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From Science to Scientology: Church of Scientology transforming old museum into new headquarters

Bill Clements//April 7, 2010//

From Science to Scientology: Church of Scientology transforming old museum into new headquarters

Bill Clements//April 7, 2010//

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Bill Klotz)
In four to six months, the former Science Museum of Minnesota will be transformed into the regional headquarters for the Church of Scientology, which has ambitious plans for growth in the Twin Cities—part of a global effort to expand, which an official says has resulted in the Church doubling its worldwide size in the last five years. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

The Church of Scientology has ambitious plans for growing in the Twin Cities area, hoping to double or even triple the number of Twin Cities adherents in the next five years.

As part of those plans, Scientology members dug deep and came up with $3 million to convert the old Science Museum of Minnesota, 505 N. Wabasha St., into a new regional headquarters.

According to Ellen Maher-Forney, the church’s regional representative for the Midwest, there are about 1,000 Scientologists in the area, which has been based since 1991 at 1011 Nicollet Ave. in downtown Minneapolis.

Overall, the Minneapolis branch serves about 7,000 members that the Clearwater-Fla.-based Church of Scientology has in the five-state region—including Wisconsin, northern Iowa and the Dakotas, according to Maher-Forney.

About three dozen staff members see to that work out of the Nicollet Avenue offices. But Maher-Forney said that “approximately 200” staff members will be occupying the new regional headquarters in St. Paul.

The architectural designs for the new headquarters offer an infrequent glimpse inside the religion and approach of the controversial movement that science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded in the early 1950s.

What many people know about the faith comes mainly from the occasional and usually controversial hubbub that results when one of its celebrity adherents says something about Scientology in public.

As when Scientologist Tom Cruise publicly criticized Brooke Shields in 2005 for taking drugs to treat post-partum depression—Scientology does not believe in the use of psychiatric drugs. (Cruise later apologized, and Shields accepted the apology.)

But the way the church is redesigning the inside of the unusual 80,640-square-foot building and the names it’s assigning the different rooms on its three levels reveal a bit more about the architecture of Scientology itself.

The church bought the building in June 2007 for $3.5 million, according to Ramsey County tax records. At the time, the building had been vacant for about a year.

From 1977 to 1999, it housed the Science Museum, including the 300-seat Omni Theater. After the museum moved in 1999, the building became the Minnesota Business Academy, which went out of business in 2006.

Design plans that the San Francisco office of architectural firm Gensler filed with the city in May 2009 indicate that, among other things, the church will maintain separate saunas and changing rooms for men and women—as well as Room 365, the “purification” room.

In Church of Scientology doctrine, the “purification rundown” is a process of taking vitamin supplements, eating a healthy diet, getting more rest and enduring long stretches in hot saunas that combined are designed to rid the body of toxins—thereby freeing it for spiritual growth.

Many, including former Scientologists, have criticized the “purification rundown” as physically dangerous, in particular the long saunas.

The first floor contains executive and staff offices, as well as Room 113—the “enlightenment” room.

There’s another “enlightenment” room on the second floor, Room 226, not far from the office of the “Chief Ethics Officer” (Room 209) and the “Ethics Work Area” (Room 214).

According to the Scientology website, the church believes that “the accomplishment of spiritual salvation is only possible through successive steps of enlightenment.”

The Gensler design plans reveal a coordinated approach to practicing what the Church of Scientology believes in—and spreading those beliefs.

The plans indicate two “public film rooms” on the first floor, not far from the “Dianetics Seminar” (Room 147) and Room 127, “Public Theory.”

The Church of Scientology will be maintaining the 300-seat former Omni Theater “with fixed theater seating from level 2 to level 3” as its chapel, according to the Gensler plans on file at the city.

But by far most abundantly present in the new church at 505 N. Wabasha St. will be the “audit” rooms.

Several rooms spread out through the redesigned building contain the word “audit” in their names, but the north side of the uppermost third floor contains more than a few “auditing” rooms—a total of 27, in fact.

According to the Scientology website, the “goal of auditing is to restore beingness and ability.” Followers can achieve that goal by undergoing the process of auditing, which is analogous to spiritual direction or even therapy sessions.

A Church of Scientology “auditor”—usually a minister of the church—leads the “parishioner” who is also known in the language of the church as a “pre-clear” through the process of auditing.

Auditors have two aims: to help people “rid themselves of any spiritual disabilities” and then to increase their “spiritual abilities,” according to the website. And the auditors have to abide by a strict code of ethics.

St. Paul Council Member Dave Thune, whose Ward 2 includes the new church, said he doesn’t know much about the Church of Scientology or what its members do to express their faith.

But, Thune said, “People dedicated to doing good things with their life, that’s always good.”

He added, “Besides, we are always glad to get people over here from Minneapolis. Hopefully they will shop and spend money here.”

A new façade

The soon-to-be new headquarters of the Church of Scientology is close enough to the Capitol in St. Paul that changes to its façade fall under the purview of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB).

So, the CAAPB last August approved the façade changes that the church will make to 505 N. Wabasha St.—after some negotiation, of course, said Paul Mandell, principal planner with the CAAPB.

The church wanted its new signage—the church’s name and symbols—to be about 2.5 times bigger than what the CAAPB approved, Mandell said.

Now, the scripted, cursive large “S” that represents “Scientology” (from Latin words for “study of” and “knowing in the fullest”) will start two stories off the ground and will be 20 feet in height and almost 15 feet in width.

The “S” weaves through two triangles, one on top of the other.

According to Ellen Maher-Forney, regional representative for the Midwest for the Church of Scientology, the lower triangle in the symbol is called the A-R-C triangle and the letters stand for “affinity, reality and communication,” which equate to understanding.

Maher-Forney said the upper triangle is the K-R-C triangle, and the letters stand for “knowledge, responsibility and control,” respectively. “When one corner of either triangle is improved, the other two corners improve as well, ultimately improving conditions in one’s life,” she added.

Scientology’s plans for St. Paul: Q & A

Ellen Maher-Forney, the sometimes secretive Church of Scientology’s regional representative for the Midwest, provided e-mail responses to a series of questions from Capitol Report regarding the new headquarters in St. Paul and what will happen there.

Here are some of our questions and Maher-Forney’s answers.

Capitol Report: Will the two floors of parking owned by the city under your building at 505 N. Wabasha St. be available to the public? Or will the church be using those spaces?

Ellen Maher-Forney: Those two floors are owned by the city, so, although church members would avail themselves of this parking, it would still be available to the general public.

CR: When do you hope the renovation work is done?

EMF: We would like to see the renovations done in four to six months.

CR: The church bought the building in 2007 and hoped to open the new church in 2008. Was it the downturn in the economy that forced the church to put off the renovation?

EMF: The economy held the renovations back a little, but then parishioners just decided to do it and got it done (raised the funds necessary to renovate the building).

CR: When do you estimate the new church will be opening? Will there be a ceremony?

EMF: As soon as renovations are done. And there will absolutely be a Grand Opening.

CR: Can you fill us in on what a typical week at the new church in St. Paul will be like?

EMF: We see our churches as places where people come to achieve freedom and where they have confidence that they can attain it. It should be quite busy throughout the week with Open House tours, seminars, lectures, tutoring, marriage counseling and courses to help parents rear their children and the like, as well as places where parishioners can come to work on activities that better society and mankind as a whole (such as United and Youth for Human Rights; drug education activities; the Way to Happiness program; a secular moral code to help arrest the rapid decline of morals occurring so that children learn good family values; and, of course, our Volunteer Ministers program, which has recently received acclaim for work being done in Haiti. But the VMs were also [among] the first on the scene a few years ago when the [35W] Bridge collapsed). Of course, there would also be our weekly Sunday services and graduations [of members from one level of spiritual growth to another] as well.

Additionally, the staff and parishioners of Churches of Scientology believe in contributing to helping the community in which the church resides, so I’m sure staff members will be checking with the neighbors to find out what is needed and wanted specifically in the area and work toward achieving those things.

CR: Is this new church opening [in St. Paul] a part of the Church of Scientology’s project … wherein the church hopes to open churches in city centers across the globe?

EMF: Yes, the Church of Scientology has been experiencing phenomenal growth—we currently have some 8,000 churches, missions and groups in 165 nations. By opening these new ideal churches in major cities, the Scientology religion has doubled in size in the past five years. This project is our way of meeting the global demand for the Scientology religion. A few of the recent churches that acquired new premises and have had Grand Openings have been in Washington, D.C., Rome, Las Vegas, Nashville and Dallas.

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