Minneapolis developer restores historic property into luxury lofts
By the end of an hourlong walk-through Friday, Dean Jablonsky could exhale while he stood inside the top floor of the 126-year-old Oliver G. Traphagen House, named for its architect. Sunlight poured into the room's yawning windows.
"This is as high as we'll get," said Jablonsky, a Minneapolis businessman and president of Redstone Lofts — his company responsible for rebuilding the historic home into luxury lofts following a devastating 2014 fire. "Look at that view."
The Aerial Lift Bridge stood in the vista west of the home at 1509 E. Superior St. The beats of the afternoon unfolded on the street below. Soon, the views, stunning both inside and out, will belong to tenants. The units are poised for leasing as soon as this month.
"It's so beautiful," said Marsha Hystead, a partner at the Hailey Sault marketing company in Canal Park. "It's going to be one of the premier places to live in Duluth."
Hystead worked inside the Traphagen House for 25 years — when Hailey Sault was still HTK Marketing Communications. HTK owner Howard Klatzky had restored the building to its original luster in the 1980s. To see it then, before the unsolved arson event that blackened the entirety of the interior, was to take in a varnished and faithful reproduction of the home Chester Congdon and his family lived in while they awaited construction of Glensheen.
The fire prevented a historical reproduction from happening again. But after purchasing the building for $45,000 in March 2016, Jablonsky went about the task of taking something historic and making it new again.
"We wanted to make it look like something you would find in New York City, Chicago or San Francisco," Jablonsky said. "People enjoy that old historical feeling with modern amenities."
A business success who enjoys keeping a low profile, Jablonsky wouldn't say how much he put into the renovation of the 9,200-square-foot mansion. Suffice to say, he spared no expense.
Acrylic cabinets that reflect the lights of the city. Stainless steel appliances throughout 12 units across three floors and the basement. Wood reclaimed from the building itself and repurposed into mantels and a master staircase that took a full month to reconstruct. Quartz countertops. It's all worth a look.
Earlier this month, Jablonsky gave Klatzky, and later Hystead and others at Hailey Sault, a tour of the building's revival as Redstone Lofts.
Jablonsky wanted to respect what they'd done to preserve the building once before, and show them his commitment to making the building last another 125 years.
"It's stunning," Hystead said. "First of all, when I walked in the back door I had to get my bearings because it's so different. You feel like you're in a Soho (New York City) apartment. It does all of our hearts good. We thanked them for having the wherewithal and courage to take the house on and make it beautiful again."
Since the fire in the summer of 2014, the Traphagen has stood unused, but almost looking no worse for the wear — save for boarded-up windows. Built like a tank with oversize rafters and hearty blocks of red stone, the fire damage was mostly an interior nightmare.
When Jablonsky took over, there was water coming down the interior walls from melting ice dams, and the smell of the fire was present still. He had to stabilize the building first, and then went about rebuilding it from the ashes. The lath and plaster walls were torn out, revealing the interior bricks that are the most prominent feature of the revitalization.
Once the brick was exposed, the caked-on soot had to come off using baking soda.
"We soda-blasted the entire building," Jablonsky said. "Very expensive process."
To restore the building which is on the National Register of Historic Places, Jablonsky partnered with North Shore Bank of Commerce, DSGW Architects and DBR contractors of Two Harbors. The building's nearly 80 window frames were rebuilt with high-end Marvin windows installed. Most of the 12 units were outfitted with exterior patios. The floors were soundproofed in layers of material that Jablonsky described in meticulous detail, using even a special sound-resistant glue.
But the coup de grace was the brickwork.
"We had a mason with 45 years experience, the best in the Midwest," Jablonsky said. "He spent a year and a half on the project."
Like Jablonsky, the mason works quietly and travels in high circles. Jablonsky wouldn't share the mason's name. But his work stood as a signature — arches over walk-in closets and faux fireplaces throughout most of the lofts. Detailed ledges built around stoves and jutting simply from walls so that tenants will have places to, say, set their keys.
"If you get a mason and a contractor who love craftsmanship, you're going to get a beautiful product," Jablonsky said.
The Redstone Lofts will be managed by Heirloom Property Management of Duluth, and the company has just begun to advertise for renters.
Jablonsky said he's not inclined to sell the units as condominiums. Instead, Redstone Lofts will be high-end rental units.
"It's kind of a dream come true," he said, "to take this historic building and make it grandiose again."
Redstone Lofts and Heirloom Property Management will host an open house on Feb. 22 from 3-6 p.m. and Feb. 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.