After an all-night vigil outside St. Paul's historic Justus Ramsey House led to a Tuesday morning temporary restraining order saving the cottage from imminent demolition, preservationists turned their attention to permanently preserving this piece of the city's pioneer history.
City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the area, said she will introduce a resolution Wednesday directing $115,000 toward the cost of disassembling and moving the limestone cottage, currently located on the Burger Moe's restaurant patio. Combined with a local couple's offer to buy and restore the cottage after it's moved, Noecker said Burger Moe's owner Mojtaba Sharifkhani would be left to pay only what it would have cost to demolish the 1852 limestone house.
"I think it's a win-win," Noecker said.
Now, if she could only get Sharifkhani — who goes by the name Moe Sharif — to respond. While Noecker said she's spoken with his attorney, she has yet to speak with Sharifkhani.
"We ultimately need his permission to move forward with this plan," Noecker said. "Hopefully, it will come."
Mike Zipko, Sharifkhani's spokesman, was asked to respond to the proposal. "Let me check," he said.
As of 5 p.m., neither Zipko nor Sharifkhani had responded.
The cottage is the oldest surviving limestone house in St. Paul, and is listed on three historic registers. Sharifkhani applied for a demolition permit last summer after a back wall of the structure collapsed.
City inspectors agreed that the building's condition made it a potential danger and recommended it be demolished. But the city's Heritage Preservation Commission in December disagreed, and denied a demolition permit.
On Monday, Mayor Melvin Carter sided with inspectors and Sharifkhani and issued an order allowing the cottage to be razed. Preservationists, including area organizations, filed a lawsuit and asked for a temporary restraining order. After staying at the site all night, they convinced a judge to sign the order after 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Tom Schroeder, who has been leading the fight to preserve the 170-year-old stone cottage, has been asking why Sharifkhani and the city are in such a rush to demolish a recognized piece of St. Paul history. After all, he said, it's winter and there are no customers on Burger Moe's patio.
But Angie Wiese, director of the city's Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), said in an email Tuesday that despite the building's historic status, its deteriorated condition makes it dangerous.
"Although the patio is blocked off, if the building were to fall in another direction, it could harm the adjacent buildings, cause property damage to Moe's property or to people walking by on the street," Wiese said.
Without a safe, controlled demolition, she added, there is continued risk. That's why inspectors said the building should be demolished. Now that a temporary restraining order has been issued, Wiese said the city will comply.
Schroeder, who lives in the area and owns the nearby Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery that he restored several years ago, said there are viable alternatives to tearing down the house — if Sharifkhani is willing to consider them.
The small house was built in 1852 for Justus C. Ramsey, brother of Alexander Ramsey, who owned the property jointly with Alexander and others from 1849 to 1852. The first known resident was Robert A. Smith in 1853. Smith went on to become St. Paul's longest-serving mayor.
The building would later serve as an anchor for St. Paul's early Black community, as a home to railroad porters and shopkeepers.