Approaching from the east on 38th Street, the tall, narrow bell tower of the Church of the Incarnation first becomes visible from more than a mile away. It’s a Kingfield landmark.
As of March, it’s also the neighborhood’s first locally designated historic district.
The church was designed by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, the same architect responsible for two other local Catholic landmarks: the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Under construction for several years beginning in 1916, it displays an architectural style that blends Italian Renaissance and Romanesque Revival.
The first mass in the church building was held a century ago in 1918, two years before Incarnation was officially dedicated in 1920. The historic designation arrived around the time of the church’s 100th birthday, just as it was beginning to makes plans for 2020 and beyond.
“Like so often when it comes to historic preservation, the city’s goals with historic preservation dovetailed nicely with the congregation’s goals,” noted city historian and planner John Smoley, who contributed to the historic designation study.
The district includes three buildings: the church and rectory building on one side of Pleasant Avenue South and Moynihan Hall across the street. Formerly home to a parish school, Moynihan Hall now hosts Hiawatha College Prep, a grades 5–8 charter school.
The Colonial Revival-style rectory, built between 1912 and 1913, came first. Construction on Moynihan Hall ran from 1934 to 1935. The original structure mixed Art Deco and Art Moderne architectural styles, and a large, three-story International Style addition was added in 1963.
The Incarnation campus once covered all four corners of the 38th & Pleasant intersection.
On the northeast corner, Lake Country School occupies what was once the original Incarnation school building. Mass was held in the school’s gym while the church was still under construction.
On the northwest corner was a convent. That building is now the Center for Performing Arts.
Incarnation was one of six local places of worship recently recommended for study by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission. The work was paid for with a $20,000 matching grant from National Park Service the city received in 2017 to identify and protect religious sites that had made significant secular contributions.
“It’s just a beautiful building in our neighborhood,” said Madeline Sundberg, a member of the commission who also serves on the Kingfield Neighborhood Association board.
Sundberg said it’s uncommon for a historic district centered on a church to demonstrate the “range of styles” of the Incarnation site.
“This is the first designation in Kingfield, so I think it’s special for that reason, too,” she added.
The church’s pastor, Father Kevin McDonough, submitted the application for nomination. But he admitted to being somewhat hesitant at first.
“My first instinct, which was the instinct that possessed five of the six pastors, was, ‘Gee, I’ve heard historic designation means burden,’” McDonough said.
But also McDonough knew there were potentially advantageous trade-offs for the church, which is planning renovations and a possible addition in the coming years. Local designation could give it some leeway with the city as those plans come together, McDonough said, adding that it also gets Incarnation “most of the way to a federal (historic) designation,” which would open the door to apply for state Arts and Cultural Heritage grants.
And those could be a big help as Incarnation prepares for the future. It recently launched a master planning process for its campus that’s been dubbed Incarnation 2020.
“This church building will be a century old in 2020. It has a leaky roof and it has front stairs that are wearing out,” McDonough said.
The Incarnation community is thriving. The congregation is seven times larger than it was just two decades ago, McDonough said, largely due to an influx of Latin American and South American immigrants. They’re buying homes nearby and making plans to stay.
“We’re going to be big, we’re going to be young, we’re going to be active,” he said.
But the church’s physical structure has seen better days. McDonough said the building requires an investment of $2 million “just to keep the structure from collapsing.”
More information on the Incarnation 2020 Master Plan is expected in May, when the church plans an official announcement.
Sundberg said she was glad to know the buildings would be protected, and she was eager to see what develops from the church’s master planning process.
“I’m excited to see what happens next with it,” she said.