Stained glass celebration

ALGONA – The Algona community celebrated the return of a piece of the town’s history – and the man instrumental in making it possible – Monday afternoon.

The city of Algona officially declared Monday as Paul Johnson Day, honoring the man who for more than 18 years worked diligently to bring the original stained glass windows back to the 100-year-old Sullivan Building on State Street in downtown Algona.

Johnson was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the community and members of the Sullivan Building Foundation found the unveiling of three of the original windows as the perfect opportunity to recognize Johnson for his work.

“Paul never gave up on reacquiring these windows,” said Tom Larson, president of Iowa State Bank in Algona. “He has taught us all that if you have a good idea you can get where you need to go.”

Vicky Mallory, executive director of the Algona Chamber of Commerce which is housed in the Sullivan Building, said Monday was a fitting day for celebrating the return of the windows. The Chamber moved into the Sullivan Building 18 years ago on April 1, 1995.

“I wasn’t aware of the significance of this building when we moved in,” said Mallory. “We are thrilled to be the tenants of the Sullivan Building and have a great home there.”

The Sullivan Building, built in 1913 by Louis Sullivan, was originally intended to house a bank. It is one of eight buildings in rural Midwestern communities designed by Sullivan. The building housed the Pharmacists Mutual Company for 50 years from 1921 to 1971 until the company moved to its present location on U.S. Highway 18. For several years, it housed a clothing store, which Johnson said he has fond memories of shopping in and seeing the sunlight shine through the stained glass.

“I always appreciated going into that building and seeing the sun shine through the windows,” Johnson said.

When the store closed in the 1980s, Sullivan Building Foundation Vice President Michael Hjelmeland said its owners sold the stained glass windows, which sat in a garage in Minneapolis, Minn. for many years.

“Most of the building’s artifacts were sold,” said Hjelmeland. “Thanks to the perseverance of Paul Johnson, this building will once again become grand. Without his efforts, this moment may not have been possible.”

Brian Buscher, a member of the Sullivan Building Board said the windows were eventually acquired by an art curator in Chicago at a Sotheby’s auction.

“They bought all 12 windows with the intention of restoring them so that maybe they would get back to their original owners,” said Buscher.

Larson said he hopes that the restoration of the building will give future generations an appreciation for the importance of such historic buildings.

“The restoration is something we need to celebrate,” said Larson. “It shows that you need to preserve history to show future generations how important these older buildings can be.”

“These buildings give us a glimpse into the past of where we once were and when craftsmanship and quality were ways of life,” said Buscher.

Hjelmeland said an additional six of the 12 windows will be returned to Algona in the future. Six of them are currently on display in the executive dining room of the JP Morgan Chase headquarters in Chicago, and three will be placed on display in New York.

“We hope we can reunite them all someday,” said Hjelmeland.