for young women to learn that a bold, original, forward-thinking writer, feminist, literary mentor, and social critic walked on their streets, passed under their trees, and swam in their lake. A real, live woman — not a TV character,” she wrote.
Ueland was born in Minneapolis in 1891. Her mother was a national suffragist leader and her father was a lawyer and judge. She graduated from Barnard College in New York City in 1913 and moved back to Minneapolis in 1930.
Utne compared Ueland to Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe — all writers whose work wasn’t celebrated or well known until after their deaths.
“People are only now beginning to realize how important she was,” he said.
Haley Hansen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.