Preserving history: Old Main, Chapel of St. Matthew buyer making landmark buildings accessible to the public

Old Main, Chapel of St. Matthew buyer making landmark buildings accessible to the public

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Old Main, along with the Chapel of St. Matthew, were recently purchased by Naturally Michigan Properties LLC. The venues will be open to the public for weddings, business conferences and other events.

HANCOCK — Two former Finlandia University landmarks are being put to use in a way that will preserve public access.

Naturally Michigan Properties purchased Old Main and the Chapel of St. Matthew earlier this year. Members of the public will get to see both of the buildings Sunday during a fundraiser for Real People Media, a Calumet-based nonprofit. “A Sunday Afternoon at Suomi Opisto” uses the college’s original name.

“We thought it was a nice time a year after the closing to do something uplifting for the community and showing that we can still maintain the history even though Finlandia is gone,” said a spokesperson for Real People Media.

Both buildings will be used for a fundraiser for Real People Media this weekend. At St. Matthew, the Friends of Fashion will hold a historical fashion revue of clothes from the early 1900s beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday. That will be followed by an afternoon tea at Old Main with Finnish and American sweets and snacks. Providing music will be harpist Cynthia Curry, guitarists Mike Irish and Jerry Younce, and pianists Mark Spreitzer and Charles White.

Money from the event will go towards RPM’s Keweenaw Storytelling Center in Calumet, other RPM programs and WRJX, its upcoming community radio station.

For tickets and additional information, go to realpeoplemedia.org.

The fundraiser will be the first time the main floor of Old Main will be open to the public in 50 years, an RPM spokesperson said. Suomi College’s first building, it had been used as administrative space since 2009.

More opportunities to see the buildings are coming.

RPM will have a satellite area at Old Main, which will host its Around the World in 80 Hats and also hold limited programs. Through a grant to do animated Copper Country stories, RPM will hold a stop-motion animation workstation this summer, where Hancock residents can make short films.

RPM artists-in-residency may also stay there while splitting their time between Hancock and Calumet. The artists would then be on-site for several hours during the day, where the public could watch them work.

Other future uses for the space could include yoga retreats or business conferences. Formerly used as a dormitory, Old Main will also have a full-time innkeeper.

Naturally Michigan Properties plans to host a boutique gallery at the site, and possibly a spa for guests in the downstairs area.

This fall, Old Main will host former students of the then-Suomi College for a reunion. Collaborations with Finlandia Foundation could be in the works, such as hosting visiting Finnish scholars.

“It’s been five years since they used the building really at all,” an RPM spokesman said. “It’s just been on the shelf. So we’re excited because I believe it’ll be a really vibrant downtown venue in the future.”

The two spaces could be used together: the Chapel of St. Matthew could be used for a wedding, while family members could stay at Old Main and also host a reception there.

Naturally Michigan had originally only intended to buy the chapel, and coordinate with whatever nonprofit bought Old Main for use of the parking lot. When no other nonprofit moved to purchase Old Main, they stepped in. Unlike many of the former Finlandia properties, Old Main is zoned for commercial use.

“Someone could have built a high-rise on a parking lot,” a Naturally Michigan spokesperson said. “Someone could have used the parking lot for construction, warehousing. So it became apparent that it was in our interest and in the community’s interest to purchase it.”

Not knowing much about Old Main at the time beyond its landmark status, the owners quickly developed an appreciation for its features. Metal structures attached to the building turned out to house a circular fire slide. They’ve already heard from university alumni who remembered sliding down it.

The owners have taken on the work themselves, with the aid of Michigan Technological University students who’ve been helping since winter. They’ve removed about 100 yards of material from the building so far.

Much of the ongoing renovation involves rolling back the alterations made to the historic building over the years. They’re taking down drywall that had subdivided larger rooms, removing linoleum and putting vintage lighting in rooms that now have fluorescent tubes.

Saturday, students Satya Sai Kumar Pilli, Pavan Krishna Nutakki and Krishna Mokkapati were helping prep Old Main for this weekend’s opening.

“Once they told me that we are going to renovate this so that we can teach the future generation about the history of this building, it actually made a lot of interest for us to help,” Mokkapati said.


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