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Rayette Lofts: Renovation brings historic structure back in style – The Line





Rayette Lofts: Renovation brings historic structure back in style

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 | Camille LeFevre

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Despite the prominent corner it occupies at E. 5 and Wall in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Rayette Building has always been a bit nondescript in the public imagination—perhaps because for the last 15 years, the concrete structure was a parking garage. The Rayette Building has a storied history, however. And last Thursday, the historic structure celebrated its most recent chapter as the restored and repurposed Rayette Lofts.
Now home to 88 market-rate apartments, with a roof deck overlooking the Mississippi River, St. Paul Farmers Market and new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, Rayette Lofts adds to the “critical mass of residential developments, and entertainment and cultural amenities that are the recipe for sustained success in Lowertown,” says Will Anderson, associate project manager, Sherman Associates.
Sherman developed the seven-story, 145,600-square-foot structure in collaboration with Kass Wilson Architects in Bloomington. Because the project was created using federal and state historic tax credits, Sherman and Kass Wilson also worked in consultation with the National Park Service, State Historic Preservation Office and St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission.

“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.”

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