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Little Falls Demonstrates, Again, That It Won’t Commit to Preservation

By Erin Hanafin Berg, Policy Director

Exterior of Hurrle Hall in Little Falls, MN

In June, the Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve the demolition of a local historic landmark. The Friends of Hurrle Hall is a community advocacy group that has been trying to influence the owners of the building, the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, to sell and reuse the building instead. Friends of Hurrle Hall appealed the HPC’s decision to the Little Falls City Council. The Little Falls City Council held a public hearing to hear that appeal on June 20, 2022. I attended that meeting to assist the Friends of Hurrle Hall in their advocacy efforts and was one of several people who spoke against demolition. Following are the prepared remarks I delivered to the City Council. You can click here to watch a recording of the hearing, including my ad-libbed references to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards (which is essentially the Hippocratic Oath of preservation), other speakers’ support for preserving Hurrle Hall, and the questioning of the City Council members.

Exterior of Hurrle Hall in Little Falls, MN

My name is Erin Hanafin Berg, I am the policy director and deputy director at Rethos: Places Reimagined, a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people to historic places and promote community vitality. I hold a masters degree in historic preservation and have worked as a professional in this field since 1997. I served as a staff member to a historic landmarks commission for the first seven years of my career, and was on the board of the National Alliance of Preservation Commission for four years. I have been familiar with Hurrle Hall since 2015, when the State Historic Preservation Office held its annual Preserve Minnesota conference on the campus of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls and the building was first proposed for demolition.

In the document that was submitted to the Little Falls HPC that summarized the events over the past twenty years concerning the future of Hurrle Hall, one key piece of information was left out – that the building was listed as a historic landmark by the City of Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission, presumably in 2003 or 2004. I have in our files a copy of a letter dated Christmas Eve, 2002 from the Deputy SHPO, Brita Blomberg, acknowledging the building’s historic significance and stating that Hurrle Hall is worthy of local designation under the city’s historic preservation ordinance. At least as recently as 2015, there was an oval plaque on the exterior of Hurrle Hall, right next to the main entrance, that read “This property recognized by Heritage Preservation Commission, Little Falls Historic Landmark, Built 1891.”

The Little Falls Heritage Preservation Ordinance states that QUOTE “the city shall review all applications for a demolition permit to determine whether the affected property has been identified as a historic resource. If the city determines that the property is a historic resource, the heritage preservation commission may withhold a demolition permit for a period of up to ninety (90) days.” END QUOTE The fact that Hurrle Hall is a historic resource cannot be in dispute. It has been designated as such by the Little Falls HPC and has been found to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. As to the following sentence of the ordinance, there is some ambiguity around the word MAY. The ordinance does not say that the HPC May OPTION 1 or OPTION 2. The only option outlined is for the HPC to withhold a demolition permit for a period of up to ninety days. Based on my understanding of similar ordinances, I believe that this is a directive statement in the city code, stating that this is the only course of action that should have been taken by the Little Falls HPC - that rather than approving the demolition outright,