The Gothic Cathedral
Mike Anderson, photographer
HISTORY OF THE FORMER CATHEDRAL ON ASH STREET
1. National Significance The former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston, Minnesota is the most magnificent one of the last three neo-Gothic churches with three towers. These three churches are only in Northern Minnesota. The three-spired churches were the product of one dedicated man, Bishop Timothy Corbett and his dream of a Northern Minnesota French Canadian Catholic mecca for the service to Native Americans, fur traders and Catholic settlers. The Cathedral is the most magnificent of the three with its three towers topped with spires and gilded crosses that catch the light and sparkle the town throughout the day. The other, in Duluth is used as a performing and visual arts center, and the third stands vacant in Terrebonne, Minnesota. Built of red pressed brick, it was awarded a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The 1912 construction has extremely unusual antiphonal balconies built for alternating choir responses, on both the north and south sides of the Cathedral. Combined with the huge choir/organ loft balcony in the rear of the church, the Cathedral seated 1000 people, making it one of the largest Cathedrals in the nation. Burt D. Keck, designed this Cathedral and its sister church in Duluth, Minnesota, not only for its gothic beauty, but also for amazing musical acoustics. Built to serve the new Diocese of Crookston, it served the people of the oxcart fur trading days, steamboat trade and settlers that homesteaded here when James J. Hill built the railroad in 1878. Bishop Timothy Corbett was the rising star that organized the construction of the first Cathedral of the Diocese of Crookston. After four years of study in France in the college at Meximieux, the young priest was sent to Duluth to improve conditions in that frontier town, before being sent to Crookston to replicate his efforts with his typical indefatigable zeal. He worked to counteract the belief that the Church is a political organization under the control and direction of the Pope that the very active American Protective Association members in Duluth and throughout the nation were spreading to prejudice the people against the Catholic Church. The best way to oppose their propaganda, in his opinion, was by example. Despite fire, finances, and disbelief that Crookston could support the Episcopal dignity of newly created Diocese, he encouraged and developed the French Catholic culture that built stunning orphanages, hospitals, convents, schools, and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston.
2. Current Condition Vacant since 1990, this beautiful old cathedral is a solid brick structure. The former Cathedral was a victim of a two Catholic paradigm shifts: The trend to simplify ornate Catholic churches in the sixties led to painting over the hand painted angels in the ceiling and changing altars and lighting. The communion rail was removed in the seventies and in 1990, the Diocese built a new Cathedral of modern box style. The Diocese transferred ownership of the empty Cathedral to a nearby homeless shelter who desired the rectory for more shelter space. The stained glass windows were either given to Cathedral parish families as requested or were removed and sold to support the homeless shelter. See ‘Story of the Lost Stained Glass” on www.prairieskyline.com. Yet, the glory of its former use shines through and demands restoration. The storm glass remaining was severely damaged in a violent windstorm in April of 2001. Much of the remaining glass is loose from the frame, (frames are in need of repair and painting) and leaks air and rain into the building. The hardwood floors have buckled, but structurally the building is sound as architects have testified. Two flat roofs over the two side sacristies are in desperate condition. These roofs are leaking badly and in one sacristy the floor has given way. The north sacristy is so filled with pigeons and their droppings it had to be boarded up. In 2006 we replaced the hip shingles on the steeples with a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, while surprisingly the original composite roof is almost entirely intact. Gutters are growing with weeds, and many of the downspouts have fallen apart, further adding to the disrepair. The mortar in the brick has worn away in some spots, but surprisingly very little tuck-pointing needs to be done. With age and untreated damage, the old beauty will continue to deteriorate to the point of suffering structural damage. Although the air leaks through the windows and roof have caused much interior damage, the open air has also prevented rot and mold. Closed to the public, and with boarded up windows, what was once the largest, busiest, stunning Cathedral in the nation is now rapidly deteriorating.
3. Feasibility Study Before embarking on any project of this size, a feasibility study must be completed showing how much a proposed facility will pay for its costs. We propose to hire “Artspace,” to conduct a feasibility study that we suspect will back up the preliminary study showing over 100 active producing visual artists in Northwestern Minnesota.
4. Proposed Preservation work We propose to bring the building back to a workable space for performing and visual artists and theatre without sacrificing its original pre-60’’s glory.
Renovation will consist of:
- 1.Thoroughly inspect building for the extent of repairs.
- 2.Install electrical panel and make improvements to the electrical system.
- 3.Repair and replace flat roofs.
- 4.Repair and replace storm windows and frames.
- 5.Install heating system, and energy saving systems
- 6.Install handicapped accessible bathroom,
- 7.Repair and tuck-point brick and mortar.
- 8.Level & Refurbish hardwood floors.
- 9.Purchase, restore, and install five, (now down to three) or more original stained glass windows.
- 10.Interior restoration and finish work.
- 11.Handicapped accessible entrance, repair steps to main entrance.
This is how:
- 1.We will hire an architect to design the new space and survey the property to check for lot space for geothermal heat possibilities.
- 2 We will replace the old electrical panel with a new service suitable to the new reuse, inspect for damage, repair and replace any damage to the wiring which is was up to code in the 1980’s and add new wiring as required by the reuse plan.
- 3.The two flat roofs over the sacristy will be repaired and/or replaced immediately. Inspection and replacement of roof shingles and the steeples will be completed.
- 4.We will repair and replace windows with energy-saving glass. Window frames will be custom repaired and replaced.
- 5.We will install geothermal heat pump heating if room, or electric heat in the floor, plus a back up gas forced air furnace. This will qualify us to receive a dual-heat rebate from the utility company, a common practice in the north. With a heat pump heat we will be able to not only heat the building affordably, but cool it in the summer too for a cost around $2,000 per year. Although the heat pump costs more up front, it is the long range operating costs we have to be more concerned with to keep up the church after it is restored.
- 6.Indoor plumbing will be installed for one unisex or two handicapped accessible bathrooms. We will most likely build bathrooms in the entrance while saving the sacristy areas for performing arts. We were told that there will need to be a sewer line run from the street to the new bathrooms, however there is an existing toilet and sink in one sacristy area.
- 7.Tuck-pointing and cleaning of the brick will also start immediately.
- 8.Leveling and refurbishing the oak hardwood floors can be done after the method of heating the building has been determined and the main building is sealed from the elements.
- 9.Purchase, restore, and install five original stained glass windows. Negotiations on these windows can begin immediately. Two small windows in the vestibules remain. All window frames will be repaired, replaced, and painted as needed. We will be putting out a plea for the return of the lost stained glass windows that contained figures of saints, the apostles, angels, and the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the patron saint of the Cathedral. Pictures of the stained glass, of which this church had more than usual the number, are in the “Story of the Lost Stained Glass” on this website. Unfortunately, the negatives are lost as well as the tragic disappearance of the stained glass. We don’t know how long it will take to restore these windows, however we do have a professional located nearby in Fargo, North Dakota.
- 10.Interior restoration and finish work will be one of the last activities of the grant period. Although the painting from the 1960’s is beautiful and remains 90% intact, it covers the original paintings of saints and angels on the ceiling. The goal is to restore the church to its original glory when Bishop Corbett saw it built if the local interest and funding is there to support such a restoration.
- 11.We will build handicapped access to the side door to the sacristies, since we will want to preserve the look of the main entrance under the three towering spires.
- 1. Raise $4,000 for Artspace feasibility study
- 2. Design space and estimate costs (about 1.5 million roughly)
- 3. Request Otter Tail Power Company to donate energy efficiency costs.
- 4. Raise $40,000 in grants and donations to leverage an application to the US EPA “Brownfields” division for a grant total of $200,000 to mediate the pigeon damage.
- 5. Use the $200,000 to leverage a McKnight Foundation grant for a Crookston Center of the Arts and inclusion in a Small Cities Development Block grant application.