Accordion repair school plans return to Duluth

The world’s largest accordion museum and education center has started plans to restore and reopen a building that served as its home more than a decade ago in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

A World of Accordions Museum Director Helmi Harrington said earlier this week the organization will relocate an accordion repair school from current museum headquarters in Superior to its former site at 2801 W. First Street in Duluth. Harrington recently repurchased the historic church building and its adjacent parsonage out of St. Louis County foreclosure and started a tax payment plan for the property.

“Anyone who has visited our museum in Superior knows it’s crowded and our spacious building is no longer spacious,” said Harrington. “The idea for moving just the repair school to Duluth is not inexpensive, but it’s something we need to explore.”

A World of Accordions Museum is located in the Harrington Arts Center and features more than 1,300 instruments, an extensive recording library and art collection and thousands of accordion-related artifacts. Its nine-month accordion repair program accepts about 20 students annually from all over the world.

Harrington said she is looking for assistance with building repairs among the burgeoning Lincoln Park Craft District. The small, wooden church with an iconic steeple was constructed in 1908 by Swedish immigrants and was last used as a place of worship by Garden of Gethsemane Church in 1992.

“We’re hoping we can find someone to come in and paint and plaster our ceiling, someone who can help us make the necessary repairs to the building,” she said.

Harrington established the Accordion-concertina Repair and Technicians School in the former church building in 1993. The facility was home to the Duluth Accordionaires, served as a performance space and housed accordion lesson and repair classrooms in the basement.

With a vast collection of unique and historic instruments, A World of Accordions Museum was established in 1998 and the collection moved to another former church on Belknap Street and Hammond Avenue in Superior in 2002. Eventually, the repair school also moved to Superior and the organization abandoned the Duluth location.

Harrington, 72, lived in the church basement for years but was forced to leave for health reasons about six years ago. “I got breast cancer and I had to let a lot of things drop,” she said. “This building was one of them.”

The former church sanctuary was used as a performance space by the Duluth Accordionaires in the 1990s. (Photo by Jennifer Moore)

The old church needs a partial roof repair, basement carpet replacement, mechanical updates, interior and exterior paint, historic stained glass window repair and a list of other work.

Doctors have declared Harrington cancer-free and now, she said, she has the time and energy to improve her building.

“I think I’m all right. They keep telling me I’m cured,” she said. “I’m satisfied with what life has presented. I’m optimistic and I have lots more to do yet.”

Shannon Laing, of Equilibrium 3, the Lincoln Park-based energy and community development organization, said the accordion museum plans fit well with the growing Lincoln Park Craft District.

Stained glass windows are in need of repair.

“I love it. I think it’s great,” she said. “These are my people, people who work with their hands. It’s just like the auto mechanic or the plumber, they’re really artisans and that’s what the craft district is all about.”

Laing said the museum could apply for city-backed Advance West funding, a $50,000 loan program designed to improve commercial buildings in western Duluth. Minnesota Power and Comfort Systems could also provide financial assistance for energy efficiency upgrades.

A number of contractors specializing in building repair are based in Lincoln Park, Laing said, and partnerships could be explored with the Duluth Folk School or Duluth MakerSpace, two educational groups located nearby.

“There might be a partnership out there for them, an opportunity for an on-site class,” she said.

Harrington hopes to get the building open soon.

“I think it’s doable,” she said. “It just needs some help, more than I can deal with on my own. It’s a prominent corner on the West End and it should become beautiful again.”

1 Comment


about 7 years ago

I have often wondered about this church and am grateful it can be repurposed!

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