Take a walk down Park Avenue between 10th and 26th streets in Minneapolis and it will become clear that though many of the houses along this strip have started to show their age, Park Avenue’s past is one filled with grandeur. Among these houses one in particular stands out from the rest, mainly because it doesn’t resemble a house in the typical sense at all, but rather an honest-to-goodness castle. There is a turret and parts that resemble battlements, those parts of a castle’s roof that resemble squared-off jack-o-lantern teeth. Further perpetuating the castle-look is the material of the building’s facade; it is not wood siding, but light gray Indiana limestone. On the South side of the house, the gray stone makes way for a solarium, an all-glass room protected from all the elements except for sunshine.
This is formerly the Turnblad family home. They were a quiet family who only entertained in their vast abode perhaps twice in the 21 years they lived there. Between 1908 and 1929 only Mr. Swan Turnblad, his wife Christina, and their daughter Lillian called this place home before donating it to the community. Acting as a museum and cultural center, the home would become what we know it as today: the American Swedish Institute.
Mr. Turnblad was a Swedish immigrant and newspaper man. He often brought Swedish books, newspaper, and literature back from his homeland to share with fellow Swedes. To this day, the Institute has a vast archive of letters, journals and manuscripts in addition to many books related to the Swedish experience. In fact, a major project the folks at the museum are working on right now is archiving and cataloguing these materials and making them available online.
Another major project is going on as well — one of those massive undertakings that must be completed in phases. The Institute was closed for six months and recently reopened in November 2011 after completion of the first phase. Renovation details from the first phase include restoring the house to near original condition. This involved installing custom-made replica carpeting and restoring the original plaster ceilings with decorative elements that make the rooms look like they’ve been frosted like a fancy cake. In the basement, there are now brand new classrooms for language classes and a modified auditorium area.
There are some new additions that lend brand new views, too. One spot in particular is quite fun; it’s something the staff has dubbed the “dog house.” It is a short, narrow hallway topped with a pointed glass roof that connects a new elevator to the old building. Not only does it offer up-close views of the house’s elaborate roof and gargoyle details, but a lovely new view of downtown Minneapolis as well.
Stand in the solarium to get a view of the site of their brand new addition; connected to the Turnblad mansion will be a contemporary designed structure called the Nelson Cultural Center. Construction on this phase is scheduled to continue through Spring 2012. In fact, they have set up a webcam so anyone can check in on the progress of construction. This 34,000 square-foot structure will house a new cafe that will serve modern Swedish fare, gift shop, and art gallery as well as a large studio, crafts workshop, and event and office spaces. A large courtyard will fill the outdoor space between the Institute and the cultural center, as well, offering outdoor cafe seating and room to host outdoor events.
American Swedish Institute
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday 12 p.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 12 p.m.-8 p.m.
Admission: $6 for adults; $5 ages 62 and above; $4 ages 6-18 and full-time students with ID