This article was written by Susan Breedlove, Stephanie Gruver and Tom Murray
Local real estate agent Stephanie Gruver with RE/MAX Results loves the housing stock found in the Camden Community. Stephanie says, “The housing stock of the seven neighborhoods of Camden varies from late Victorian-era to American Craftsman and Tudor Rivals (or “English Vernacular Style” as some preservationists like to say) to traditional Colonials to Mid-Century Ramblers.”
Lars Peterson, Instructor of Civil Engineering & Architecture Program (CEA), dedicated one month of lessons teaching his Henry students a range of those architectural styles, 32 different styles in all. Once students were familiar with the basics of each style they chose one style to specialize in, diving into the specifics by drawing up blueprints of a floor plan. One student, Anthony Vergara-Gonzalez said, “We had two weeks to design and create a building. I selected a shed thinking of the time constraint. My shed would be suitable for someone wanting a smaller structure to live in or someone with limited money they want to spend. This class shows people who may want to explore a career in this subject. I want to go into architecture or/and a culinary career.” The blueprints blossomed into 3-D snapshots of the style, including scaled versions of measurements. Floor plans and drawings were used as the model from which to construct a miniature scaled model.
Starting with a stable baseboard, students used balsa wood, glue guns, little saws, rulers, landscape décor, and roof paper materials to frame each model. The focus was to make a firm frame. Individual write-ups of a style’s physical features and other key factors in the model’s construction accompanied each model. Student Sukie Xiong explained, “Originally, I was interested in the Victorian style house as they are a rarity. I tried going for a church vibe with bell tower and stained glass. I intended to have a different type of bridge but I didn’t have enough space. I learned that you don’t have to limit the imagination to a piece of paper. I am thinking of electrical engineering or architecture as a career.” Finished projects limited exterior finishing so that the frame remains visible for display.
The community is welcome to view a representative sampling of these student models, including Sukie’s Victorian Style and Anthony’s Shed style, on display in a hallway at Henry. And in Mr. Peterson’s classroom: Split Level– Karla Cortes Miguel and Paying Yang; English House Design– Shina Vang; Normandy Style House– Angelina Vue; Farmhouse– Britta Pearson; Greek Revival—Sinjin Kasai; Japanese Style Ranch House– Wong Vang; Modern Architecture Presentation—Eric Lee and Pha Her; Modern Style House– Timothy Yang and Thanh Nguyen; and Modern Architecture House—Marcus V. and Alex R.
Susan Breedlove, who designed the display, also interviewed students on their reflections on the lessons learned in this project. Shina Vang said, “The process of building a house in general is harder than it looks. I was a Step Up (City Summer Youth Employment Program) intern with Sala Architect Co., Inc. this past summer. I was given blueprints of a house and I had to model it into a smaller structure. The experience of working with a real company was different and fun. I can use this experience as learning for the future. I plan to go straight to college and try to major in aerospace engineering.” Fellow classmate Angelina Vue added, “This class is like a stepping stone towards my chosen career of landscaping architecture. I like designing my own dream house. We were given a number of housing styles. I like vintage stuff like the Normandy so I chose it. Next year as a senior I will be testing to get college credit in civil engineering and architecture.”
Stephanie Gruver loves to drive along 42nd Ave North showing prospective buyers the types of house styles available in the community. “If you drive across 42nd Ave N from Lyndale Ave N to the Parkway you’ll see the progression of styles. Camden has late Victorian-era homes from Lyndale to Emerson, to the American Craftsman and Tudors from Fremont to just before Patrick Henry High School’s football field, to the Mid-Century homes from Morgan to Penn Ave N, and back to the 1920-1930s Tudors and American Craftsman-style homes west of Penn to the Parkway,” said Stephanie. From a discussion on the Old North Minneapolis Facebook group, former residents recall Crystal Lake Cemetery once owned undeveloped land north of 42nd and decided to sell the land off for home development in the 1950s, bringing another generation of housing styles to the neighborhood in the 1950s.
While it’s easy to see many architectural styles on Victory Memorial Drive, the Victorian-era homes are not found on the Drive as they were built before WWI. Stephanie suggests, “If you are looking for Victorian-era homes in Camden, venture over to the 4200 blocks of Emerson, Dupont, Colfax and Bryant Ave N, or take a drive down Webber Parkway. “There are some iconic 2.5 story Victorian-era homes and duplexes lovingly cared for by dedicated owners.”
Over the last 30 years, Camden has seen new homes built to replace homes lost to fire, the 2011 tornado, or simply age. As Stephanie said, “In terms of living ‘green” today, saving and improving an existing home is very ‘green’ as it keeps construction debris out of the landfill; however, not all homes built in Camden were meant to last 100+ years. I’ve been told some of the smaller, pre-WWII homes without full basements were originally built as cabins when the area was still relatively undeveloped. We have seen new green homes built throughout Camden bringing forward not only modern design elements but also accessible floor plans to diversify the housing options in our neighborhood for generations to come.