By Becky Muller, Interior Designer at ICON Architectural Group
Photos provided by Pam Osterfeld
150 6th Ave SW, Perham, MN
Renovating is not always just about making something old look new again. It’s about restoring the stories that the walls around us hold. It’s about restoring the memories that the community members of Perham, Minnesota can’t forget. As they walk in the front doors, there are memories from where they grew up, were baptized in, went through confirmation in, got married in or said goodbye to a loved one in. Originally from the town of Perham, Pam Osterfeld, and local business partner, Marcus Zitzow of Vergas, saw an opportunity in a once-upon-a-time church. An opportunity to carefully preserve the historic building and make it a space where families can come together, have a good meal, socialize and create new memories once again.
Located off Main Avenue on 6th Avenue Southwest, the German Lutheran Church was built in 1894. Over the years, the functioning church and at one point, daycare, was used less and less. The historic building was slated to be turned into a multi-family housing facility, or worse, torn down and re-developed altogether. Seeing this building often vacant, Osterfeld and Zitzow thought it deserved better. They thought the community deserved better.
With many years in the service industry between the two, Osterfeld and Zitzow knew they wanted something different and special with their new adventure. With delicate care and extreme efforts, the historic church was honored by not only preserving its original state, but by restoring its original purpose: to bring the community members of Perham together.
Initially, the duo planned to simply redecorate the existing space. But as many renovation projects go, it became much more. They started digging deeper into the roots of the original building and were shown just how beautiful it was and could be again. “We knew we needed to give it the attention it deserved,” said Osterfeld. Preserving as much architectural integrity as possible, the renovation the excited new owners thought would be a couple of months, turned into a 14-month extensive reconstruction, rather than just a renovation project.
Peeling back the ’70s wall paneling, incredible plaster and brickwork from the original bell tower was unveiled. Hidden inside of a wall for decades, stood almost perfectly intact spindles that once lined the choir loft. To bring the building up to code, the railing had to be raised to a safer height. They carefully dismantled each section and, with the help of the local “Lathing Club,” they were able to recreate the original spindles to complete the expanded railing and staircase to be both compliant and statement pieces. The original stairs were converted into raised booth seating using old pews on one side and barstools on the other. The bar itself was made of additional left behind pews and repurposed wainscoting. Exposing the original arched ceiling and restoring the hardwood floors after excessive layers of adhesive, carpet and tile really made the space feel whole again.
Paying homage to the building’s history, old artifacts found during the restoration process were put on display for everyone to see. Old newspaper articles, liquor and beer containers, vintage keys and original bibles and hymnals were on display. These items inspired people from the community to donate their own photographs too, showcasing their memories of the space over the years.
The old bell tower that was turned into an intimate dining experience displays signatures on the original brick and a large majority of the woodwork was signed by the local craftsmen back in the 1890s. While the project is new to Osterfeld and Zitzow, it meant so much to them to be able to preserve and repurpose the building for the people who came before them.
Preserving the Future
“The feedback and support we’ve received from the community has been beyond what we could have imagined,” said Osterfeld. “So many people come in JUST to see what it looks like now.” This included a 104-year-old that had her birthday party at the spot where she was baptized, confirmed and married.
1894 has since become a hub for The 1800 Club fundraising. Here, they host many events to supply the community with gifts, food, games and fellowship around Christmas, as well as hosting silent actions for families experiencing hardships or other local non-profits.
While their menu is simple American and ultimate comfort food, they specialize in locally sourced and family raised menu items. From local cheese, meat, beer and liquor to homemade bread, dressings and desserts, Osterfeld and Zitzow have stayed true to their beliefs of not just opening a turnkey restaurant, but also give back to the community as much as possible. Every weekend during the winter, their kitchen features a special “take-n-bake” family-style meal, using historical recipes from the original church recipe book. Hosting a number of local entertainers and expanding their outdoor seating this year, the 1894 team looks forward to continuing to be a venue for gathering with friends and family.
Saying Thank You
Rather than allowing a beautiful, historic building to fall into despair, Osterfeld and Zitzow saw an opportunity to bring it back to life. They wanted the people of Perham and surrounding areas to be able to remember the past, enjoy the present and preserve the future. While the ownership team was heavily involved in every phase of the project, they know they could not have done it without the help and support of their family and friends in the community. Osterfeld’s parents, Jim and Diana Osterfeld, and brother, Curt, built tables, walls, closets, reupholstered chairs, made draperies and so much more. Zitzow’s family contributed many materials for the renovation and has been very involved with their signage, marketing, accounting and the donation of a beautiful organ that adds a classic touch to the decor.
They also want to thank Mike Pickett and Todd Colliton (their former boss at Zorbaz on Little Pine), Steve Tharaldson, Josh Brewster, Eric Mueller, Chad and Becky Peterson, Trent Jahnke, Pam Schroeder, Buffy and Brian Fraki, John Guck, Matt Muir, Brad Walvante, Maria and Eddy Roesch, Jon Smith, Cassie Kostka, Josh Johnson, Mike Schraeder, Melissa and Butch Burns, Jon and Jake Bachmann, Maggie Puetz and every single community member that helped them make this dream become a reality.
Richard Moe with the National Trust for Historic Preservation once said, “Preservation is simply having the good sense to hold on to things that are well designed, that link us with our past in a meaningful way, and that have plenty of good use left in them.” Pam Osterfeld and Marcus Zitzow had the good sense to hold on to all of the history and original design that came with the historic church and turn it into something new that allows the stories and memories of the past to remain present.