HPC Recommends Historical Designation for St. Andrew's
Friday, October 19, 2018 8:45 AM

These arches and window on the old St. Andrew's building face Como Ave.

Saint Paul’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted 8-1 Nov. 5 to recommend adding the former St. Andrew’s church building to the city’s historic registry.

The vote came after a 3-1/2-hour public hearing in City Council chambers. The hearing drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 at its peak. The audience included, on one side, parents, administrators, and schoolchildren at Twin Cities German Immersion School and, on the other side, architectural historians, Warrendale neighbors, and the granddaughter of the church’s architect.

Three dozen people gave arguments about why or why not to save the 1927 church building at 1031 Como Ave. The group calling itself Save Historic St. Andrew’s hopes to prevent the charter school, which owns the building, from tearing it down.

The school opposes the historic designation and argues it would be unprecedented for the city to grant historical status without its consent. School officials say they need to demolish what they consider an outdated building to make way for a school expansion that is scheduled to begin in May 2019. The city’s Planning Commission, using a different set of criteria from the Heritage Preservation Commission, decided Dec. 14 that the building is not eligible for designation.

Advocates cite architectural, cultural importance

Heritage Commission staff say the former church building meets four of the seven criteria that make it eligible for historical status. The commission’s recommendation next goes to the city’s Planning Commission and, eventually, City Council. Both of those bodies can consider economic and other broader considerations in making their decisions, rather than relying exclusively on the architectural and historical factors on which the Heritage Commission voted. The Heritage Commission also is sending its recommendation to the state’s Historic Preservation Office, which will evaluate whether the building might qualify for national historical status.

Advocates for historical designation emphasize the church building’s distinctive Romanesque Revival characteristics, aesthetics, and design. Those features include the building’s multi-color tiles and brick, elaborate masonry, and complex towers, bays, and roofs. They cited evidence that the building was designed by Charles A. Hausler, who was Saint Paul’s first city architect. Hausler has six other buildings – five of them in Saint Paul – on the National Register of Historic Places. Advocates also highlighted the church building’s role in the heritage of the Warrendale neighborhood, with one calling it a "visual and emotional anchor" for the community. (You can download and read Save Historic St. Andrew’s full application for historic designation from the right column.)

School says historical designation jeopardizes its future

Members of the school community challenged both the architectural and cultural value of the building. (In the right column, you can download and read the letter from TCGIS executive director Ted Anderson opposing historic designation.)

School proponents argue that the building is not “exemplary” or unique and that there are, in fact, many other Hausler designs and Romanesque churches in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. They questioned why the building merits designation now – when both the archdiocese and Ramsey County Historical Society previously deemed it unworthy, even though the building was more architecturally intact than it is today. They questioned which contributes more to the city’s heritage: a thriving German-language school with international connections or what they called a “relic” from a parish that no longer exists. But mostly, they argued, the building is inadequate for school purposes, is unsafe, and diverts taxpayer money and resources from children’s education. Historical designation, school board chair Sam Walling said, jeopardizes the school’s future.

School releases conceptual sketches

Meanwhile, the school has released preliminary sketches of the addition it hopes to build in place of the old church building. Based on these drawings, the addition would include seven classrooms, a full gymnasium and cafeteria, and additional office, special education, and “breakout” space. Despite their opposition, school officials pledged on Oct. 10 that they would not demolish any part of the church building ahead of schedule.

The school says the proposed expansion would accommodate a maximum enrollment of 648 pupils – nine grades of three classes, each with 24 pupils. TCGIS now has about 580 pupils in grades K-8. It projects enrollment of 613 within three years.

Originally published Oct. 19; updated Dec. 14.

(C) 2019 Como Community Council.

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