NEW ULM - Are you an artist or creative type with a need for additional space? If your answer is yes, New Ulm has the perfect place for you. The historic Grand Hotel at 210 N. Minnesota St. hosted a grand opening Friday night to show off its renovation. Renamed as the Grand Center for Arts and Culture (GCAC), it will now serve as studio space for local artists.
Open house guests were given a guided tour of the various studio spaces created from old hotel rooms, along with a history lesson about the building which covered topics such its use as a hospital during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The process of converting the GCAC into an arts center was nearly three years in the making and required substantial fundraising. A portion of the reconstruction was funded through historical grants. To receive grants, the building needed to meet certain criteria. As one tour guide put it, "You can't just replace every window."
Building architect Andy Engan was present during the open house and explained that fixing the floors was a huge challenge. According to Engan, both the second and third-floor boards were beginning to sag. Engan compared the floor to walking on a diving board. While floor repairs were necessary to qualify for historic grants, the replacement floor needed to resemble the original. In addition, all door frames to the studio are originals, including the transoms. In fact, to preserve the historic look of the building, the building features a couple of doors that go nowhere. Those doors and door frames simply serve as a reminder of the building's past.
Staff photo by Clay Schuldt been converted
Anne Makepeace, instrumental in the renovation and a descendant of the man who built the hotel, tours the basement, which she hopes will some day house a ceramics studio.
While the GCAC is an old building, the various rooms have been retrofitted to meet modern standards. Each studio is hooked for wireless Internet and temperature-controlled. One such room is currently being utilized by young painter Jenny Fitzen. Fitzen commented that by today's standard, the rooms would make cramped hotel rooms, but are perfect as a studio.
The reconstruction of the GCAC has been a personal cause for many New Ulm residents with a connection to the old building. Anne Makepeace' connection is perhaps the strongest. Makepeace, the great-great-great granddaughter of Phillip Gross, the man responsible for building the Grand Hotel in 1856, attended the open house. Makepeace has been involved with the reconstruction plans from the very beginning. Asked about her favorite part of the building, Makepeace instantly answered: the basement.
The basement of the GCAC is the oldest part of the building and has the closest connection to her ancestor. Much of the stonework and arches in the basement are from the original construction. During the remodeling process parts of the basement needed to be literally dug out, due to years worth of fill material building up in sections. At times, the cleanup was described as more of an excavation than a cleanup. During the cleanup of the basement, an old cistern was discovered.
Makepeace acknowledged the basement needed additional work, but its new cement floors and original stone walls will serve as a perfect ceramics studio. However the current work done is no small feat.
The GCAC is 158 years old, but thanks to the renovation, it looks brand new. The hard work of local volunteers and donations from the public have ensured that the GCAC will be a major cultural hub in New Ulm for years.