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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Commission favors saving St. Andrew’s from wrecking ball

Posted on 10 December 2018 by Calvin

Heritage Preservation Commission considers church to be significant to St. Paul’s history and votes 8-1 to preserve it

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
After hearing from both sides of the issue, the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission voted 8-1 in favor of preserving the historic St. Andrew’s Church (photo right by Tesha M. Christensen) that is now being used by the Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS). The recommendation now moves on to the St. Paul Planning Commission and the St. Paul City Council.

School opposed to historic designation
The Heritage Preservation Commission received about 200 letters opposing the historic designation of the former St. Andrew’s Church. Nearly all of the letters were written by people who said they were parents of children who attend school at TCGIS or were teachers and staff members. The school currently has about 520 pupils and seeks to grow to about 630.

About 100 of the letters were from St. Paul residents including some who identified themselves as neighbors. The rest came from Minneapolis, Roseville, and other suburbs.
TCGIS supporters asked the Heritage Preservation Commission to avoid giving “a crumbling former church building, owned by the Twin Cities German Immersion School, a historic designation will put an unrealistic financial burden on this public charter school.”

The letters referred to it as a “short-sighted petition” that is “being presented by a small, vocal and selfish minority of neighbors.”

In his letter to the commission, TCGIS Executive Director Ted Anderson pointed out, “The school is a model for successful charter schools in both cities.”

Anderson added, “The non-profit school’s future is at stake if it is to be forced into maintaining an old building that is falling apart and is functionally obsolete.”

TCGIS does not think that historic designation should occur over the property owner’s objections—“Especially when the property owner is a non-profit entity such as a public charter school,” wrote Anderson.

Additionally, he wrote that historic preservation is not a benefit to a non-profit like a school; it is a burden.

“When my husband and I first saw the school, we were impressed with the beautiful building and excited that our children would attend a school with such a unique feature. However, the beauty of the building and the memories that it holds for our neighbors does not and should not take precedence over the education of our children,” wrote Theresa Gardella of Roseville.

“Sometimes in order to move great educational missions forward, spaces that no longer function (and that are unsafe and prohibitively expensive to repair) need to be demolished and replaced by new facilities that are more efficient and better designed with contemporary architectural knowledge about space and learning,” stated Kerten Warren of Roseville.

“I believe that historic preservation fails when it is used as a tactic to exclude or limit owners from their right to utilize or modify a property in a manner congruent with similar properties not deemed worthy of preservation,” wrote John Steingraeber of St. Paul.

“I live in St. Paul because its history and landmarks appeal to me,” wrote TCGIS parent Mike Mitchelson who lives along Como Lake. “But I also appreciate progress and the idea that neighborhoods—including historic ones—need new landmarks to continue their relevance and attract new generations of residents. The Como Lake area is such a neighborhood.”

Neighbor and TCGIS school parent Kyle Johnson who lives along Englewood is opposed to the request for historic designation. “The ‘neighbors’ have already taken resources from the school by making it look at alternatives,” he wrote. “That’s money that could have gone for books or teachers.”

In favor of preservation
The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) received about 11 letters from people, most of them neighbors, who support the designation of St. Andrew’s as a heritage site.
Earlier this year, 600 people signed a petition asking that the school wait on expansion until June 2020 to provide time to review various options and to gather more concrete estimates for work needed on the building. School representatives have stated that it would be prohibitively expensive to update the old church building while neighbors argue the amount is part of regular maintenance fees and any repairs needed are much lower.

However, the school voted on July 30 to raze the structure and had initially scheduled partial demolition for early October, but after receiving pressure from the grassroots group Save Historic St. Andrews it agreed to wait until the summer of 2019.

Save Historic St. Andrew’s (SHSA) raised funds to complete a historic evaluation of the building that was designed by the city’s first architect, Charles Hausler, and then applied for heritage preservation on Oct. 1.

Murial Gubasta’s paternal great-grandparents, Coleman and Justina Horvath, immigrated to the Como Park neighborhood in 1900 and were among many other Hungarian immigrants who settled in the Warrendale neighborhood and contributed money to build the new St. Andrew Church building on Como Ave. They were married in the first church building in 1908, and their children attended school at St. Andrew’s. Gubasta was the fourth generation of her family to attend school there and was followed by her nephew as a fifth-generation student.

“There are several hundred other family stories that are similar to mine,” wrote Gubasta in a letter to the HPC. “Even though many of these proceeding generations have moved on it does not mean St. Andrew’s Church building no longer has historic and cultural value. To raze St. Andrew’s Church building is to destroy the rich, historic and cultural identity of this beautiful neighborhood in Como Park.”

SHSA member Kevin Anderson pointed out, “We have had a school in this neighborhood since 1920, and we value the vibrancy that it brings to our community. However, development by any institution or resident needs to take into consideration the essential character of the established neighborhood. I believe that the current expansion plan proposed by TCGIS is not consistent with the St. Paul Comprehensive Plan or congruent with the existing character of our neighborhood.”

According to SHSA member Steve Greenwood, “St. Andrews deserves historical designation, as it is comparable to Hausler’s other buildings on the National Register (St. Anthony Library, Riverview Library, Freedom Library, Minnesota Building, Minnesota Milk Building, and St. Mary’s in Hague ND). It is also comparable to the six District 10 buildings on the Register (Footbridge L-5853, Bridge 92247, Conservatory, Salvation Army Women’s Home, and Northern Pacific Railway Co. Como Shops), in terms of architectural beauty, design architect significance, social significance, and impact on the neighborhood.”

What makes it significant?
St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission, in its 8-1 decision for historic preservation, said the former church building is eligible for local designation under four of St. Paul’s Heritage Preservation criteria.

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, built in 1927 by the McGough Brothers, is architecturally significant as a well-designed example of the Romanesque Revival style. According to the HPC report, the church is not only significant in the Lake Como area, where it maintains a strong architectural presence, it is also among St. Paul’s most distinctive period revival style churches.

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church is also significant for its association with Charles A. Hausler, who served as the first city architect for the city of St. Paul and whose large and diverse body of work had an important impact on the city. (See related article on page 6)

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church is also historically significant as an important institution in the Lake Como area that became a community center for the working-class congregation that it served, according to the information reviewed by the Heritage Preservation Commission. The church served a community of Hungarian immigrants and is significant for its association with the Hungarian immigrant experience.

Another criterion is that its unique location or singular physical characteristic represents an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community, or the city of Saint Paul. According to the HPC report, the Warrendale neighborhood has a unique layout designed by H.W.S. Cleveland, as it is not a grid, but a curvilinear plan and St. Andrew’s Church is sited in a unique location within that plat.

Debate over 1983 preservation report
In deciding on the status of St. Andrew’s Church historic status, the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) cited a “1983 Historic Sites Survey of St. Paul and Ramsey County” that stated that St. Andrew’s Church was a “Site of Major Significance.”

Twin Cities German Immersion School officials noted that the documentation for that very same report did not list the church as a site “eligible for designation.” And, that in fact, the official “Historic Sites Survey” for the church done in 1981 clearly marked “no” for National Register potential, “no” for “local designation potential,” and “no” to “historic district potential.”

According to Christine Boulware, Historic Preservation Specialist for Planning and Economic Development, reports that are more than ten years old may contain important data, but that they are “out of date” and that new or updated information should be the primary focus.

“Effectively, the current nomination that was submitted for St. Andrew’s Church is the up-to-date information that an intensive level survey would provide and more,” Boulware said. “Thus, when the HPC reviewed the nomination at the Nov. 5 public hearing, they determined the site eligible for local designation based on the information provided in the nomination document.”

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