Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church, 116 32nd Street East, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church

Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church, ca. 1973
Stewart Memorial Church, ca. 2008
Address: 116 32nd Street E
Neighborhood/s: Lyndale, Minneapolis, Minnesota
City/locality-
State/province
Minneapolis, Minnesota
County-
State/province:
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1909
Primary Style: Prairie School
Additions: Sunday school wing added later.
Historic Function: Religious/Place of worship
Current Function: Religious/Place of worship
Architect or source of design: Purcell and Feick
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
First Owner: Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church
Notes: 1988 became Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church

Lyndale Minneapolis Hennepin County

Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church, 116 32nd Street East, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.9452° N, 93.275747° WLatitude: 44°56′42.72″N
Longitude: 93°16′32.689″W
)
National Register of Historic Places Information
Reference Number: 78001543
Reference URL: [Reference]
Certification date: November 28, 1978
Level of significance: State
Primary Style: Prairie School


This Prairie School religious edifice was designed by Purcell and Feick and built for the Stewart Presbyterian Church in 1909. In 1988 the Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church purchased the building and completed the restoration in 2000. The next year it received a National Trust for Historic Preservation award. A leader in the efforts to restore the building was Clifton Johns, a resident of the South Minneapolis African-American community.

When Stewart Memorial Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1910, the Prairie Style cube stood in sharp contrast to the traditional turn-of-the-century houses surrounding it in south Minneapolis. Similar in appearance to Frank Lloyd Wright`s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, Stewart Memorial was the first major commission of architects William Gray Purcell and George Feick, Jr. Together with George Elmslie, another veteran of Louis Sullivan`s Chicago office, Purcell and Feick promoted the Prairie Style in Minnesota, leaving a rich architectural legacy displayed primarily in residential designs. The significance of Stewart Memorial has been acknowledged by the structure`s listing in the National Register and as a local landmark.

Like many other urban areas in the United States, the character of Minneapolis`s inner city changed after World War II. Members of the Presbyterian congregation migrated to the suburbs and the church moved with them, leaving the 1910 structure in need of a new guardian. Construction of an interstate freeway and an immense sound-barrier wall immediately to the east of the property in the 1960s further clouded the building`s future.

Salvation seemed at hand in 1988 when a new congregation acquired the building and rechristened it Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church. The congregation was immediately confronted by an array of challenges. Basic structural systems such as plumbing, wiring, heating, and the roof needed replacement. Large leaded-glass windows, a key feature of the architectural design, were deteriorating. The organ had gasped its last note years ago. The sound system couldn`t handle the exuberant music that plays such an important role in worship services. The congregation also wanted to adapt the sanctuary to accommodate their religious practices, particularly total immersion baptism.

The chairman of the congregation`s board of trustees, Clifton Johns, worked to maintain the structure with encouragement from architectural enthusiasts around the country. After a decade of dedicated, but piecemeal, efforts, the congregation received a $2,000 Preservation Services Fund grant from the National Trust to initiate a master plan. With the plan in hand, the congregation launched a $2.3-million capital campaign to conduct a major renovation. Philanthropic patrons and local foundations soon supplemented the $100,000 contributed by church members, and the renovation was on its way.

Preservation architect Robert Mack, FAIR, of MacDonald & Mack Architects, Ltd., prepared plans that addressed structural problems and sensitively incorporated worship requirements. Watson-Forsberg Company served as the general contractor. Exterior wood trim was scraped and repainted; interior trim was cleaned. Vents for a new HVAC system were inconspicuously incorporated into the interior trim. Asbestos abatement was completed. The windows were removed and repaired at a studio specializing in leaded-glass preservation. A furniture refinisher restored the pews. The organ was rehabilitated and new light fixtures, replicas of the long-absent originals, were installed. An immersion pool was carefully hidden below the choir loft; before baptismal ceremonies begin, a wood panel behind the pulpit drops and part of the choir loft`s floor recedes to expose the pool. A new kitchen and restrooms on the lower level replaced woefully out-of-date facilities.

One of the structure`s biggest problems was accessibility. Steps were barriers at every entry. A small new addition to the rear facade, featuring a compatible modern design, is equipped with an elevator and provides an entry from the parking lot. This entrance opens into the Prairie Style education wing added in 1915. A dropped ceiling and other inappropriate modern intrusions were removed from the wing`s two-story atrium, which opens into the sanctuary when tall wood pocket doors are retracted.

The congregation`s preservation work has not diminished its dedication to other missions. Since moving into the church, membership has risen to about 250, mostly African-American families. Redeemer maintains close links with its neighbor, the Harriet Tubman Center. A shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence, the center was founded in 1976 and established a substantial new facility on the block in 1995. Families find a physical haven at Harriet Tubman and a spiritual haven at Redeemer. The congregation also reaches out to the surrounding Lyndale neighborhood. Youth flock to educational, recreational, and social activities based at the church. A computer lab is open to children and others in the community. Volunteers produce meals for the homeless in the new kitchen.

In preserving an important landmark, the congregation has brought pride of place and an appreciation of architectural quality to an inner-city neighborhood while furthering the church`s religious and social missions.

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Notes

  • David Gebhard & Tom Martinson, A Guide to the Architecture of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 1977
  • "Clifton Johns led the effort to restore Redeemer church," obituary in Star Tribune, Minneapolis, October 9, 2008, page B8


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