Proposed fate of 1926 Duluth church raises concern

Published 9:17 am Friday, September 13, 2013

DULUTH — A Duluth church built before the Great Depression is for sale and might be demolished, putting preservationists who want it maintained as a historical landmark at odds with church officials who say the final decision should be left to any new owner.

St. Peter’s Church, which was built out of stone in 1926 and served the city’s Italian community, was closed in late 2010. It’s been listed for sale online as “available for salvage destruction.”

“The property has significant value as well as some serious structural issues,” said Kyle Eller, a spokesman for the Diocese of Duluth.

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It also has plenty of sentimental value for the local Italian community. Robin Mainella, whose great-grandparents were among the first Italian immigrants in Duluth, has been leading a campaign to have it named a heritage-preservation landmark in recognition of its place in city history.

David Woodward, the chairman of the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission, said the diocese has rejected three requests to meet and has threatened legal action if there’s a move to make the building a landmark.

But Eller said the diocese merely presented its understanding that only the owner of property can request heritage designation.

City Councilor Sharla Gardner, whose district includes the building, said a Heritage Preservation Commission nomination could be influential. But fellow City Councilor Garry Krause said he wouldn’t vote for landmark status for any building unless more than a few people demanded it.

The Rev. John Petrich of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, which oversees St. Peter’s, said nothing has been decided yet. While he acknowledged the building’s emotional value, he added that the diocese is saddled with “an albatross” and has to make the best decision possible.