Blackstone Court Apartments

The southwest corner of 12th and Dakota
In 1923 Sioux Falls' newest living experience was open to tenants who desired a classy studio apartment near the heart of the city.
Undated Argus Leader file photo. 
The building was designed by local architects Clyde Scheumacher and Robert Finkelhor.
One of the first stand-alone apartment buildings in Sioux Falls was the Blackstone Court Apartments. Built in 1922, the complex was expected to cost its owners $250,000 to construct. The well-appointed apartment building was constructed at the southwest corner of 12th and Dakota, and in the beginning, provided 61 new apartments to house more affluent members of Sioux Falls society. The city was growing substantially, having added 15,000 residents in the last 30 years, and 1,000 more were expected with each passing year.

Don B. Johnson, the vice president of Sioux Falls Savings Bank, was the president of the Blackstone Corp. among other projects. He was very active in the Chamber of Commerce, and represented South Dakota farmers on a national level, bringing news of their issues to Washington, DC as needed.

The Blackstone was designed by local architects Shuemacher and Finkelhor in the Colonial Revival style. Each apartment had windows to allow light in, and depending on need, two to three rooms. Murphy beds were used in each apartment to allow for efficient use of the limited space. These were fine apartments and it was quite a feather in one’s cap to be a resident of the Blackstone Court. Among the first tenants were the newly-married Eric and Florence Ellefson. The couple was the first in the state to be married on the senate floor in Pierre, as Eric was the state senator for South Dakota’s 10th district.
In January of 1924, Johnson ran into trouble when he and his father, who was president of the bank, were accused of misapplication of funds. They were forced to close the bank, and years of convictions and appeals were to follow. Johnson sold the Blackstone Court to George Tappan in early 1926.

In 1941, the business model at the Blackstone had changed a bit. The complex was now known as the Blackstone Hotel and Apartments, and a new neon sign was added to the roof to help spread the word to travelers. Monthly and daily rates were established and would remain for years to come.
By 1980, the Blackstone had transitioned back into an apartment building. It was still nice, but was mostly occupied by lower-income individuals and the elderly. Portions of the building began to fall to disrepair. The building was purchased by Lew Weinberg, an Elk Point investor who’d also just purchased the Shriver-Johnson building with hopes of converting it into office space. An Argus Leader article announced the upcoming $1.7 million renovation of the Blackstone Court Apartments, financed through the South Dakota Housing Authority.

By 1982, half of the apartments remained empty and no work had begun on the renovations. Weinberg would not rent to any new tenants, saying that the apartments were not in livable condition. In 1986, Weinberg received approval from the City Commission and Governor Bill Janklow for $5 million in economic development revenue bonds, but there was the little issue of the $132,025 in back taxes owed to the county. It was legal to delay payment of property taxes for six years, though a 15% fee would be added each year. Weinberg had lobbied the federal government to allow for a development loophole in the tax code that would relieve him of $1 million in taxes if he proceeded with the work on the Blackstone.
The Blackstone Courts as they looked in 1982. Argus Leader Photo by Lloyd Cunningham
It’s unclear if Weinberg ever paid the taxes, but what is clear is that he never did any work on either the Blackstone or the Shriver-Johnson buildings. In 1987, First Lutheran Church bought the Blackstone for $400,000, toying with the idea of renovating the building for seniors. In the end, it was decided that a parking lot would be a better way to go. The church asked the city commission to not put the Blackstone on the local historic register, which would have delayed the inevitable by 90 days.

By early December, 1987, the Blackstone Court Apartments were torn down. The complex had a pretty good run, from opulent apartments for the well to do, to affordable housing for the elderly. Imagine the kind of rebirth the Blackstone would be enjoying if it were still here.
A worker from A J Construction of Colton removes scrap iron ahead of the razing of the building.