U of M Institute of Religion Building

The Minneapolis Stake of the LDS Church is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, and they’ve got a web site that has some interesting history about church infrastructure in MPLS. I find the photo gallery equally interesting and tragic.

For example, I didn’t know that the first chapel constructed in MPLS was about 3 blocks from my house at 3101 14th Avenue South.  It was dedicated in 1924 and sold in the early 40’s.

The building is still in use today by another faith organization.  That’s pretty neat.  This is an older photograph – the building is now painted with a purple mural on the back.

Here’s an architectural tragedy I learned about, though.  The church purchased the following building at 1205 University Avenue SE in Minneapolis in 1969:

It was razed in 1989 to make room for this:

This sort of blows my mind. Talk about trading down architecturally!  One must assume that the Church got an absolute steal on the older building when they bought it in 1969.  Either that, or the church was willing to pay a premium for the location right across the street from campus.  It would be interesting to see the balance sheet for this decision.  I’m sure the old building had some maintenance issues, and I’m sure the new building is much cheaper to maintain, but jeez – talk about trading the inspiring for the banal!

Anyone out there old enough to remember the older institute building?  Anyone have any insight as to why the old building was demolished?

15 thoughts on “U of M Institute of Religion Building”

  1. One possible reason it was torn down was for parking, not like there is enough parking on Sundays. Looks like there'd only be on-street parking, what with the footprint the building has. It's a shame though.

  2. marla said… oh gosh… that old beautiful was BEAUTIFUL! that is so sad!!
    the parking situation is a MESS. i remember when i went there everyone would make announcements on the pulpit like 'whoever is double parked behind my car better move it in five seconds'

    also – did you see there is a free 5k race this saturday for the celebration? it's in eden prairie. i'm so going!

  3. @Marla – yea – the double parking there is annoying (double parking is annoying anywhere…). but, oh, imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would occur if the church said, "No more double parking – ride a bike instead!"

  4. Speaking of parking, I amused by the people in my ward who park along the non-parking side of the lot instead of the still open spots a whopping 5 stalls away from the door. Do we really need to make up parking spots before the lot is even 1/2 full? What is that, laziness?

    That old bldg at 1205 University Avenue looks gorgeous. Given what it costs to raze a building, I have to wonder if they've yet to reach a financial benefit with the utilitarian bldg that replaced it. The snarky side of me wouldn't be surprised if it was torn down because people confused it with a Protestant church and we can't have that. The irony being the effort in the early '00s to make chapels look more like churches. Steeples were placed atop all of the existing chapels and ones built since then incorporate a steeple in the design.

  5. @Ren – I agree. This building must have been quite expensive to demolish. That's why I think they must have acquired it for cheap or were just willing to pay for the location across the street from campus. Surely there were cheaper properties to demolish elsewhere in Dinkytown at the time…

  6. My mom worked in the old building for four years as the institute secretary. Originally the building was absolutely beautiful inside and out. However when a new institute director was appointed he had "No love" for the building and completely let it run itself down. My mom said there were bats all over the building, and all the stained glass windows were in desperate need of repair. Being that they were over two stories high it would have cost "millions of dollars" to fix them. Also it was heated by a gigantic old coal furnace that was always breaking down and required a full time person to keep burning. It cost a small fortune to heat the building.

    My mom said that sometimes when the furnace guy was gone she would have to shovel coal to avoid freezing in the Minnesota winter in her office. She joked that she was the only institute secretary that needed insurance for black lung disease.

    Thus, because the church is extremely cautious about the way the sacred tithing funds are spent, they decided to build a much more efficient structure.

    The original idea was to build a much larger building that was three stories high, with underground parking, a gym, and classrooms. However this was not approved by the church, as the membership at the time was too small to necessitate a three story building. Although I bet it would be much more practical today.

    Pieces of the old building still remain, the pulpit in the current institute is the original and my mom for years had a pew bench in our house but gave it to another member of the church as a gift.

    That was a little more than a "comment" but just thought you'd like a little history on the matter.

  7. @Tacy Marie – What a wonderful bit of history! Thank you for sharing! I don't doubt for a second that the old building was very expensive to operate and was in desperate need of repair.

    Everything I have ever heard about how the church spends it's dollars just makes me more shocked that the Church ever bought the old building in the first place! The old building had two things to offer: 1) Location 2) Architecture. It is clear that the church places little value on the latter, so I can only assume that the church was after the location all along.

  8. I am numb and in shock Reuben. I think this wins for the worst decision ever made. At least they actually used the building for 15 years before demo'ing it. Whoever approved that should be criminally prosecuted. And I only say that partially in jest…

  9. Looking at the two pictures made my heart ache…

    I would like to try to be more understanding of the complicated issues surrounding the decision, but I cannot get past the two pictures.

  10. Dear Jonathan… for wost decision ever made please see "Genocide."

    And Reuben while the church does primarily seek good locations, I don't know if I would say that the church does not care about architecture. The conference center and many of the temples all over the world are quite spectacular architecturally speaking.

    It seems hard to jump to conclusions about this particular building without knowing all the reasons/facts of the demolition.

    Just as a side note… I love old churches with stained glass windows.

  11. @Katie – thanks for some more of the back story! That's kind of funny about moving the meeting time so people would avoid tickets!

    @Jonathan – I wonder what it would have been like to meet in an older building like that during those 15 years.

    @Tacy Marie – you are right – My blanket statement that the church does not value architecture was a misstatement. There are wonderful examples of architecture throughout LDS history, including many of the temples. But I guess that makes it that much more perplexing that such little value was placed on architecture in this particular instance – because we know that the church has placed value on architecture elsewhere and that the church understands the ability of spectacular architecture to cultivate faith. Clearly, very little effort went into making the new building anything more than bare-bones functional. Katie's comment about how the building was originally intended to be used only for classrooms sheds a little light on the situation.

    Terryl Givens talks a little bit about this in his book People of Paradox – how the church consistently mixes the functional with the spiritual, and how Mormons learn to embrace both at the same time. On one hand, we've got the temples, many of which are architecturally bold and inspiring – and on the other hand, we've got our typical meeting houses, which are clearly designed to be functional rather than attractive or inspiring. Similarly, even the design of our ward houses demonstrates the lack of distinction between the spiritual and the functional – our most basic space for worshipping (the sacrament halls) are separated from our basketball gyms by only a thin movable partition wall.

    I think that's what's really interesting about the whole situation – that the church simultaneously understands the value of spectacular architecture, while also making decisions like replacing the grand old institute building with the one we have today.

  12. @Ren-yes, the people at our ward building are just lazy about parking. About five years ago they asked if the 9:00 ward could start parking farther away from the building so the later ward could have somewhere closer to park. We laughed, and kept parking wherever we liked. (Not nice, I know, but I was pregnant at the time. Lame excuse.)

    @Reuben- the Institute building wasn't intended to be used as a chapel when it was built, just as an institute. When they started meeting, they met at 10am with Sacrament meeting last, but so many people started getting towed for parking on the street after 1pm that they switched it to 9am and encouraged people to carpool. But what do I know? I left in 1999.

  13. Of course there is no comparison to this post and the actual killing of people. But the church has been engaged in an architectural genocide of its buildings for much of its history. Most recently we have the Ogden temple and the Ogden tabernacle. "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy…we will destroy it." The reason for this widespread destruction, in my opinion, is because beauty is not correlated.

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