St. Andrew’s Church and the American Landscape

Editor’s note / correction: The original post did not state that Bob Roscoe is a paid consultant on this project. Per editorial policy #14, possible conflicts of interest should be disclosed before publication. regrets the error.


St Andrews St PaulMany places of worship are built for unambiguously ecclesiastic use for the religious function of its parishioners. Many of us at various times of every day, subconsciously measure our everyday lives by a Gothic-inspired architectural form of a steep roofed main structure with a high narrow steeple reaching up to the sky.

Architectural historian Alan Lathrop observes in a world caring little for its history, religious structures are the one unchanging element, the part of the built environment that rejects change and destruction.

Very significant for our collective culture, in rural areas we see the steeple form among farm fields miles away. We approach the church and become aware of its prominence that gives identity to its hamlet. In dense urban neighborhoods, close to a street the church steeple functions as a local marker for the houses and shops around it.

Most of these religious buildings give not only a place for worship but hosts community events such as art fairs, local meetings and performances. And very often a neighborhood church came into being as a necessary gathering place for immigrant peoples seeking a cultural foothold in their new land. As time passes, the neighborhood develops awareness of the church’s architectural elements that informs its ethnic past and enriches the community and the city around it.

However, history can be foreclosed by certain human events.

A Romanesque Revival-Byzantine church at 1030 Como Avenue in Saint Paul, the former Saint Andrews Catholic Church, was designed by notable Saint Paul architect Charles Hausler. Saint Andrews has been regarded as one of the most beautiful places of worship in the Twin Cities. However, its owner, the Twin Cities German Immersion School, has proposed to demolish the building, due their estimate of maintenance costs and proposed replacement for a gymnasium.

A neighborhood advocacy group, Save Historic St. Andrews, opposes the potential loss of their beloved neighborhood landmark, and has gathered professional expertise to contradict those cost estimates and repair items. Save Historic St. Andrews has offered to conduct a re-use study but the immersion school has rebuffed their offer.

The Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission voted overwhelmingly to recommend heritage designation of Saint Andrews to the Saint Paul City Council.

Historic preservation today has provided re-use of many churches that once served traditional congregations. The emergence of non-traditional religious organizations has become an important re-use source. Many former traditional churches and synagogues have become converted into community meeting sites, schools, events centers and other non-religious uses.

About Robert Roscoe

“A camera teaches you how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange My professional experience includes over 36 years of architectural office experience, with the last 21 years as principal of Design For Preservation. My education includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History, and five years at the School of Architecture, University of Minnesota. I served 21 years on the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and I have written articles for Architecture Minnesota, a publication of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. I have given lectures on preservation architecture at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture and various public forums. Art photography is a main avocation for me, focusing on capturing images of abandoned parts of the built environment, and I have been featured in several art exhibitions. I have co-authored a book on County Catholic Churches and am the author of the book Milwaukee Avenue – Community Renewal in Minneapolis. Also, I am editor of the infrequently published Journal of American Rocket Science.

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30 thoughts on “St. Andrew’s Church and the American Landscape

  1. Jeff

    To my knowledge, there is no such group that has stepped up to adapt this church, should the decision of the HPC stand. So we’re talking about a group (Save Historic St. Andrews) fighting for a vacant building, to the detriment of one of the best/biggest German Immersion schools in the state. Don’t get me wrong – I love grand old buildings that were designed by notable architects, and they should be preserved if feasible. A good example is the former church near Snelling and Summit that is being re-used by the St. Paul Conservatory of Music.

    But here, the options are either to tear down the church so that TCGIS may continue to thrive in St. Paul or keep the building, throwing TCGIS into an unknown future. And if the building is saved, who pays for upkeep? And out of what budget?

    Needless to say, I am disappointed (but not surprised) with the HPC decision and I hope that the City Council reverses course.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          As a school. It’s currently used as a school. I have talked to some parents of the kids there and they like it. Some don’t, I imagine.

          In general, schools as institutions seem to have a penchant for tearing things down, expanding, and leading to a growth imperative rather than valuing historical buildings and places. (I don’t know about this particular case.)

          1. Daniel

            So, full disclosure my kids have all gone to TCGIS. My oldest was the last class to be at the original Como location, my youngest just started kindergarten this year.

            The school as “made due” with the Aula the last 5yrs. We have tried to make the space work but it’s just too limiting. Churches make great churches but beyond that they have a limited reuse. It’s been the schools dream to have a proper gym, and given the shape of the Aula, razing the building is the best option.

            Honestly, I think at the end of the day the campaign to save the building is about white middleclass nostalgia. They want a pretty building to look at. If they were genuinely concerned they should have taken this up in 2011 when the church was deconsecrated.

              1. Daniel

                Basically when it was decided to close the parish the Catholic Church did its own assessment of the property and decided that it wasn’t worth keeping so they sacramentally deconsecrated the building.

          2. Monte Castleman

            If reusing the church was feasible the school wouldn’t be wanting to spend a bunch of money to replace it.

            I don’ t doubt the kids and parents think it’s cool, but they’re not the ones paying the heating and repair bills, scrambling to deal with programming limitations a retrofitted space is causing.

            Maybe the best solution is for the school to sell the entire property and move to or build a structure more economical and suitable for their needs and have someone else deal with the building and the neighbors.

            1. Daniel

              We did. We looked at the Central
              Lutheran School, but again the cost of needed repairs and updated didn’t make sense compared to staying and building out

            2. Jason

              If the building is granted historic status and needs preservation… I imagine the resale value will significantly decrease.

  2. Jack

    I will certainly take flak here, but I hate to see a beautiful, old building destroyed. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. How long will the German Immersion School be around? The school should find (or build) a more suitable building for themselves elsewhere.

    I love how the Museum of Russian Art (5500 Stevens Ave, Mpls) transformed a former church. Something akin to that would be more appropriate for this historic property.

    1. Bob Spaulding

      Also, the Emily Program repurposed a similarly lovely old church opposite the University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus.

  3. Anon

    It seems like some of the motivations for preventing the school expansion go beyond preservation.


    Kevin Dahm is a former District 10 board member who still serves on the land use committee. He got involved in the issue after hearing from neighbors concerned about how noise from the playground affected a house 10 feet away. Neighbors have also talked about how difficult it is to park on the street as the school does not have adequate parking for staff and parents, and how dangerous pick-up and drop-off time is on the streets around the school when about 350 cars are coming and going.

    1. Bob Spaulding

      Anonymous person,

      While the historic considerations are central for me, this school is also a transportation nightmare, as any good devotee would appreciate.

      Last I heard stats, a strong majority of parents at a school with an enrollment approaching 600 students, converge in cars and drop their kids off.

      Most schools use busses to get kids there. When this building was occupied by Saint Andrew’s Catholic School, and later the St. Paul French Immersion School, it worked beautifully served by busses.

      But when hundreds of cars are converging all at the same time, serving a majority of students from outside Saint Paul, it creates a transportation nightmare this site and the surrounding road network was not designed to handle.

      As a result, speaking as a parent who lives 300 feet away, my wife and I can count approaching twenty times where on an otherwise quiet corner, cars which largely seem to be from TCGIS blow through the outstretched stop signs and flashing red lights of my son’s bus. Enough.

      I served on the Planning Commission and its Zoning Committee for several years, and parking and traffic concerns were often brought up by neighbors, but they were clearly tactics designed to prevent development. I was generally not moved by that line of reasoning.

      This issue, it’s legit, and several surrounding parents have struggled with what our family has struggled with: a real safety issue and illegal behavior brought on by the chaos of the nature of this school’s unique and unusual transportation patterns. I’m not sure you can force kids to take the bus, or kids or employees to walk from many blocks away, but I’m not sure what would work either.

      So yes, save that church building. And also, this site poses incredibly serious transportation challenges that may argue for some substantial reappraisals of this plan.

      1. Elizabeth T.

        TCGIS has five *full* buses running every day. The number of cars is *much* lower than it was just last year when we had only 3.

        1. John Maddening

          That’s 100% true. I drive by the school every morning, as I have since before TCGIS opened. Traffic was terrible when they opened, and it has gotten progressively better even though they have added more students.

  4. Jason

    You can read a bit about the closure of St. Andrew’s and the merger of that parish with Maternity of Mary:

    From what I can gather, Church of the Redeemer rented the building formerly known as St. Andrew’s for a year or two and then based on recorded sale data Maternity of Mary sold the building to TCGIS for $2.13MM

    At the time when the building stopped being a Catholic church, it would have been deconsecrated (before Church of the Redeemer could use it). A similar thing happened to St. James when Awaken began using the space in the West 7th Neighborhood.

    I agree, the building is quite gorgeous, it is unfortunate that the Catholic church decided to allow St. Andrew’s to be sold off. Especially given the number of people who clearly value this building. It is very easy to demand a building be preserved when you don’t have to put any money into the preservation.

    If anything, if the building is required to remain, TCGIS now knows they have a lot of passionate neighbors who will hopefully help provide the funds to ensure this building remains. Give to the Max day is tomorrow after all….

  5. Wilj

    On a related note, the former Arms & Armor location is similarly a repurposed church in the Como neighborhood (1035 14th Ave SE). The founder of the nonprofit, Chris Poor had recently had the building on the market and apparently sold it to some org I’ve never heard of until now called the “Oakeshott Institute”.

    Anyway, it was listed for, I think $500k and a rumor I heard had it that someone was interested in repurposing the building as a community theater. She had budgeted $5 million (I think this was the number, but I may be misremembering this and it was actually $7m) to bring the building up to code. She ended up passing on the deal because the estimates for the work that needed to be done were “way over that”.

    I’ve walked by the building many times and it’s definitely in disrepair, but having said that, none of these structures are cheap to repair. They were all build in an era when labor was cheap, but labor is expensive now. And on top of this, most of the knowhow in craftsmanship is turning into a lost art – so there’s much more limited expertise in these types of structures than existed in the yesteryear.

    Preservation is a noble goal, however it’s hard to make the argument that the cost structure is anything short of that required to extend an era that has really ended. I personally think preservation is almost always “worth it”, but there’s no doubting that it’s an expensive goal to prioritize..

    1. Bob Spaulding


      What is concerning to me is that a well maintained, eminently serviceable, very historic landmark could be torn down by a school. That a taxpayer-funded school can’t even be bothered to meet with district council and community leaders to discuss ways to reuse the historic landmark. That a taxpayer-funded school claims reuse of the historic landmark wouldn’t be financially possible, but then to my knowledge has been unwilling to present public the evidence of their assertion.

      City policy clearly would urge this building be adaptively reused if at all reasonable. And some of the best architects in the state have said it seems quite reasonable. Our tax money supports that school. It’s entirely reasonable to ask this taxpayer funded institution to be more transparent, accountable, collaborative and forthcoming.

      I work for the city, have served on the Planning Commission, but speak only for myself as a neighbor who lives 300 feet away from the church building.

      1. Anon

        Bob, Bob, Bob. All of your assertions are easily refuted by the FACTS presented multiple times in multiple meetings in multiple public venues.

        You’re just pissed because your kid didn’t get in via the lottery. Settle down and stop harassing the school and the school kids.

  6. Anonymous

    I didn’t see it noted anywhere in this article that the author, Robert Roscoe, is a paid architectural consultant by the SHSA neighborhood advocacy group. I do not know whether Robert’s advocacy for saving St. Andrew’s caused him to do paid consulting work for SHSA or the other way around, but that conflict of interest should probably be noted prominently in the article IMO.

    1. John Maddening

      Agreed. There’s been a noticeable number of these lapses on the “save” side, including getting TCGIS to agree to a collaborative meeting the day after SHSA filed a lawsuit against them, didn’t tell them that the suit had been filed, and then publicly calling TCGIS out for not moving ahead with the meeting.

  7. Daniel Ph.

    This has now crossed over into the absurd. SHSA has filed for a a temporary restraining order.

    What has SHSA materially done to save this building? Have they created a foundation to the raise funds to pay for the rehab and continuing maintenance? Or are they just gonna walk away and enjoy the view if they get their way?

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Just a reminder: “Please refrain from attacking or disparaging others in your comments. sees debate as a learning opportunity. Please share your perspective in a respectful manner.” It’s possible to discuss this issue without getting personal or overly-negative.

  8. Anon

    “Many of us at various times of every day, subconsciously …” – 3 of the first 10 words in this sentence are qualifiers, most noticeably “subconscious”. Is the author suggesting that building and preservation decisions be made on “subconscious” mental activity?

    This building is in the city, not a “rural area” and isn’t visible from 2 blocks away, let alone miles. Schools also act as the same community anchors the author claims for churchs.

    “History can be foreclosed by certain human events”? History is human events.

    “Many former traditional churches and synagogues have become converted … schools” is exactly what has happened here. The school bought this building, and used it for a number of years, and now wants to build a proper school building.

    The school owns the building, and should do as it sees fit.

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