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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.

Antique clock and weight

The building itself is an ideal candidate for this type of redevelopment. Its reinforced concrete structure provides solid basis for rehabilitation, with little major restoration required to the foundational components of the building. Likewise, the wide factory installed windows will allow plenty of light in residential rooms. Its location adjacent to public transit, sitting near the Lexington station of the light rail, makes it ideal for an affordable housing project not to mention immediate access to surrounding commercial businesses and Allianz Field. The layout and redesign of the building will be carried out by Pope Architects; Amy Lucas of Landscape Research is the historical consultant.

The tax credits and tax-exempt bonds being issued by the City of Saint Paul are an integral part of this project, helping JB Vang close financing gaps that would have otherwise made this project, along with the building it is preserving and the housing it will provide, unfeasible at the affordable rents being underwritten . There has been community wide effort between the City and the Union Park District Council in trying to preserve the historical integrity and rich character this building brings to the Midway while also providing access to much needed affordable housing.

Historic name:

St. Paul Casket Company


JB Vang

About JB Vang – founded in 1984 the firm offers development services, construction services, advisory and management services for real estate throughout St. Paul


Historic Consultant:

Landscape Research

Building History

  • Built between 1922-1923 and designed by St. Paul architectural firm Allen H. Stem.

  • Designed in commercial style with Modern Gothic detail.

  • Construction: reinforced concrete with structural clay tile partitions, roof and walls. Exterior is covered by light-gray-beige stucco.

  • Significance: It was the home for almost 30 years of a large specialized manufacturing company for caskets that was one of the most important in St. Paul and Minnesota at the time. Also significant for its notable example of a 1920s industrial building designed as a multi-story vertical urban factory.


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