Two of downtown St. Paul’s most charming and prominent towers are about to get a face-lift that’s long overdue.
Next month, work is expected to begin on a $4 million project to repair and restore the red tile-clad roofs of the Landmark Center’s North and South towers, along with tuck-pointing of the entire building’s masonry.
Amy Mino, Landmark Center’s executive director, said the towers weren’t included in the 1970s restoration that transformed the former federal courts building, which rises like a castle over Rice Park, into today’s arts and cultural center.
About $3.5 million is being funded by Ramsey County, which owns the building. Additional funding comes from foundations and the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage legacy fund, with almost $400,000 left to raise, Mino said.
“This is sort of our first child, so to speak,” Ramsey County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega said at a kickoff Thursday for the 10-month project. “Even though there’s a lot of hullabaloo about the [recently restored] Union Depot, Landmark Center is the jewel in the crown of Ramsey County.”
Officials opened the North Tower to visitors, who walked up 62 steps for stunning views of downtown and the Cathedral of St. Paul.
The work will begin at that end before moving to the south end of the building, Mino said.
Landmark Center opened in 1902 as the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office, a French Romanesque concoction of towers and turrets that would be witness in coming years to gangster trials and important court rulings. Aggressive action by preservationists saved the building from being torn down for a parking lot, and it became Minnesota’s first structure named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The clay tiles and supporting structure of the tower roofs have never been replaced, unlike the building’s mansard roofs in the 1970s and the center roof in 2005. A recent roof evaluation and a broken clay tile last year convinced building manager Minnesota Landmarks that it was time.
The tiles will be replaced with exact duplicates made by the same company that produced them more than 100 years ago, Ludowici Roof Tile of New Lexington, Ohio.
The caulk that was used to seal masonry joints in the 1970s will be replaced by a limestone-based mortar similar to what was used when the structure was first built, Mino said. Caulk was cheaper and easier to use 40 years ago, she said, but it didn’t allow the building to “breathe and let the water out.”
The work, which will continue through October, take a winter hiatus and then resume in the spring, will require scaffolding around the building and force the closing of some traffic lanes. Work will be conducted by the Collaborative Design Group and Building Restoration Corp.
“It’s important to keep this building going for another 100 years,” Mino said.