MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – An old church building in St. Paul is now at the center of a historic preservation battle.
The Twin Cities German Immersion School bought the former St Andrew’s Catholic Church on Como Avenue several years ago, but the school’s construction plan to tear down the church is striking a nerve with community members.
The community group Save Historic St. Andrew’s is now trying to protect the colorful Romanesque Revival church building nestled in a quiet Como Park neighborhood.
“You come across this building and you’re like, ‘Whoa!'” said Bonnie Youngquist, a member of Save Historic St. Andrew’s.
“It has Mediterranean influences, so it has a party-colored clay tile roof – it’s orange and it’s blue and it’s red,” said Roy Neal, Save Historic St. Andrew’s member.
“It’s a neighborhood landmark. It’s an icon,” said Bob Roscoe, the architectural advisor to the group and a former Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission member.
The architect who built the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church building was an icon himself.
“Charles Hausler is the architect,” Neal said. “He was the first city architect in St. Paul when he was like 25.”
The church was finished in 1927 with the help of immigrant communities that would eventually attend the church, each giving one day a month to help with construction.
“This group of immigrants worked with this visionary architect to make this building,” said Mary Burnison, another member of Save Historic St. Andrew’s.
After decades of worship, the church closed its doors in 2011. In 2013, the Twin Cities German Immersion School moved in.
Last April, some neighbors caught wind that the school had a more modern vision for the building’s future.
“It was always on the table that that day might come when we needed to take down the church building and build something new,” said Kelly Laudon, Twin Cities German Immersion School board member.
The K-8 publicly-funded charter school says it has outgrown the nearly century-old building. After considering all options, the school wants to construct a $5.1 million building with a new gym, cafeteria and additional classroom space.
“If we were to work within the walls that currently exist, there’s just not a way to provide the space that we need,” Laudon said.
The plan requires tearing down the church.
“I don’t mean to get so emotional, but my family’s history was here,” former parishioner Muriel Gubasta said.
“It really, I think, would be a serious loss to St. Paul,” Roscoe added.
As it stands, the church building is not a designated historic site, and it was not designated when the school purchased it.
“There was no restrictions on whether or not we needed to maintain or preserve any of the structures,” Laudon said.
But some community members say they are trying to change that.
“I’m saying to St. Paul City Council – don’t tear down your history,” Roscoe said.
“I understand that this is a loss from their perspective, there’s also a real gain for the neighborhood,” Laudon said.
The St. Paul City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to designate the church a local historic site.