Final Day of the National Preservation Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, a surprisingly balmy venue. This is Barry Byrne’s stunning St. Columba church, completed in 1950 and a worthy counterpoint to the more famous Christ Church Lutheran of the same time in Minneapolis by the more famous Eliel Saarinen. I have spent nine years working on a book on Byrne’s work and this is my first view of this, one of his two pioneering fish-shaped churches. Mike Jackson called it a tour de force and Felicity spent some time there with the field camera and most important, the parish recognizes what it has and is doing a nice job of preserving a mid-century Modern classic. Even in my poor photo here, you get a sense of Byrne’s skill at geometries, combining squaring and curving forms, layering them in the vertical the way Wright layered them in the horizontal. What you don’t get a sense of is how a building that is monumental and modest at once on the exterior becomes sweeping and sublime on the interior.
Two trips out to St. Columba were my only chances to get away from a blizzard of meetings and events in this, my first full conference as a Trustee of the National Trust. I even had to miss most of the National Council for Preservation Education events, save our Wednesday morning “Preservation 101” session (well attended) and the Executive Committee on Friday. It was all fascinating: Historic Sites (The Trust has more than two dozen – I represent the Gaylord Building in Lockport, which you should visit) Diversity (a great new plan for a Hispanic American Historic Sites Initiative) and Preservation, which is of course the whole point. I did get to see our alum Chrissie Barr, who is preservation staff for St. Paul’s landmarks commission, and the networking among academic and professional colleagues has been as off the hook as the big houses on Summit Avenue we toured on Thursday and Friday. Garrison Keillor gave the keynote and even greeted guests at his home on the hill. I liked his style: he pleaded for a bit of tastlessness in our efforts – a worthy warning for a field than can get too precious (Every field can get too precious and needs such Cassandras…)
In 25 minutes I am at my next meeting followed by two more and a plane ride, so I better get ready…..more to follow??