Development update :: Finding a new use for Wesley Church

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August 31, 2009 // UPDATED 8:50 am - August 31, 2009
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
How do you reuse a hundred-year-old church building?

Preserve Minneapolis, a group of volunteer history buffs that advocate for the preservation of historic resources, is tackling that question on behalf of Wesley United Methodist Church at 101 E. Grant St. The red stone building near the Convention Center has utility bills upwards of $5,000, according to Preserve Minneapolis, and the church, which hosts 50 meetings in the building each week, can no longer support the upkeep.

Lee Ann Gustafson of Preserve Minneapolis said one thing Wesley has going for it is versatility — the building doesn’t look like a traditional church. When it was built in 1891, the Methodist congregation wanted to differentiate its building from those of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. The pews are shaped like horseshoes, and a stage sits at the front of the 1,000-seat worship space. The sanctuary features skylights, a lighted dome and more than 30 stained-glass windows.

The church isn’t in danger of getting torn down, because it holds national and local historic designations, Gustafson said. But if the building closes, security could become a problem and the structure would suffer if it becomes too cold, she said.

Wesley is home to Recovery Church, which is tailored to recovering alcoholics and others in need of healing. Recovery moved into the building two years ago and joined Wesley’s original congregation when Wesley decided its 110 members could no longer afford $96,000 in building maintenance each year.

Since Recovery moved into Wesley Church, volunteers have provided lots of maintenance work — some of them coming in almost every day for long stretches of time. One volunteer spotlighted in a recent newsletter spent time repairing sheetrock, painting bathrooms, building cabinets, tearing up tile and installing new flooring.

When the church was built in 1891, the 137-foot tower was the tallest in the city.

Wesley is famous for adopting the racehorse Dan Patch as one of its members in the early 1900s. The horse’s owner was a member at Wesley and donated money from Patch’s races to the church.

Wesley is also noted for becoming the first United Methodist congregation in Minnesota to officially welcome and affirm the GLBT community in 1986.

According to Preserve Minneapolis, the larger United Methodist conference has committed to assisting the church until the end of the year.

Preserve Minneapolis hosted a brainstorming session to discuss new ways to use the church at a meeting on Aug. 19. There are lots of ideas so far.

Wesley could easily be transformed into a performance space; it has great acoustics and it even has music practice rooms. The church’s décor is not overtly Christian, so a synagogue might feel comfortable there as well. The building could become a compelling art gallery, or serve as an adjunct to the Convention Center. Churches in New York have even been retooled into nightclubs.

Gustafson said ideas for adaptation abound. Now all they need is a buyer.

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A campaign to designate a Loring Park home a landmark

Fans of Harry Wild Jones, the architect that designed Butler Square, are trying to make a 1900 Loring Park home he designed into an official Minneapolis landmark.

The home is located at 131 Oak Grove St., and it previously served as a residential treatment center for people with mental illnesses.  

Elizabeth Vandam, the author of a book about Jones, said the house has been listed for sale for about a year. She worries that it could be knocked down because it sits on prime property between two larger apartment complexes.

According to Vandam, the house was one of Jones’s earliest commissions at the age of 29. He went on to design many churches and the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel near Lake Calhoun, which was inspired by Byzantine architecture and modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Vandam said the Oak Grove building is distinctive for its use of light limestone, instead of the dark brick seen throughout the Warehouse District that was popular at the time.

The Society also hopes to achieve local landmark designation for the Oakland Apartments, a building at 213 S. 9th St. that was designed by Jones.

Vandam said it was built in 1888, and Jones claimed it was the city’s first true apartment building. She said the application for historic designation has been on file with the city since the 1980s, but the application was tabled long ago. The apartments were listed as one of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s 10 most endangered historic properties last year, due to its location on a block surrounded by surface parking lots.

“The economy has done us a good deed and slowed things down,” Vandam said, but she added that historic properties in Minneapolis continue to be vulnerable.