Edina, Minn., May 19, 2023 – The first church in Minnesota designed by internationally renowned architect Ralph Rapson, St. Peter’s Church, has been recognized with the 2023 Edina Heritage Award.
“St. Peter’s Church stuck out to me since I’m a residential architect and somewhat of a mid-century modern enthusiast,” said Heritage Preservation Commissioner Tommy Everson. “Ralph Rapson is a big name to me. He’s known nationally, if not internationally, for his talents.”
St. Peter’s Church, 5421 France Ave., was built in 1957, and is the only building in Edina that was designed by Rapson. Rapson, an influential architect and educator, received the commission in 1954, the year he moved to Minneapolis to head the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, a position he held for 30 years. Prior to his arrival in the state, Rapson taught architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and designed American Embassy buildings in Europe for the U.S. State Department. Highlights of his long, prolific career include the original Tyrone Guthrie Theatre (1963) and Cedar-Riverside (1973) in Minneapolis.
St. Peter’s Church has undergone several additions and renovations over the decades, but still maintains its integrity and serves in the same capacity for which it was originally intended. Initially, Pastor Harold Schweigert hired Rapson to expand a small, existing church, but opted instead to demolish the original building and design a new one. For its singular design and enduring significance, the building received an AIA Minnesota Honor Award in 1958 and an AIA Minnesota 25-Year Award in 1983.
The unique “church-in-the-round” plan evolved for two reasons. Site limitations did not permit a traditional long rectangular nave, and a circular sanctuary with wraparound seating suited the congregation’s liturgical philosophy of the family of man gathered around the Lord’s table. The church’s star-shaped roof, which is composed of eight steeply pitched, glass-filled gables, is its most distinctive and recognizable feature. It represents a crown – the Church of Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The altar stands directly below the center of the star.
“A few years ago, we started some discussion about our facility, and one of the things we realized is the appreciation of the community for the heritage of some of the buildings,” said Pastor Mark Shockey. “This award came along as a possibility to recognize our facility. Our work, all the way back in the 50s, included working with the University of Minnesota to develop the church as it was. It was really intended to be part of the community, a part of the state, and it is still a very visible reminder that our community and the families who gather there are so important. Thank you for this honor.”
The Edina Heritage Preservation Commission sponsors the annual Edina Heritage Award to showcase local historic preservation activity. The award is given to an individual, family, company or organization that has contributed to the historic fabric of the community and made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and use of Edina’s heritage resource. The heritage resource must be located in the City of Edina.
To learn more about the Heritage Award, including past winners, visit EdinaMN.gov/HeritageAward.