Historic Northland Building faces demolition

The Northland Building in downtown Virginia, Minnesota, faces demolition despite its place on the National Registry of Historic Places. (PHOTO: St. Louis County)

The Northland Building in downtown Virginia, Minnesota, faces demolition despite its place on the National Registry of Historic Places. (PHOTO: St. Louis County)

The Northland Building in the Iron Range city of Virginia, Minnesota, now faces demolition despite its status on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Louis County is planning a new government services office in Virginia which would pull offices out of their current location in the Northland Building, which county officials deem too expensive to remodel.

The county offered the city of Virginia the opportunity to buy the building for $1, but the city passed. County officials had said they would not demolish the building if a buyer was found. No buyer has stepped forward, but some — including the local historical society — argue that neither the county nor the city are trying very hard to find one.

The Mesabi Daily News reports that the Virginia City Council approved an intent to demolish the Northland Building on a 5-2 vote at Tuesday night’s meeting.

[City Councilors Mary] McReynolds and [Nevada] Littlewolf requested a timeline from county officials on how much time would be allowed for a buyer to come forward.

Tony Mancuso, director of county property management, told the two councilors he would check with others to provide an answer.

“But we’ve got to move forward. This is not open-ended,” he said.

Mayor [Larry] Cuffe said it was a “very tough decision,” and he didn’t “want the building to come down,” but he said it needs to be done.

Jeanne Maki from the Virginia Historical Society told me she’s frustrated that county officials promised time to allow a serious effort to find a buyer for the old building. Instead, the county seems to be fast-tracking its plan to build an office complex next to the Northland Building, then knock the historic building down to make a parking lot.

The Northland Building is the former Virginia Recreation Center. Built in 1923 as a curling and hockey facility, the building became a shirt factory in 1947. That shirt factory was one of the area’s largest employers of women in the post WWII era, a time when few employers hired women for full time work on the Iron Range.

There’s no doubt that this is an older building with added expenses to maintain. Nevertheless, this appears to be shaping up as another example of abandoning a much more artistic era of architecture in favor of indistinct modernity.

In this case the city would have the option of unloading the space cheaply if it found an appropriate buyer to invest the needed care into the Northland Building.

It remains to be seen whether a private buyer or organization steps forward to save the Northland Building. They certainly don’t have much time.

For all the nostalgia that rules thinking on the Iron Range, living history is so quickly abandoned.


  1. This is something that does not surprise me at all from our local politics. I am all about doing things in a the interest of saving money, but not when it comes to knocking down historic buildings that are still in good shape. This always seems like a bigger waste of resources. And anyone that has been down in the area knows that this is likely being pushed because of the parking situation that will only be made worese with the new facility.

  2. Jesse Bearheart says

    “The day Paradise put up a parking lot…” Say it ain’t so! Where’s the vision in all this when this fine, historic building seems slated for the wrecking ball? Affordable housing? Multi-use with artist space, small shops, a restaurant or two, community theatre/orchestra space, social justice/environmental learning space…I see so many possibilities. I hope there is time given for someone to present a plan backed w/ some $$$ to keep this living space!

    • Tucker Nelson says

      The lyrics are “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” 🙂
      I’m all for reusing the building, but why use that building when there are empty spaces on Chestnut and at the mall? And if there was demand for those things, wouldn’t someone have done something by now? The County would be willing to sell the building to a private party, but they can’t wait forever, and other buildings would have to come down to make up for the parking space that would be lost by not tearing down the Northland building.

  3. Even though a few mines are starting to re-hire, there are still a lot of unemployed people from Kee-Tac, Mesabi Nugget, and others. Come August, some of these people are going to be “going to school” not because they want to – but because they have to in order to keep their unemployment. Why not organize those people for a job like this? Many people who are unemployed would much rather work 5 days a week on a community project like this to earn their unemployment than go to school 5 days a week, especially at age 45 or 50. Is every unemployed person a skilled craftsman? No. But there’s enough out there to lead or provide labor for a job like this. I know this would mean the city, county, and state unemployment offices would have to work together … but it sure seems better than ripping down a perfectly good building.

  4. But isn’t ripping down a big building like this what Iron Range politics is about? First, some contractors/workers will get paid to tear the building down. Then another set of contractors/workers will get paid to put up a new building/parking lot. Then the county will come up with another such project to hire another set of workers. And by that time, the new building will be ready to be torn down and another one started. And in the meantime, we are using more iron and gravel and cement and copper pipes, and that is driving the demand for more mining, etc. What a deal!

  5. Maybe the county could build their building on Highway 53 in Eveleth

  6. Marlise Riffel says

    Thank you for writing about the Northland Building. Just one clarification. The City of Virginia does not own the building. They declined, at an earlier date, to buy it from St. Louis County for $1.00

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