Archive for Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Preservation group purchases Turnhalle building in East Lawrence

September 25, 2012


An 1869 building in East Lawrence has been purchased by the Lawrence Preservation Alliance in an effort to save the structure that once was the center of the city’s thriving German-American community.

The Turnhalle building at the southwest corner of Ninth and Rhode Island Streets.

The Turnhalle building at the southwest corner of Ninth and Rhode Island Streets.

Leaders with the LPA announced Tuesday that they had finalized a deal to purchase the Turnhalle building, 900 R.I., from Lawrence businessman Rod Ernst.

“To us, this is the most significant, currently threatened historic structure in all of Lawrence,” said Dennis Brown, president of the LPA. “If you could tell us that we could get whatever property we are most concerned about, we would pick Turnhalle.”

Currently, the building houses Free State Glass and various other businesses.

From its construction in 1869 to about 1920, the building was home to a German-American community organization called Turnverein. But as World War I broke out, the German-American group became less active.

Ernst’s grandfather Philip Ernst bought the building in the mid-1930s after the organization had become defunct. Rod Ernst said Tuesday that the decision to sell the building was difficult.

“I have emotional ties to the building, so I hated to give it up,” Ernst said. “But it got to the point where it was going to take a lot of money to save a lot of the exterior. This group will have better access to public money and donations than I would.”

Brown said the LPA hopes to restore the exterior of the building, stabilize the entire structure and then find an appropriate user who will buy the building to create an attractive commercial use for the property.

Brown estimated it would cost $750,000 to $1 million to fully restore the building both inside and out. The LPA plans to stop short of that, but Brown said he didn’t have an estimate on how much the preservation alliance may have to spend on the structure.

“We will put in $30,000 to $40,000 worth of repairs that we think probably should have happened, like, yesterday,” Brown said.

Beyond that, Brown said other cost estimates are yet to be developed. He said the project undoubtedly will be the largest undertaken by the Lawrence Preservation Alliance.

“We’re taking a leap of faith, but we don’t think we’re jumping off a cliff,” Brown said. “We think this property has so much going for it historically and commercially, that we believe we’re in good shape. We just know we have a lot of work to do.”

Terms of the deal weren’t immediately disclosed, but Brown said Ernst structured the deal very favorably to the preservation alliance.

“The purchase price and the terms reflect his understanding that we have go a lot of fundraising to do, and a lot to get fixed,” Brown said. “All along he has said the history of the building must be preserved.”

Brown said the LPA will seek to place special preservation covenants on the property so that future owners will have to preserve the structure.


somedude20 5 years, 8 months ago

So FSG is moving and what about the X-mas party they have there every year (some of those parties rocked!)?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't have any information that FSG is moving. Some of the exterior renovation work wouldn't necessarily require them to move. But if I hear differently, I'll let you know. Thanks, Chad.

Keith 5 years, 8 months ago

Glad to see this building will be preserved, it's beautiful inside and out, but needs care.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

Speaking of German ties to Lawrence, and historic issues. Was unfortunate that the City allowed the WW2 German prisoner of war buildings to be destroyed. I don't know too much about the story of priosners here in the area, but many were brought to work on some of the larger farming operations; it was against the "rules of war" to use them in military production, but farms OK. The barracks were several wooden buildings with minimal security and were located in what is now the wooded area to the north of 11th St. and Haskell Avenue They were still standing about 20 years ago, in bad shape, the City probably figured them to be a eyesore..

TheAustrian 5 years, 8 months ago

For those interested in a bit of clarification. Turnhalle is the German word for a gym. When being spoken of it would have been "die Turnhalle"

Turnverein is the German word for exercise club. Back in the late 1800's early 1900's it was probably used for children and adults to stay in shape with calisthenics. Even today, the German and Austrian population place high value on fitness.

Does anyone at Watkins museum know what form of exercise was practiced in this building?

kernal 5 years, 8 months ago

I think there was an article about it in the LJW over a decade ago, maybe two. I think you've pretty much covered it.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 8 months ago

Wonder if there is a request for funding in our near future?

laneandrobinson 5 years, 8 months ago

The FSG Holiday Gala is an historic Lawrence event. I don't think something as trivial as new ownership could stop it. Seriously, an awesome building and a great move by LPA. The building was used for gymnastics and social events. And the Germans drank some beer there.

lawrencian 5 years, 8 months ago

Once they were here in the states, many Germans created local Turnvereins, but here they were as much about gathering together with folks from a similar background as they were about exercise.

The Lawrence Turnverein also had a band, which eventually became the Lawrence City Band. There is a plaque on the bandstand in South Park dedicated to teh guy who founded it.

Tyson Travis 5 years, 8 months ago

See p.120 of the 1992 Dary history of Lawrence, they had a Walruff Biergarten in the basement as well as an auditorium and bowling alley. The Turnverein was basically about physical fitness, there are other photos of gymnastics groups in this book as well. The USPS issued a commemorative stamp for the "American Turners" in 1948.

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