Restoring a century-old Linden Hills landmark

Lake Harriet Spiritual Community is fixing up its historic home

Originally a Methodist church, Lake Harriet Spiritual Community's home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The community plans a restoration for the building's 100th anniversary. Submitted photo courtesy Alex Haecker
Originally a Methodist church, Lake Harriet Spiritual Community's home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The community plans a restoration for the building's 100th anniversary. Submitted photo courtesy Alex Haecker

LINDEN HILLS — For its 100th birthday, the building that houses the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community is ready for a little touch up.

Listed in 2014 with the National Register of Historic Places, the building is poised for a substantial restoration, if the community’s fundraising efforts go as planned. This winter solstice, members of the community plan to celebrate their home’s remarkable architecture as they look toward spiffing it up to its former Classical Revival glory.

First known as the Lake Harriet Methodist Episcopal Church, the structure became the Church of Divine Science, a new age church, in the 1950s, according to Gary Perisian, who is President of LHSC. Then, in the 1980s, the Church of the Divine Science had a split, and became Lake Harriet Community Church, Perisian said.

Perisian joined the congregation around the time they changed their name to Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, in 2001.

“I was looking for something different,” he recalled. “I had quit drinking and AA wasn’t the thing for me.”

Seeking a way to figure out why he had been drinking, Perisian was drawn to LHSC in part because of the building. Over the years, he has put in a lot of work to maintain it.

“The building was one of the things that kept me around there,” he said.

J.P. Fulton, the architect, did a series of nine churches across the country.

“All of them were influenced by the Pantheon in Rome,” said Steven Johnson, a ministerial guide in the community. Johnson said Fulton was a 32nd degree Mason, and imbedded Masonic symbolism into the design.

Perisian said LHSC took on the task of restoring the building in earnest a few years ago, first by getting it on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s a very complicated process,” he said.

Luckily, they found an expert named Tammy Lindberg, a historian who would help them through the application.

“She was very helpful in giving advice,” Perisian said. “It was something I knew nothing about. She gave us pointers along the way.”

From there, Lindberg connected the community to Alex Haecker, of AWH Architects, who, coincidentally, had a connection to the building through taking yoga classes. The coincidence makes sense, given the fact that LHSC rents out space to a yoga studio that has been conducting teacher trainings for years, as well as other wellness groups who lease space from the organization.

Haecker said his work started with applying for state Legacy Amendment fund grants through the Minnesota Historical Society. Haecker’s firm created a 150-page report that provided an assessment of the building’s condition, indicating high and low priorities.

According to Haecker, Perisian has been instrumental in keeping the building in good condition over the years, by doing things like making sure it doesn’t leak.

“It’s actually in really good shape,” he said.

However, there are major repairs that still need to be done, such as masonry issues on the outside, a roof that needs to be replaced and trim board that is starting to rot.

In addition, there are historic details that are currently covered up, which the restoration will be able to correct. For example, on the dome of the building, the original vertical siding has been covered up with asphalt sheets.

Haecker has been studying the original drawings, which show that there was asbestos board that once had details on it. Eventually, part of the restoration will involve adding that detail back in — without asbestos, of course.

The lead glass windows are an important feature of the building and will be an important part of the restoration process, Haecker said.

“The glass is liquid, and they’ve started to sag quite a bit,” he said.

As part of the condition assessment report, Haecker’s firm has been talking to Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass, the successor to Ford Brothers, who made the original windows.

“The company is going to take them apart and redo them all,” Haecker said.

Haecker said the building’s design is a prime example of the City Beautiful Movement, which came into popularity around the time of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

“It’s one of the last examples in Minneapolis of that period,” Haecker said.

Like other City Beautiful buildings, LHSC sits on a prominent site, on a hill, and has classical references such as domes and columns.

The building’s original design also has a unique door system between the education wing and the sanctuary, though it’s currently not in use. The wall was able to lift up, so that the two areas could become one space.

“It was a pretty cool design,” Haecker said.

The door, which would be part of the indoor renovations, will have to wait until the outside is restored, however. Right now, LHSC is hoping to raise $1.5 million through grants and fundraising to complete the exterior renovation before shifting its focus to the interior.

So far, LHSC has been successful in raising the capital for the building’s improvements when needed. Through Kickstarter, they were able to raise $10,000 to fix the rotting sections on the North side of the building, and they have earned grants from the Minnesota Historical Society for the work put in by AWH architects to define restoration needs of the building.

“It’s a good example of a grassroots effort from a great group taking ownership and stewardship of this building,” Haecker said. “They are keeping it alive and respecting its history while they adapt it for their own uses.”

According to Johnson, the ministerial guide, the 100-year celebration will be blended with the community’s annual winter solstice gathering.

“It’s perfect timing,” he said. “It’s the turning point of the year, and the turning point of the century mark of the building.”

Johnson said the celebration would include a short discussion about the building’s recent placement on the national register, as well as information about the restoration work that needs to be done.

“We’ll show some slides of the building design, and how it connects to the Pantheon and masonic symbols,” he said.

The evening will include a simple solstice ritual where guests set intentions for the new year, as well as music by Bevani, a classically trained flutist, and Minneapolis vocalist Emily Colay and her chorus of feminine voices.

44th Upton web

IF YOU GO:

Lake Harriet Spiritual Community winter solstice and 100-year celebration

When: 7 p.m.–9 p.m. Dec. 20

Where: LHSC Sanctuary, 4401 Upton Ave. S.

Info: lakeharrietspiritualcommunity.org, 922-4272. There is a $10 suggested donation.

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