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“We needed to make sure our modifications were done in a historically appropriate manner that complied with the historic context of the building and the neighborhood,” explains Ryan DuPuis, project designer, Kass Wilson. The preservation process also involved extensive research into the Rayette Building’s history.
In 1911, Joseph Strong and H.F. Warner opened their large wholesale millinery business in the building. In 1936, Raymond E. Lee, a University of Minnesota graduate and creator of a permanent-wave treatment for women’s hair, had moved into and renamed the building Raymond Laboratories. By 1951, Lee had changed his company’s name to Rayette. The company’s products were famous for creating the Rayette Wave. In 1963, Rayette introduced Aqua Net, which became the top-selling hairspray in the United States.
Rayette also acquired the Faberge cosmetic and fragrance company in the 1960s, but vacated the building by 1971. In 1997, the Heritage Preservation Commission approved a plan for the building to be converted into a parking garage. During the building’s recent conversion to residential units, Kass Wilson was charged with removing a ramp that wound from the first to the top floors, and replacing the cavernous opening with elevator shafts, egress stairs and vertical ductwork for new mechanicals.
Because the original windows had been removed or badly damaged, DuPuis says, the architects also studied historic photos, and sought out original remnants “and whatever else we could salvage to recreate the historic window openings and arrangements, and mullion patterns.”
In addition to floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views of Lowertown, the units have polished gypconcrete floors, and corrugated concrete ceilings and brick walls original to the building. The structure’s columns were also left exposed in the living units, the spacious lobbies on each floor and in the second-level party room.
“All concrete is not created equal,” DuPuis says. “The Rayette Building was slowly deteriorating. We got to it just in time.” He credits Sherman with having the foresight to invest in the building and lead its adaptive reuse.
“We could have lost that corner of history in Lowertown,” DuPuis adds. “By enclosing, protecting and converting the structure to a new use as Rayette Lofts, we’ve reinforced the limestone façade and historic feel of the street for another 100 years.”