One of the last clusters of tiny sidewalk storefronts in downtown Minneapolis will soon shut its doors forever.

Developers are planning to demolish a century-old building at 10th Street and Marquette Avenue to make way for an 18-story apartment tower, wiping out a longtime home for small, artistic businesses amid downtown’s corporate giants. Such proposals typically generate a preservation fight, but city officials say it would be futile because of a 15-year-old court ruling.

The wrecking ball will notably miss its historically designated neighbor, the Handicraft Guild building, which will be extensively rehabbed as part of the project. But the destruction of 1004 Marquette will erase a final glimpse of the diverse, narrow shops that once lured walkers in all corners of downtown.

On a recent afternoon, the sound of a freshly restored 302-year-old string instrument emanated from the upstairs shop of Givens Violins. Holding the bow was Mark Kramer, a musician who had flown from New York to pick up his viola da gamba. “Andrew Dipper is the foremost restorer of important historical instruments in the world,” Kramer said of Dipper, who shares the shop with his wife Claire Givens.

Josi Severson was meanwhile tending to her boutique downstairs, where she sells an array of colorful patterned products made from her textile designs. She will soon be forced to move them to a shop in the North Loop. “It’s too bad that there’s not more opportunities like this that exist in downtown for small businesses like us,” Severson said. “Because people want to support us.”

Her neighboring businesses include a wig shop, screen printer, art gallery, electronic music school, tailor, architecture firm and nail salon. Historical photos show a revolving array of retailers from florists to typewriter shops selling their wares to passing pedestrians — who were more common before skyways lured most of downtown’s foot traffic and shops inside.

“There was a new retail experience every 20 or 30 feet, where today you’re lucky if you get two stores on one block,” said Phillip Koski, an architect on the board of Preserve Minneapolis.

Coincidentally, many of those old street photos were shot by Norton & Peel, a prominent photography studio once based upstairs in the 1004 Marquette building. A fading advertisement for the studio is still painted on the brick exterior.

Council Member Lisa Goodman, who fought for the designation of both buildings during her first years in office, said she has mourned the loss of reasonably priced retail space downtown over the past decade.

“That is a major loss to the city. And it’s not insignificant,” Goodman said. “But I in government don’t believe I can tell property owners what they can charge for their space. That is a line I’m not willing to cross.”

Designation overturned

City officials say any chance of protecting 1004 Marquette under preservation ordinances was dashed after the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2000 overturned the city’s historic designation, following a lawsuit from its then-owner. “Despite assertions that the building was constructed to provide the [Handicraft] Guild with additional studio space … the record is devoid of evidence that the 1004 Marquette Avenue building is culturally or historically significant,” the court ruled.

The court simultaneously upheld the designation of the adjoining Handicraft Guild building. It once was home to a prominent arts organization representing the Arts and Crafts movement — a handcrafted approach to making leather, metal, clay and other goods in contrast to the industrialization of the early 1900s.

Developer Village Green is proposing to demolish 1004 Marquette and a small, newer building to the south, 1016 Marquette, to build a 293-unit apartment building. Five walk-up apartments will replace the storefronts on Marquette.

The Handicraft Guild building, whose tenants now include Dahl Violin Shop, a drum teacher and Devil’s Advocate restaurant, will be rehabbed to feature a leasing office, concierge services and a fitness center. The renovated building also will have a restaurant space on the ground floor, offices upstairs, and a main entrance for tenants connected to the apartment building by a three-story glass structure.

Village Green spokesman Jeffrey Kapuscinski offered a brief statement when asked about the project. “The Handicraft Building project is in the design development phase, where many details remain undecided,” he said.

‘Little Greenwich Village’

The changes to Handicraft, while restoring the building, will likely erase the last vestiges of what the Minneapolis Tribune in 1916 dubbed Minneapolis’ “little Greenwich Village.” That article described painters, jewelry makers, potters and others who inhabited its halls. In 1973, columnist Barbara Flanagan returned to find a thriving artistic community still operating there.

“[The owners] handed me the termination lease and said ‘Have a nice day,’ ” said Bob Black of Dahl Violin, which has operated in the Handicraft Guild building since the 1950s. “That’s all I’ve heard from these people.”

Dipper is an eager tour guide of 1004 Marquette’s architectural features. He and Givens created a small photo book highlighting its decorative tiles, arched central window, paneled wainscoting and large, ornate skylights. “If you look at pictures of the old ocean liners, it’s identical to this,” Dipper said, pointing to a row of doors in one section of the building. He believes the city did not use adequate resources to research the building’s history before giving up its legal fight to save it.

Dipper, who moved his shop here from England in 1990, said the city should do more to encourage street-level businesses, rather than allowing new developments to pull them into the skyways.

1004 Marquette also needs a lot of work: fixing a leaky roof and an old electrical system, repairing windows, adding insulation. “Even if it were not going to be torn down, I doubt we could stay here much longer,” said Claire Givens.

 

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