On Fort Snelling's Upper Post, it's too late for building No. 63.
Just two years ago, the quartermaster's building was a candidate for renovation. But small holes in the roof grew bigger, and after a heavy snow about half of the roof collapsed. All that's left of that end of the once-handsome building is a tumble of bricks, splintered timbers, twisted metal and fallen red shingles.
Federal, state and county officials gathered at the Upper Post on Monday, vowing that such a historic loss would not happen again.
The 141-acre area, designated as one of the nation's top most endangered historic sites, has been a pivotal piece of land throughout Minnesota's saga.
It has served as a trading post and base from which campaigns against Indians were waged as well as a training ground for troops from the Spanish-American War to World War II.
After years of faltering efforts to save the Upper Post, officials said they are considering seeking congressional approval to clear up the tangled ownership of the site and set up a local commission to coordinate redevelopment of the 27 remaining and deteriorating buildings.
Similar commissions oversaw rehabilitation of historic military sites, including the Presidio in San Francisco and Fort Vancouver in Washington, said Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County commissioner.
"This is a great treasure," he said. "The conditions of the buildings are unacceptable. We need to find a way to sustainably redevelop the site."
The Upper Post is the fenced-off, weed-strewn part of Fort Snelling that lies on high land west of Hwy. 55. It was built mostly between 1870 and 1910, and was little used after World War II. Unlike Historic Fort Snelling -- which lies to the east, began in 1820 as a trading center and was bought and saved by the Minnesota Historical Society as a living history museum -- the Upper Post has seen little preservation.
Upper Post buildings were abandoned 10 to 50 years ago. Most have been scarred by vandals, and broken windows have allowed damage by birds and other animals like raccoons. But the biggest enemy has been water that creeps into walls and foundations and through leaky roofs, and the destructive freezing, thawing and heaving that follows.
In 2006, the Upper Post ended up on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the country's 11 most endangered historic places. The same year, Hennepin County got a $150,000 grant to repair and stabilize buildings using its Sentencing to Service program, which teaches inmates construction skills.
Windows were covered with plywood, doors sealed, roofs patched and sagging beams replaced. This year, state bonding provided another $500,000 to Hennepin County to continue work on mothballing buildings.
The endangered structures include a 50,000-square-foot hospital, three barracks, a prison, a morgue, barns, a bakery and a row of handsome homes called Officer's Row. The roofs on Officer's Row have been replaced.
County officials say there have been many redevelopment plans for Upper Post buildings, including housing, an American Indian museum and a massive youth athletic complex. The former polo grounds already is the site of baseball and soccer fields used by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
But other projects haven't progressed because a jumble of jurisdictions are involved in the site. While the state Department of Natural Resources owns the land, other state, federal and local government agencies also are involved and there hasn't been an overall management plan.
Royce Yeater, director of the Midwest office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said that for redevelopment to take place, land title issues first need to be cleared up. A commission that supervises redevelopment on the site would help speed renovation, he said, but he believes market forces would get things rolling two or three years after that.
Bonnie McDonald, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, agreed, pointing out that the Upper Post is near the Minnesota River, half a mile from a light rail station, a stone's throw from a major highway and next to the airport.
Renovating the buildings was estimated to cost $65 million in 2006, and today is estimated at roughly $80 million. Royce said he viewed that figure as a bit misleading because renovation would occur as individual projects, many likely paid for by private parties who could benefit from a federal historical rehabilitation tax credit. McDonald's group has been pushing Minnesota to adopt a similar tax credit.
Chuck Liddy of Miller Dunwiddie Architecture of Minneapolis, which has been managing recent efforts to preserve the Upper Post, said renovation and construction would have to meet historic specifications for architecture.
While he said, "anything is possible" as far as tenants and uses for buildings go, there likely would be some historic interpretation or other features to convey the significance of the area.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380