The 1869 Turnhalle building at 900 R.I. is a piece of Lawrence history that’s well worth preserving, and the community should be grateful that the Lawrence Preservation Alliance has stepped up to that task.
LPA announced last week that it had purchased the Turnhalle and would undertake the project of stabilizing the structure and seeking a buyer with a commercial use for the building. The location of the structure, close to the developing Ninth and New Hampshire intersection, may make it particularly attractive for a restaurant or other business that could serve residents of the area.
LPA still is formulating cost estimates for the work, but President Dennis Brown said the building needs $30,000 to $40,000 of work immediately and it could cost $750,000 to $1 million to fully restore the building inside and out. Brown referred to the LPA purchase as “a leap of faith,” but also noted that the hall’s former owner, Rod Ernst, structured a favorable deal for the LPA in recognition of the expensive work that would be required.
The Turnhalle has an interesting and largely unknown history, as outlined in a Journal-World article over the weekend. It was built as the home of the Lawrence chapter of Turnverein, a traditional German club that blended two favorite activities: gymnastics and beer drinking. It served as a center of the local German-American community, which was substantial in Lawrence in the late 19th century. However, after World War I stirred up anti-German sentiment across the nation, the organization began a slow decline. By the mid 1930s, the Turnhalle’s purpose was gone and it was sold to Ernst’s grandfather, Philip Ernst.
According to some sources, the hall may be the oldest community structure still standing in Lawrence, one year older than the sanctuary of Plymouth Congregational Church.
LPA has gotten the ball rolling on this significant restoration project, but the organization will need plenty of help to raise the money to bring this building back to life. We hope the community will become engaged in the interesting history of the Turnhalle and the German-American residents of Lawrence that it served and support LPA efforts to save this significant structure.