Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Looking at the past with the hope of making something for the future
May 21, 2010

New owners purchase granite remnant yard, including stone from old Metropolitan Building

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

DELANO, MN – Though not intended, and to some extent not welcomed, Delano has recently become a mecca for history buffs and others interested in something that has been here for more than 50 years – granite.

Chad Kestner and Brandon Sleypen of Combined Aggregate Enterprises purchased an almost-10-acre piece of land in Delano that holds a look into the past, with the hope of making it something for the future.

Along with the purchase came publicity – which the business partners are still learning how to handle.

Large granite pieces from the old Metropolitan Building, which was located in Minneapolis and torn down in the early 1960s, have had an unassuming home in Delano since the building was taken down. The large blocks have remained on the property, that has seen several owners over the last half-century.

The 12-story Metropolitan, which was located at Third Street and Second Avenue South in Minneapolis, sported a marble entrance, glass floors, and a remarkable central court fashioned with elaborate iron grillwork, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

“The Metropolitan Building had its boosters – a group of architects, historians, and others who did their best to spare it from demolition,” according to the historical society. “But, it was not to be. The building was considered beyond repair, and the renovation of historic buildings was not yet commonplace. The demolition was, according to architectural historian Larry Millett, ‘perhaps the most inexcusable act of civic vandalism in the history of Minneapolis.’”

Steve Gilmer of Delano, whose family owned Granite Works, said the contractors who were hired to demolish the Metropolitan were simply scrapping the stone.

“Between my dad, Don, and grandfather, Bert Gilmer, they bought a large amount of the stone with the intention it would be refabricated for either building facing or for monuments – either one – but as it turned out, the granite was not popular enough to refabricate it. It came in odd pieces,” Steve Gilmer said recently. “When you’re going to be manufacturing, you normally quarry 20-to 30-pound blocks and they’re easier to work with than the odd shapes.”

So, the large chunks of granite sat. Gilmer’s family sold the Granite Works buildings and the surrounding property in 1973, to Rembrandt Enterprises, Steve said.

Rembrandt Enterprises operated the facility for a number of years, eventually selling to Delano businessman Virgil Amundson, now living in Dawson.

Amundson, 79, said his wife, Arlys, and then-mayor Gordy Wetter talked him into purchasing the property.

“He was a persuasive fellow,” Amundson said with a laugh.

Amundson said Rembrandt was about to go into bankruptcy with the plant, and that was when he purchased it.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We took it over, and it was a mess,” he recalled, but said he was able to fix up some of the buildings and get tenants into the front office building.

“I did some weird deals in Delano, but that was probably the weirdest,” he admitted.

Amundson knew the granite pieces from the Metropolitan Building were back there, but said no one ever expressed much interest in them.

“We knew it was there,” Amundson said. “I was wondering if it was an asset or a liability. It’s wonderful stuff, but what are you going to do with it? I wondered all along when somebody was going to come along and say, ‘hey, I gotta have those.’ Everybody looked, but walked away. No one ever seriously approached me.”

It was also Amundson who split the property into three pieces – the front office portion, the back main lot, and then the little-less-than 10 acres where the granite remnants remain, along the Crow River.

The Kalamaha family purchased part of the property, and then the most recent owner, before Kestner and Sleypen, was Dean Yerigan of Cambridge, who purchased the just-under 10 acres of land that housed the granite remnants in the mid-1980s from Amundson. Jeff Vanderlinde, Jeff Graunke, and Derek Schansberg own the other portion.

“I’m at the point where I was always going to do something with it, but at the age I’m at, I’ve got too many other things going,” Yerigan, 74, said about selling the property, adding that he recently became involved in a business in Oklahoma.

“I just don’t have the time,” he added, noting the liability insurance and taxes stemming from the property also aren’t cheap.

Yerigan said the only thing he’s done with the granite pieces since he’s owned the property was to use some of the pieces for landscaping in yards, for signs, and also for steps. Some pieces made their way to a Los Angeles garden, he said.

“I never did use anything from the Metropolitan Building or the columns from the Federal Reserve – those are still there,” Yerigan said.

Yerigan allowed several scenes from “The Lost Twin Cities” to be shot in the granite yard.

“I didn’t want a bunch of people coming out crawling around the yard, so I asked them not to use the address – but people figured it out,” Yerigan said, adding that the yard has had a lot of visitors over the years, which adds to the liability issue for whoever owns the property.

Yerigan said he also tried to work with Linda Mack of the Star Tribune to establish some sort of a gateway for the Twin Cities with the stone.

“Like a lot of those art projects, there is a lot of talk, but there’s never any money,” Yerigan said.

Moving forward

Kestner and Sleypen initially purchased this property for the purpose of crushing the left- over granite into class five and class two road material for existing and future projects.

“In our set-up phase, we discovered a large, well-organized stack of granite containing a great deal of pre-cut blocks, along with many intricately carved pieces,” Kestner said in an e-mail to preservationists and other industry professionals. “After researching this stone further, we found that this stack was what we believe to be the majority of the granite from the Minneapolis Metropolitan Building torn down in the early ‘60s.”

Since Kestner and Sleypen’s company’s main focus is supplying aggregate products for road and bridge projects, this type of stone is, admittedly, out of their normal range of knowledge and sales structure.

“We would like to see this historic stone put to a better use than road base, and we are currently seeking companies that could give it a better home,” Kestner said. “Sadly, because of the economic climate and our initial investment in this project, we are unable to simply donate this stone, but we are willing to seriously consider all offers and would move this product at what we perceive to be a substantially lower-than- market value.”

Due to project time constraints, Kestner and Sleypen need to move this fairly soon or will be forced to place it on the crushing line.

“I sincerely hope we can find a home for this historic stone so we don’t lose it a second time,” Kesnter concluded in his e-mail.

Ideally, Kestner and Sleypen hope to crush the leftover granite that is on their property for road base, and then design a park and donate the land to the City of Delano.

“We’ve been keeping as many good trees as possible,” Kestner said of his company’s operations to date.

He admitted that, growing up in Delano, he wasn’t always the best-behaved kid. He sees this project as a way to give something back to the community, and also preserve a piece of the community for his children and future generations.

Before he and Sleypen, who grew up just outside of Buffalo and now lives in Rockford Township near Apple Jack Orchards, even purchased the property, they met with neighboring property owners because Kestner said they wanted to ease any issues before moving forward.

After Kestner sent out that e-mail earlier this month, more responses were received than he knows what to do with. Now, he and Sleypen are figuring out the best way to move forward.

Last week, Steve Gilmer paid a visit to Kestner and Sleypen at the property where Gilmer spent much time during his youth.

The walk through the property was like a step back in time for Gilmer, as Kestner and Sleypen picked Gilmer’s brain about the various types of granite strewn about.

“It brought back some memories of when our family ran the business,” Gilmer said, adding that he worked there over the summers as a kid during high school and college. “It brought back a lot of history of the community and the family business.”

Whether it was Wausau red, emerald pearl from Norway, blue pearl, or New Hampshire green, Gilmer knew them all.

“It was nice to get some knowledge from him,” Kestner said of Gilmer’s visit, adding that he is still hoping to speak with others who are still in the area who worked at Granite Works.

“Everything, so far, has come together,” Sleypen said, adding that right now, St. Cloud is the prime provider of granite to the area. He hopes he and Kestner’s business can also step in and provide crushed granite to the area. Right now, the two business partners are taking it a day at a time and looking to the future.

“There is a lot of stone that has deep history out here,” Sleypen said.

However, it is not possible for Kestner and Sleypen to provide “tours” of the property due to liability concerns. Both have been overwhelmed with the number of requests to go back and see the property – and also by some people who just show up and go out there.

While this reporter was on site at the property, a gentleman with Wisconsin license plates pulled up and began walking back toward the piles of granite.

Kestner spoke with the man, learning that the man had spoken with Kestner several hours earlier and Kestner told the man that due to liability, the man wouldn’t be able to come out and see the granite. He showed up anyway.

“He just drove two-and-a-half hours for nothing,” Kestner said, adding that he and Sleypen aren’t trying to be unreasonable about it – just that they are trying to run a business at the site and need to maintain a safe area.

It was noted that the property is privately owned by Kestner and Sleypen and that security measures have been put in place to prevent trespassing.

For more information, contact Kestner or Sleypen at Combined Aggregate Enterprises at (763) 972-8003.

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