Q+A: Katie Haun Schuring

The Preserve Minneapolis president talks about houses, neighborhoods, and connecting with the city.
Katie Haun Schuring, president of Preserve Minneapolis

Since moving to Minneapolis with her family in 2010, Katie Haun Schuring has been enlivening the process of historic bridge rehabilitation as a project manager in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Cultural Resources Unit. “I love being able to collaborate and problem solve with some really fantastic historians, archaeologists, architects, and engineers,” she says. “They all have guidelines and standards to follow as preservationists do, so it’s really fun to be able to work together and find a common ground that meets our current transportation needs while maintaining the historic property.”

Haun Schuring is also the president of Preserve Minneapolis, a nonprofit that organizes educational opportunities and walking tours of city neighborhoods, advocates for historic preservation, and helps homeowners learn more about their homes and communities. Schuring was awarded her Master of Historic Preservation from Ball State University and is the author of The History Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, a history of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel and bank in Mason City, Iowa, for Wright on the Park, Inc.

She loves wandering through neighborhoods, admiring the city’s vernacular architecture. We talked with her about her love of architecture, historic preservation, and her favorite haunts.

What sparked your interest in preservation?

My love for architecture and creating things and my interest in storytelling. In college, I’d take a lot of walks through the community and I’d wonder why the houses were built the way they were, who lived there, why the changes were made. I studied abroad in London where I worked with a conservation architect (on par with a preservation architect in the US), and he really showed me how old homes can be rehabilitated to meet modern needs while respecting their uniqueness and character. From then on, I was hooked.

As president of Preserve Minneapolis, what are your biggest challenges and rewards? How much does the organization work toward the preservation of historic homes in Minneapolis?

There are a few challenges that Preserve Minneapolis faces—the stigma that we are a bunch of “hysterical” historians and that we oppose all new development isn’t accurate. Sure, we have a team of board members and volunteers that are passionate about the history of the community, but they are all very rational professionals. Our board is made up of historians, architects, writers, preservationists, planners, public relations specialists, nonprofit experts, etc. who bring very different and diverse ideas to the table.

As a group, we truly believe that development and preservation can work together, that good development respects the heritage of a place and brings it into the 21st century. We value the chance to work with developers early on in the design process so that we can work together. When done well, development in a historic area is really a value add to the community.

Our biggest reward is working with the community, sharing our knowledge and meeting people whether on a summer walking tour, at an Instameet event, or during a Morning Forum. We love seeing people get excited about their community, share their stories about the places that they lived in and worked at. We value the stories of places that aren’t “locally designated” or National Register-listed. So when someone shares their stories with us, it’s so rewarding.

If an individual has a historic home or is interested in restoring their own home (whether National Register eligible or not), we can help them find the right resources and put them in touch with experts. We can also help them research their property and give them the tools they need to feel empowered to work on their home.

What homes that have been demolished do you mourn the most?

It’s hard to ignore those grand, architect-designed mansions that have been lost, like those on Park Avenue, Washburn’s Fair Oaks, the Gale House, or the Clifford House. A recent one that stung was the loss of the Ueland House in Linden Hills.  Sometimes the house may not be a perfect architectural specimen, but the people who lived there may be significant to the community and are worthy to rehabilitate rather than replace.

Maybe less obvious are those small houses that are taken down and replaced with an uninspired two-story box. The feeling and sense of place one gets when walking through Minneapolis neighborhoods is largely influenced by the types of houses that are there. If there are blocks of little 1.5-story bungalows, one feels really connected to the streetcar-era residences. But, for me, if that same block has a lot of modern replacement homes the neighborhood charm is lost. I don’t feel as engaged by it.

What kind of house do you live in yourself?

I live in a small 1912 vernacular home in the Kingfield neighborhood. It doesn’t really have a formal style—it’s a bit Colonial Revival, a little Arts and Crafts. From what I’ve researched, it was one of the first on the block, had a two-stall garage added in the 1910s by an auto mechanic, had at least 10 people living in it one time, and underwent a big interior update in the late 1920s (right before the stock market crashed).

The outside is pretty nondescript and has been altered, but inside there are beautiful built-in cabinets, original red oak woodwork, and a fabulous leaded-glass window. We were really attracted to the house because there was opportunity to bring it back to its roots by refurbishing the original windows and updating rooms with period fixtures and finishes. I love living in this walkable neighborhood, how large our backyard is, and taking on house projects.

As president of Preserve Minneapolis, what message would you like to send to homeowners in the city?

No matter if your home was owned by someone noteworthy, designed by a famous architect, or is in a historic district, your home matters. It helps tell a story of the community, how it grew and developed over time, what fashions were in style, and what people cared about. Preserve Minneapolis encourages every homeowner to learn more about their home and their neighborhoods, share their stories, and engage the community because the more the community knows, the more it is connected to the broader fabric that is our city.

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