The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 30, 2013

Preserving a landmark

Eberhart House owners agree to add property to protected list

By Mark Fischenich

---- — MANKATO — Larry and Jaci Lageson have restored railings, picked period-appropriate wallpaper and drapes, repaired damage and generally protected the historic character of their 110-year-old house. Now they're getting ready to sell it after 35 years, but first they've got one more addition to make to the Pleasant Street home.

The couple has agreed to make their historic residence the first privately-owned home in Mankato to become a Heritage Preservation Landmark. Known as the Eberhart House because it was built by a Swedish immigrant who went on to become Minnesota Gov. A.O. Eberhart, the home will join six other Heritage Preservation Landmarks already on the protected list — The First Presbyterian Church on Hickory Street, the Stahl House (home to the Wine Cafe) on Riverfront, the Betsy and Tacy houses on Center Street, the Hubbard House on Broad Street and the Blue Earth County Historic Courthouse.

"It's just always been something that we loved," Jaci Lageson said of the historic nature of the stately home. "I was never someone who liked real contemporary things, and neither did he."

Larry Lageson didn't hesitate to accept the Landmark designation when city staff called, saying he already wanted to make sure the new owner cared about preserving the house's unique character.

"In part, that's going to be part of the sale," said Lageson, who is selling because the home seems too large for a couple with kids who have left the nest. "It's actually ideal for a family with two or three or four kids."

As a Heritage Preservation Landmark, substantial changes to the exterior of the home will need the OK of the Heritage Preservation Commission. But Lageson sees that as little different than what was required to maintain the house's status on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Mankato Planning Coordinator Mark Konz said the designation is intended primarily to allow local historians to offer suggestions about changes to a property on the list.

"But it wouldn't necessarily tie the owner to those suggestions," Knox said. "Honestly, it's more educational."

If a future owner of one of the landmark properties tried to make exterior changes that destroyed the historic nature of a building — say, for instance, that the Blue Earth County Board decided to put vinyl siding on the courthouse — the commission could move to block the change, but the elected Mankato City Council would have the ultimate say.

Commission member Ron Goodrich said the commission's approach isn't to dictate to a landmark's owners what can and can't be done but instead to offer expertise and advise when changes are planned.

"So many people are concerned that we'll try to limit what they can do with the property," Goodrich said. "That's not the case at all."

The Heritage Preservation Commission hopes the Eberhart House's addition to the list will encourage other property owners to consider bringing their home forward for possible designation — particularly others in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"It's a perfect example of the historic nature of Lincoln Park," Konz said.

Konz said owners of historic property shouldn't assume that it has to be associated with a notable person or event in state history or that it must be on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Many of the ones we reviewed were on the national registry," he said. "... But there are things that are locally significant that might not be significant nationally."

A building that's well-preserved and is the epitome of an architectural style of the past might qualify even if it wasn't built by a wealthy or famous Mankatoan. The commission also wants to preserve commercial buildings and even pieces of land that have significance, such as historic parks like Highland and Sibley.

A dozen properties were reviewed as part of a Legacy Act grant, and half of those have already been designated as Historic Preservation Landmarks. The other six, including the Eberhart house, were deemed significant and will be pursued for future designation.

But the commission is ready to go forward with properties not on the list as well, assuming the property owners are interested. Goodrich said a property owner on South Riverfront, who runs his business out of a historic former residence, has a strong interest in joining the list because of the expertise that will be available to him when he makes repairs to the building.