Edina Country Club District
The Edina Country Club District is a residential suburban neighborhood covering a 14-block area bounded by Minnehaha Creek to the west, Sunnyside Road to the north, Arden Avenue to the east, and West 50th Street to the south. The District encompasses approximately 555 dwellings and a City park.
The Edina Country Club District, platted in 1924 by Thorpe Brothers Realty Company, was one of the first modern planned communities in Minnesota. A majority of the homes were constructed between 1924 and 1941 on land originally serving the Browndale Farm (Henry Brown's land) and the old Baird farm (George Baird).
The land use controls exercised by the original Country Club Association formed the basis of the municipal zoning ordinance adopted in 1929.
Samuel Thorpe carefully designed every aspect of the neighborhood to include heavily tree-lined streets and parks, as well as uniform building and design restrictions. Unique to the times, Thorpe ensured that all of the major utilities were installed before the lots were placed on market, thus ensuring that the neighborhood was developed according to his plan. Care was also taken to protect the property values in the form of deed restrictions, valid for 40 years, which were enforced by the Country Club Neighborhood Association led by Thorpe. The regulations were strictly adhered to and dictated, among other things, what kind of trees could be planted and where garbage cans should be placed.
In addition to the 40-year usage restrictions, perpetual covenants were included in the deeds prohibiting non-whites from owning or residing in the District. It was expressly stated that "no lot shall ever be sold, conveyed, leased or rented to any person other than of the white or Caucasian race ..." Such private deed restrictions were found to be unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948.
Unlike the restrictive covenants in some other states' developments, Thorpe's did not include restrictions against ownership or residency by Jews or other ethnic minorities. However, according to Deborah Morse-Kahn's 1988 book Edina: Chapters in the City History, potential buyers known to be Jewish or members of certain other minorities were often openly turned away by realtors and asked to look for property elsewhere. Minnesota enacted a statute prohibiting discrimination in the sale of housing on religious grounds in 1919; however, the entire Minneapolis area was openly Anti-Semitic in its residential real estate and social practices. Rabbi Michael Latz, a Minneapolis native, has noted that Jewish homeowners and other minority members lived in Edina, but not in Country Club until the 1960s.
National Register of Historic Places
Thorpe's historic Country Club District was added to the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places in 1980, recognizing the neighborhood as one of the first planned communities in the United States. As part of the National Register application, extensive research into the history of the area was undertaken, and a survey of all the homes was completed. The survey provided information on each of the 555 homes in the District, and included the historic architectural style, the condition of the home as well as property owner data.
Through the survey, it was discovered that in 1925, Thorpe Brothers Realty Company commissioned the Minneapolis architectural firm of Liebenberg and Kaplan to design eight model homes on Edina Boulevard and Moorland Avenue. The model homes were designed in a variety of historic revival styles, including English Tudor, French Provincial and American Colonial Revival. To a considerable degree, it was the model homes that set an architectural standard for the homes that were built in the District.
Due to the National Register designation, many people assumed that there were controls in place to regulate building activity and protect the historic integrity of the Country Club District. However, that is not the case. The National Register depends on the local government to provide controls and regulations, which at the time was lacking.
Heritage Landmark Designation
In 2003, the Heritage Preservation Landmark overlay zoning designation was assigned to the Country Club District to provide the long-sought local protection.
The designation was based upon the data generated by the 1980 National Register survey; however, the survey did not provide the information needed to make wise design review decisions with respect to teardowns and new construction. By 2007, the National Register survey data was badly out-of-date and it was determined that a new survey was necessary. In April 2007, the City Council imposed a one year moratorium on the tear down of homes in the district to afford the Heritage Preservation time to complete a re-survey of the district.
Once the survey was complete, findings identified a number of information gaps and inconsistencies in the 1980 National Register documentation (conflicting dates of construction, inadequate descriptions, architectural bias) which have been corrected. More importantly, the inventory of information about the heritage resources in the district was thoroughly reviewed, reorganized and updated to reflect conditions which actually exist, as well as the current state of practice in heritage preservation planning. The plan of treatment was created to address the results of the survey.
Findings from the survey included:
- 91%, or 507 of the 555 homes in the district were built between 1924 and 1944, when Thorpe Bros. Realty controlled the Country Club development and enforced rigid architectural standards on new home construction through restrictive covenants.
- The most important threat to the historic integrity of the Country Club District comes from teardowns specifically, the demolition of historic homes and the construction of architecturally inappropriate new homes.
- Overall, the level of preservation of historic facades in the district is outstanding, particularly in comparison with other neighborhoods of similarly-aged homes (including those in historic districts) in the Twin Cities.
- The data at hand show that historic facades in the district are, by and large, intact.
- The loss of historic integrity (i.e., the ability to visually convey historical significance) caused by inappropriate remodeling and additions has been proportionally small less than 5% of the homes more than 50 years old have been torn down or recreated to the point that they no longer resemble the original home.
- With respect to additions, over their lifetimes, most of the homes in the district have been added to the survey data suggest that structural additions more than 50 years old often reflect an important aspect of the pattern of residential development in the district.
- The district contains a small number of buildings and open spaces that are not historically significant and therefore, should not be considered heritage preservation resources.
- The survey data demonstrate that the typical Country Club homeowner has been a good steward of neighborhood heritage.
The plan identifies homes built from 1924 to 1944 as heritage preservation resources because that is the period when the Thorpe enforced rigid architectural standards on new home construction through restrictive covenants. Furthermore, it is stipulated that no COA will be approved for the demolition, in whole or in part, of any heritage preservation resource in the district unless the applicant can show that the subject property is not a heritage preservation resource, or no longer contributes to the historical significance of the district because its historic integrity has been compromised by deterioration, damage or by inappropriate additions or alterations.