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‘Turning a little gem back into a jewel’

Comprehensive restoration work underscores beauty of Holy Trinity auditorium

December 16, 2012
The Journal

"The new Catholic parochial school building is conceded to be the most costly and imposing parochial school building in the state of Minnesota and possibly the Northwest, having cost in the neighborhood of $54,000. It is a handsome brick structure, two and a half stories high and in dimensions 93 by 158 feet... In the second floor of the addition is located a magnificent auditorium 50 by 56 feet, with a large stage situated in the north end... The auditorium is fitted with a balcony, which greatly enlarges its seating capacity. The stage is 24 by 36 feet in size, with a proscenium 25 feet wide, and four dressing rooms are situated at its sides."

- Holy Trinity Church of New Ulm, Minnesota, A Record of 75 Years, 1869-1944

"On Oct. 22, 1905, the Most Rev. John Ireland - on his first visit to Holy Trinity parish - blessed the building."

Article Photos

Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
The auditorium in the Holy Trinity Convent (formerly the Holy Trinity Middle School) recently underwent a restoration project. The work included refinishing floors as well as detailed painting.

- Holy Trinity Cathedral Parish History, 1866-1916

"On Feb. 7, 1932, the Holy Trinity Band, consisting of high school students and pupils from the grades, and the school Orchestra, comprising students from the high school only, gave their first concert in the school auditorium."

- Holy Trinity Church of New Ulm, Minnesota, A Record of 75 Years, 1869-1944

"On March 31, 1940, one of the most successful and memorable programs ever witnessed in Holy Trinity Auditorium, was the operetta, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. More than 400 pupils from both the grades and the high school took part in it. So enthusiastically was the play received by the public, that five performances had to be given to accommodate the 1,700 persons who comprised the audience.

- Holy Trinity Church of New Ulm, Minnesota, A Record of 75 Years, 1869-1944

NEW ULM - The excerpts from historic records refer to a much beloved local landmark, the Holy Trinity school, and a centerpiece of the building: the still functional, beautifully-designed, auditorium.

In 1904, under the direction of Fr. H. B. Sandmeyer, a new Catholic grade school was built at a cost of $53,335. For many years, that building was the Holy Trinity Middle School. It included eight classrooms, two large society rooms, cafeteria, small kitchen, bowling alley, small gym, billiards room, six washrooms and what was at that time the largest auditorium in Minnesota, according to research by John Vetter, Development Director at New Ulm Area Catholic Schools. The Minneapolis Auditorium was built much later, in 1927, said Vetter.

The former school is now the Holy Trinity Convent.

Over the past summer, the auditorium was restored to highlight and enhance its period-style beauty. A group of enthusiasts put both love and labor into what Anita Shikoski, English teacher at Cathedral High School and drama director, described as "turning a little gem back into a jewel."

Planning for the restoration work began two or three years ago, with the idea that the project would be done in stages. Lighting and sound system updates were the starting point in the restoration.

The people involved in the project added nothing (structurally), enhancing what was already present instead, said Shikoski.

Over the last summer, the entire auditorium was repainted. Warm pastel tones replaced starker monochrome hues, as the group painstakingly repainted every part of the large structure detail by little detail. Tan, gold and bronze replaced black, highlighting details in the molding that frames the stage and bringing out the architecture of those details.

A new floor replaced linoleum on the main level, while the original wood floor on the balcony, which is still in good condition, was refinished. The stage floor was buffed.

The maroon grand draperies at the stage were replaced with new black draperies, and a mid-stage traveler curtain was added. The mid-stage traveler provides more versatility in using the stage, allowing for a production to revolve around more stationary, as well as easier-to-change, sets.

New window shades and drapes were also installed.

Brackets were mounted back of the stage to store backdrops.

The heat registers in the auditorium were covered with specially-crafted wood covers, in a style that matches the overall look.

The posters documenting past productions were uniformly re-framed in custom-made and painted frames, making the thematically-organized poster display aesthetically more pleasing.

(The register covers and picture frames were built and painted by Dennis Schwarz, who, along with many others, including current teacher and coach Paul Hazuka, retired teacher and current coach Bob Mertz and Shikoski and her husband John, was involved in many other aspects of the restoration as well. Schwarz installed and buffed floors, installed the brackets for the backdrops, etc.)

The balcony, parts of which had been used as storage room, was cleared up and is now fully functional as additional seating space. It is equipped with some of the original auditorium chairs, discovered sitting in a corner, featuring beautiful wrought ironwork. Metal railings, in matching style, were installed between seating sections on the balcony, as a safety feature.

The work was funded through a combination of budgeted money (proceeds from productions are saved in a specific fund), donations and other creative means (e.g. funds won as a result of winning a Cash Wise/Journal contest that provides money to schools).

The auditorium currently seats about 360. It is heavily used for musicals and plays, speakers, talent shows, movie presentations and various assemblies.



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