A century-old St. Paul house slated for demolition by its new owners — much to the loud consternation of neighbors — instead will be sold to Macalester College, which has preserved and sold other nearby homes.
But the husband and wife selling the house say they are doing so after being harassed and bullied by many of those same neighbors since they bought it last fall, according to an op-ed column published Tuesday in a Highland Park-based community newspaper.
“Agitated neighbors made uninvited visits to my workplace and repeatedly trespassed on the Princeton Avenue property,” wrote Sherelyn Ogden in this week’s edition of the Villager. “The intensely emotional reaction of the neighbors and the intimidating e-mails I received caused me to feel threatened.
“All this precluded any reasonable discussion of the matter with the neighborhood.”
College officials confirmed Tuesday they had reached an agreement with Ogden and her husband, Allan Thenen, to purchase the large white Dutch colonial in the Tangletown neighborhood just west of Macalester. The couple paid $475,000 for it in November, and Ogden wrote that “we will lose money” in the transaction.
While the sale won’t close until next week, neighbors say they are happy and relieved that the house will remain standing on the site it’s occupied since 1910.
“We’re very pleased that she has decided to do that,” said David McCurdy, a retired Macalester professor who lives next door and had worried that new construction would damage the root structure of his 103-foot landmark American elm.
Of the neighborhood uproar, McCurdy added: “It was really unfortunate that it got this way.”
Ogden, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, wrote in the Villager that she and her husband first intended to renovate the house but found that would be cost-prohibitive. After former owners Henry and Pat West pointed out the possibility of dividing the lot, Ogden and Thelen decided to build a new house for themselves on one lot and sell the other.
Tangletown is not a historic district, nor does the house enjoy historic designation. But its twisting streets wind past cozy traditional homes from the early 20th century. When Ogden went door-to-door to tell neighbors of the couple’s plans, the response “was heated from the start. Of the neighbors I saw, some listened while others were openly hostile,” she wrote.
As word spread about the impending teardown, she wrote, inaccurate news stories followed and social media was used to “spread misinformation.” She received “negative e-mails” at work, she wrote, and the public was asked to withhold donations to her employer, the Minnesota Historical Society, where she is head of conservation.
Ogden wrote that she has preserved two century-old homes and that questions of historical preservation involve “more than sentiment and the age of a building.”
“Change is inevitable,” she concluded. “Harassment, intimidation and similar vigilante tactics may delay progress, but will not stop it. Working within the system to control and shape change is the only rational approach.”