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Neighbors mourn demolition of former St. Paul church

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Two neighbors hug while looking at the church building across the street.
Neighbors Andrea Szondy and Bonnie Youngquist embraced in the street in front of historic St. Andrew's church in St. Paul as construction crews unloaded heavy equipment to raze the 1927 sanctuary. The site is being cleared for an expansion of the adjacent Twin Cities German Immersion School, despite efforts by preservationists to save the sanctuary, where the last mass was said nearly a decade ago.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Heavy equipment rumbled toward the walls of the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in St. Paul Monday morning, likely the last full day the historic church will stand on Como Avenue.

Crews have already removed doors, sculptures and other salvageable pieces of the 1927 church. The building is being torn down to make room for a planned expansion of the Twin Cities German Immersion School, which owns the building.

The school’s executive director, Ted Anderson, said the nearly $5 million redevelopment project will help the school accommodate more than 600 students.

“It’s sad to see something, such a pretty building have to make some space for the next thing, but we have to be doing the best we can for our kids and our students to give them the spaces they need to learn in,” Anderson said as he stood on the sidewalk in front of the church steps.

The school bought the building about six years ago. The Romanesque Revival-Byzantine church was deconsecrated after its congregation merged with the Maternity of Mary church, also in St. Paul. The last Mass was said at St. Andrew’s on June 12, 2011.

Attached classrooms have been used as charter school space for years, but Anderson said the historic sanctuary proved ill-suited for school use.

Two workers set up a "Do Not Enter" sign in front of the church.
Demolition crews posted warning signs on Monday Aug. 12, 2019, as they prepared to tear down the historic St. Andrew's Church near Como Park in St. Paul.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Neighbors are mourning the demolition, expected to start in earnest on Tuesday morning. They said the building represents a touchstone for generations of immigrant families, and a landmark in the neighborhood. They fought to save it by seeking a historic designation and with a court battle. Both efforts failed.

“It’s been here for almost a century, and after less than five, six years of ownership, the school’s tearing it down. This is irreplaceable,” said Bonnie Youngquist, who lives across the alley from the church. “It’s a work of art.”

Opponents said the church was part of what made the neighborhood distinctive and questioned how long the school would even stay on the site, given its recent expansion.

The demolition is expected to finish before classes start Aug. 26th. The school hopes to have its new space ready for students by the start of the next school year in 2020.