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Adapting History: The 1222 University Project

Loft-style Interior of the 1222 University Building

The Minnesota State Historic tax credit is instrumental in promoting the rehabilitation of historic structures across the state. Many of these buildings go through a process called ‘adaptive reuse’. Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was originally built or designed for. Through this process, the outer structure and ‘feel’ of the historic building are maintained but it’s interior layout may be altered to fit a new purpose – such as providing affordable housing, commercial office space or becoming a small business location.

Through our support of the State Historic Tax Credit, Rethos partners with many building projects that are adaptively reusing historic structures. Recently, our staff received a tour of one of these buildings, seeing firsthand how architects and developers give old buildings new purpose.

Black and white historic photo of 1222 University Building

Located on the corner of University Avenue W. and N. Griggs St. stands a four-story tall Modern Gothic Style commercial building. This building was originally constructed as the primary manufacturing site for the St. Paul Casket Company in 1923. The original building was designed in 1922 by the St. Paul architectural firm Allen H. Stem.

This site, now recognized on The National Register of Historic Places, was notable for its vertically designed assembly process, with raw materials being freight lifted to the top floor and assembly happening in different stages as the casket traveled down floor by floor. Additionally, the building housed a large showroom for funeral directors and individuals to view and purchase caskets on-site.

Kewanee boiler in 1222 University Building

Since the end of its use in casket manufacturing in the 1950’s, the building saw various usage as a warehouse for other companies. Recently, it was acquired by the development company JB Vang, who intends to renovate the structure. Utilizing both Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and Tax Exempt Bonds issued through the City of Saint Paul, JB Vang intends to convert the old St. Paul Casket Company building into a thriving, affordable housing community. The finished product, scheduled for about a year from now, will bring 55 new units of affordable housing to St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.