Historic Buildings Talk, We Respectfully Listen

Buildings lining a city street create historical context that cannot otherwise be described through story or narrative. They’ve been there; they’ve lasted. If only they could communicate what they’ve seen. Having worked on many historic buildings, we can assure you they can, and they do.

Renovating buildings in a way that respects its historical context has many benefits and can provide another cycle in the useful life of the structure. Not only can this provide for economic opportunity through real estate investment, but it can reinvigorate a community and restore intrinsic value.

Reasons to renovate or preserve historic buildings include:

  1. People Love Old Buildings
  2. Preserving a Building is Green Building
  3. It Makes Sense

Our recent experience renovating historic buildings include:

  • Historical preservation at the Conley-Maass Building, Rochester, MN
  • Restoration of Potter Auditorium, Chatfield, MN
  • Upgrading Minnesota’s oldest operating courthouse, Dodge County Courthouse
  • Remodeling Winona State University-Rochester at Historic Riverside Building, Rochester MN

All four projects presented unique challenges throughout construction. When approaching these challenges, we refer to one word – respect.  These buildings have stood the test of time and deserve to be treated with dignity and care.


Originally a woolen mill, then a camera factory, until becoming a shop for a plumbing & heating company, the Conley-Maass building has stood in Rochester since 1900. One of the few remaining historic buildings within the city, the renovation sought the state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credit. Design goals were to salvage as much material from the building as possible to be used for other architectural elements within the interior.  A few examples of this are:

  • Wood joists that were removed to make way for a new accessible elevator shaft, were carefully deconstructed and reused as stair treads.
  • Original windows that were salvageable were restored, refinished, and reinstalled.
  • Original wood floors from 1900 were uncovered, cleaned, and oiled to a finish only achievable with 100+ year old wood.
  • The original brick was salvaged and used in other portions of the building
  • A historic freight elevator’s gearbox has been put on display for the new generation of creative minds who will utilize the building in its next life-cycle.

Potter Auditorium

Originally this structure was built in 1916 as a school building.  In 1936, as a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal,’ the Public Works Administration (PWA) built the addition that we know as Potter Auditorium .  In recent years, the Chatfield Center for the Arts sought to revive the building while respecting the architectural and cultural tradition of the Chosen Valley region.

Digging a new orchestra pit to enhance the functionality, acoustics, and enjoyment of the facility was no easy task. Each shovel required careful planning and respect, as to not disturb the existing foundations and structural integrity. The good news was the structure, built with the intention of lasting generations, was very stout and solid. The bad news, improvements to the building allowing for modern code compliance, were a difficult match for by-hand renovation methods.

Dodge County Courthouse

This 19th century courthouse is the oldest operating courthouse in the state of Minnesota, having operated since 1865.

Updating the building to allow for modern security needs, while maintaining the roots and rich character, required careful planning and renovation.   To achieve these goals, the project team used historical photos from the early 1900’s as the basis for the aesthetic reconstruction while also implementing modern accessibility and code updates.

In addition to updating the Courthouse, a former intermediate school building across the street from the Courthouse was renovated into the Government Services Building.   This building is now home for departments such as land records, environmental services and administrative offices.

Winona State University-Rochester at Historic Riverside:

New modern offices and contemporary classroom space juxtaposed with a historical building and location in downtown Rochester create a vibrant atmosphere for a forward-thinking university. Winona State University-Rochester desired a downtown location to strengthen its position as a viable pathway to healthcare careers.

Not all historic renovations are classified as preservation projects. On the third floor of the Historic Riverside building, the WSU-Rochester project renovated and modernized a space that had been renovated many times throughout the years.  Due to the many renovations, very few original elements of the building remained.  Modern fixtures and lively splashes of color provided a desirable indoor environment within the history-rich building.

These buildings talk, and we respectfully listen.

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