Artist loft to fill the historic C.A. Smith building on Lyndale

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Aspiring artists in Minnesota now have a place to become a part of the community in what looked like an old abandoned building on the edge of the I-94 freeway and the Mississippi River.

During the spring of this year, Jim Hillegass, a 72-year-old media software business owner, bought the historic C.A. Smith building at 4400 Lyndale Avenue North with the hopes of creating a space for local artists to share their work and embody the essence of the historic location.

Hillegass does art on the side as a hobby and prefers oil painting as his calling. As an artist, he knew the type of place he wanted to look for and had it quite easy when he found the historic C. A. Smith building on the edge of North Minneapolis.

Historically — Charles Axel Smith, a local lumber businessman, had originally begun his C.A. Smith & Co business with the support of Governor John S. Pillsbury in 1884. That was only about a decade after he immigrated to the United States from Sweden at the age of 14. In 1893 Smith built the C.A. Smith Lumber Company sawmill at 4400 Lyndale. [For more history on the building see the adjoining CA Smith history article.]

This building would later be used by several different manufacturers, creators and artists, including a beverage bottler and machine specialists. Part of the building has been occupied by the Guilded Salvage antiques shop, currently operating on the ground floor of the building.

Hillegass had recently sold one of his buildings located on 1st and 2nd Avenues North. This action left him with a large sum of money that had to be reinvested in a new location for his business of rental artist lofts.

“A friend told me about [the building], and when I took a look at her [C.A. Smith building], I thought it was interesting,” said Hillegass, “And then when I dug into it I thought the history was extremely interesting.”

Coincidentally, the building became a part of the C.A. Smith Historic District at the same time this year, which further intrigued Hillegass into relocating to this location in the Twin Cities.

Ann Moe, local community member and Lind Bohanon Neighborhood Association Chair, said that the organization had been planning for almost two years, with the national non-profit organization, Artspace, to figure out how to use the C.A. Smith building in a creative way.

“As a small neighborhood organization, we really did not have the resources to take it on ourselves, and so it kind of got set aside,” said Moe.

When the neighborhood association hit a roadblock with how to finance the building and move forward with the ideas, Hillegass answered their prayers by purchasing the building in full.

Most of the building was in rough condition, with poor roofing and terrible flooring. This resulted in multiple cases of flooding and damage from poor weather conditions — which would not be any good for an artist loft.

Hillegass’s first plan of action required cleaning the environment and sweeping the area of any junk and unwanted deficiencies. The second floor was completely sand-blasted and cared for to avoid any issues brought on by weather as a precaution.

He plans to continue fixing the building, bringing it up to its former glory, slowly renovating each floor for its own purposes, starting with the second floor.

The next plan of action is to gain access to the office building next door and turn it into a rehabilitated building, ready to be used by all kinds of artists. “We’re planting seeds now, and things will start to grow,” said Hillegass.

While there will be no immediate dramatic changes, there are plans on reviving the building over time and possibly presenting it to the community with an open house.

Utilizing the space to encourage community participation has been an idea that Moe and the Lind Bohanon Neighborhood Association has had for the last few years.

There are currently no plans for how the community will be involved in the rehabilitation of the building or in post-rehabilitation, but the community will automatically get a glimpse of a more creative-focused place than a simple warehouse.

While the building is in construction, it will be open for local artists to use when space is available and may be visited by those who are interested, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on the C.A. Smith building and the new artist loft in rehabilitation, Jim Hillegass may be contacted through email at jimh@jriver.com or visit jimhillegass.com/lyndale.html.