St. Paul preservationists on Monday scrambled to obtain a temporary restraining order to save the historic Justus Ramsey House, after learning that Mayor Melvin Carter was preparing to sign an executive order allowing its demolition.
Carter did just that. Just after 6 p.m., his office released an administrative order that called the house "a dangerous structure that requires emergency demolition in order to protect property and people from harm or damage should the structure collapse."
The order requires owner Mojtaba Sharifkhani to "immediately abate the property" after obtaining demolition permits. The mayor said inspectors found the building to be dangerous and have not been presented with alternative options to preserve the property.
Sharifkhani — who goes by the name Moe Sharif — owns Burger Moe's restaurant. The stone cottage, built in 1852, sits on the Burger Moe's restaurant patio on W. 7th Street.
Carter's order allows what preservationists have been fighting for weeks. Now, they hope the courts intervene. Tom Schroeder, a local attorney and preservationist, and several associations supporting the cottage's preservation now seek a court order blocking the building's destruction. Documents have been served to the City Attorney's Office and to Sharifkhani, he said.
The Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association, the Historic Irvine Park Association, Historic St. Paul and the West 7th Fort Road Federation/District 9 Council are asking the court to block demolition.
Sharifkhani has been seeking a demolition permit from the city after a wall of the cottage collapsed last summer. The city's Heritage Preservation Commission denied the request Dec. 4, after an impassioned Sharifkhani told commissioners that the cottage, which he said was damaged by stormwater entering through an opening in the roof, was in danger of hurting someone.
"You are literally liable, if a wall falls down and someone gets killed there," he said. "Please. You do the right thing."
Mike Zipko, a spokesman, issued a statement on behalf of Sharifkhani.
"We are reviewing the situation and have nothing additional to add at this time," Zipko said in a message.
Sharifkhani appealed the Preservation Commission's decision to the City Council. A hearing for that appeal had been scheduled for Wednesday, but the council agenda online Monday afternoon showed it was no longer on the docket.
A message left for Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the area, was not immediately returned.
The Justus Ramsey House is the oldest-surviving limestone house from St. Paul's pioneer era and is listed on three historic registers — including the National Register of Historic Places.
Schroeder, who owns the nearby Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery, said he is perplexed by the move to destroy one of the city's historic structures. Contrary to Carter's order, he said, there are alternatives to the building's demolition. Owners of a nearby vacant lot on W. 7th Street have agreed to buy the cottage and move it there, Schroeder said, in addition to paying for its restoration.
"They offered to take on the project if the city or some other party would fund the move," he said.
Rumors earlier Monday that Carter was on the verge of approving the cottage's demolition sent its champions into panic mode. Now, his order allows the Justus Ramsey House to be razed without any additional public hearings.
Schroeder on Monday parked his vehicle in front of Burger Moe's in hopes it would prevent a demolition crew from entering the patio through the front gate.
"None of this makes any sense," Schroeder said. "When there's bad blood, at least the other side tells you so. This has been just a complete stonewall, no pun intended."