Minneapolis okays demolition of feminist writer Brenda Ueland's Linden Hills home

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Historical preservation doesn't have as much as a prayer when the property sits on prime real estate in Linden Hills, but a stone's throw from Lake Harriet.

Brenda Ueland would fit in nicely in today's climate of activist rage.

The Minneapolis native was one of the first female reporters at the Minneapolis Tribune, an author, a literary editor, and an unapologetic feminist eons before gender equity was anywhere on the national radar. This was, after all, a woman known to play tennis buck naked. 

Ueland, the self-proclaimed first woman in the Western world to cut her hair short, was also a pioneer on the animal welfare front, working at a Minneapolis no-kill shelter beginning in 1952. 

Tell the truth, and don't do anything you don't want to were Ueland's two life rules. Her book, If You Want to Write, first published in 1938, is still widely regarded as mandatory reading for anyone who takes crafting the written word seriously.  

Beginning in 1954 and until her death in 1985, Ueland lived at 2620 W. 44th St., a house near Lake Harriet. It was up in the second-floor sunroom where Ueland penned some 6 million words.

Her disciples include Eric Utne, founder of the Utne Reader, and Patricia Hampl, author, University of Minnesota teacher, and one of the Loft Literary Center's founding members.

Two years ago, the 1900-built gem hit the real estate market. Owner Beth Dalby, who'd owned the property since 2002, sold it to a developer for $640,000, who, in turn, flipped it to another developer. John Gross, who's lived across the street, bought the historic residence for $840,000.

Dalby, who in the past has expressed an affinity for Ueland's literary legacy, said the residence was making her house poor. Although her heart wanted to preserve the home, it had become too spendy. The ceiling sagged. The porch was a wreck. 

Zoning on the site calls for "medium-density" new building up to four stories tall. As many as 10 condos or apartments are allowed under the multi-unit designation. The house is but one lot removed from existing multi-unit buildings to the west. 

Gross applied for the demolition permit. The city's Heritage Preservation Commission voted to deny it, calling for a historic designation study of the property. City staff also said the house should be preserved. 

Neighbors made signs and protested the demolition. Academics and literary players wrote letters supporting the home's historical significance.

The city's Planning and Zoning Committee paid the lobbying no mind. It decided last week that the fate of Ueland's former home will be the wrecking ball.    

Council Member Kevin Reich justified the decision, saying much of the home's historic value is gone.

Utne disagrees.

He says Ueland's literary gifts aren't her books, but her essays. It was at the West 44th Street house where she mastered the genre. It was within this structure where Ueland wrote the works he believes she'll be remembered for generations.

"The interest in Ueland is growing," he says. "You have to remember Emily Dickinson, Melville, Edgar Allan Poe all died in relative obscurity. There are people who are saying Brenda was a woman in the 20th century what Emerson and Thoreau were to the 19th. I think she did her most significant work in that house." 


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