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Little Falls buildings cited for historical significance

LITTLE FALLS -- Little Falls has a history of protecting the past, and now three city buildings were selected for preservation awards.

The awards, presented by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, recognize outstanding contributions by individuals and groups in preserving Minnesota's historic resources.

The 95-year-old Little Falls Carnegie Library was chosen for a preservation award for an outstanding achievement in renovation.

History behind Victor Mall, W. Tonn buildings

The Victor Mall Building was built in 1892 with an addition in 1898.

It housed the Victor Clothing Co. until 1993, at which time present owner Dennis Sutton bought the building. In 1999, workers began removing the steel siding that had been covering the brick facade since 1968. Work was completed with the addition of green awnings that now shade the windows.

 

The Victor Mall Building was once covered by steel siding that concealed the yellow clay Little Falls bricks. Green awnings were added in the restoration project.

The W. Tonn Building was constructed in 1895 by William Tonn and was first used as a saloon. In the early to mid-1900s it was transformed into Smacker's Pool Hall and remained that for many years.

A false wooden facade covered the original brick for many years and also concealed the steel storefront columns and transom windows, which were lost from public view. They were uncovered in 1998 when the owner, David Verkkuilen, had the storefront renovated.

The Andrew Carnegie-endowed library was renovated last year to bring it up to current building and accessibility codes. The Little Falls Library Board worked closely with Miller-Dunwiddie Architects from Minneapolis, who did the design work for the project, and the contractor, Hy-Tec Construction from Brainerd.

"It's always rewarding to have a project finish the way it did," said Brenda Bray, project administrator for Hy-Tec. "It's a very beautiful building. It has the stone on the outside and that gives a big appeal."

 

Building history is recorded on a pictorial display inside the Victor Mall Building in downtown Little Falls.

The original building was tuckpointed and an addition completed to provide more room for the library collection. An effort was made to keep the original woodwork and preserve the Craftsman-style architecture. To create a seamless look, the addition was created to match the original 1904 building.

Original fieldstone in the library was matched with Cold Spring granite and additional fieldstone. An elevator was added for increased accessibility. Slate shingles were used on the gable ends and the addition includes exposed oak beams.

Inside the library the architect left fieldstone exposed by the circulation desk for an additional touch. Gas fireplaces were added. And a community room was part of the additional space.

 

The W. Tonn Building in Little Falls, constructed in 1895, was a preservation award recipient. Removal of a wooden facade helped reveal the original architecture, including steel storefront columns and transom windows.

Also receiving awards were the Victor Mall Building, which houses Business Machines Plus, Hanneken Insurance Agency and Radio Shack, and the W. Tonn Building, which contains The Good Bookstore and the Little Falls Collection Bureau.

Little Falls architect Kevin Anderson completed design work for both of these buildings.

Anderson said maintaining a certain look is beneficial to any downtown and the restoration work that generated the awards put things back to the way the buildings were originally designed.

Over years, facades covered architectural features on many cities' downtown buildings along with coats of paint on original brick. Little Falls was no exception. Work on the Victor Mall and W. Tonn buildings was aimed at removing years the way a surgeon restores a face to its youthful appearance.

"This kind of brings it back to what the original architect had in mind," Anderson said, adding grants and low interest loans helped building owners with projects. The entire process -- from meeting with building owners to the last paint stroke -- took about a year.

Research was also assisted by the pictorial records of downtown buildings kept by the historical society in Little Falls. The Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission worked closely with both property owners to renovate their buildings.

Anderson said there were unknowns because many of the architectural features were covered. But there were surprises when it was removed. Anderson was particularly pleased with cast iron columns that were uncovered intact. The columns were resurfaced and painted. Both buildings were constructed of Little Falls brick. The yellow clay brick was restored to its original appearance after solution washes removed paint layers.

Anderson said the style that was revealed will stand the test of time.

"Once people see what can be done and what these buildings can look like, I can see that generating more interest," Anderson said of restoration efforts. "These buildings are now going to be there for the next 60 to 100 years like that."

Anderson said the city of Little Falls has been helpful in promoting the historic downtown district. "I don't know if all of this would have happened if they had not been as active."