In the development of western towns along rail routes, larger office buildings typically followed once the construction of grand hotels had begun. With the construction of the Ryan Hotel almost complete, the stage seemed to be set for the skyscraper to take off in the Twin Cities. The St. Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press on April 26, 1885, only four days before Chicago’s new Board of Trade and the neighboring skyscrapers would open their doors, reported that:
“The elevator has come to be regarded with favor in this city, and the era of tall buildings seems to have been reached… Two years ago, builders very reluctantly put on the fourth story, and tenants hesitated about going into the upper portions of the blocks built. But very recently a number of six, seven and eight-story buildings have been put up, supplied with fast elevators. These structures have been made fire-proof, and tenants have been as readily found for the upper stories as for the lower… The new buildings, with elevator accommodations, are rapidly depopulating the buildings without them, and which have heretofore been regarded as eligible office buildings. The occupants of offices were slow to appreciate the elevator, but in not to exceed two years they have found themselves in favor, and taller buildings are the order of the day.”
While the elevator seemed to be a necessity in St. Paul in order to increase its inventory of commercial floor area within its tight business district that was hemmed in, geographically by the river shore and the surrounding hilly terrain, Minneapolis, which lay on a vast plain, did not need to expand vertically to grow, but still did so in order not to let its sister gain any bragging rights. Montgomery Schuyler best noted this occurrence in 1891:
“But for our immediate purpose it is necessary to bear in mind not only the rapidity of the growth of these two cities, but the intensity of the rivalry between them-a rivalry which the stranger hardly comprehends… until he has seen the workings of it on the spot. Indeed, it is scarcely accurate to describe the genesis of Minneapolis, in particular, as a growth at all. St. Paul, has been developed from the frontier trading-post of the earlier days by evolution, the successive stages of which have left their several records; but Minneapolis has risen like an exhalation, or, to adopt even a mustier comparison, has sprung from the heads of its projectors full-panoplied in brick and mortar…(the development of Minneapolis) has been an affair of leaps and bounds. There are traces of the village that (Anthony) Trollope saw (in 1862), and there are the towering structures of a modern city, and there is nothing between. In this electric air… where antiquity means the day before yesterday, and posterity the day after tomorrow, the present is the most contemptible of tenses, and men inevitably come to think and live and build in the future-perfect.
“A ten-story building in a ten-acre lot requires explanation,[my emphasis] and this seems to be the explanation – this and the adjacency of the hated rival. In St. Paul the elevator came as a needed factor in commercial architecture, since the strip of shore to which the town was confined in Trollope’s time still limits and cramps the business-quarter, and leaves only the vertical dimension available for expansion. Towering buildings are the normal outcome of such a situation. Minneapolis, on the other hand, occupies a table-land above the river, which at present is practically unlimited. Although, of course, every growing or grown town must have a most frequented part – a center where land is costlier than elsewhere, and buildings rise higher, the altitude of the newest and tallest structures of Minneapolis could scarcely be explained without reference to the nearness of St. Paul, and the intensity of the local pride born of that nearness. If the physical necessities of the case prescribed ten-story buildings in St. Paul, the moral necessity of not being outdone would prescribe twelve-story buildings for Minneapolis.”
Even more curious was the fact that the first skyscrapers appeared not in St. Paul, but on the plain of Minneapolis. As in the race to build the first the grand hotel, St. Paul again, would be the one who once again had to play catch-up. Buffington was at the vanguard of this building type as well. His five-story Boston Block of 1881 in Minneapolis at the corner of Third St. and Hennepin had two stories added in 1885, foreshadowing the boom that was about to begin. This was the first building he had designed in which he had begun to experiment with iron construction (the West Hotel was designed the following year). He placed cast iron columns in the street piers that were independent of the walls.
Buffington also received the commission in 1885 for the seven-story Minneapolis Tribune Building at the corner northwest corner of Fourth Street and Marquette Avenue. His design was almost a direct copy of his West Hotel, including the same exterior materials of a Joliet marble ground floor that supported a red brick body above. Even the interior construction was similar to that of the hotel in its interior iron skeleton frame.
If these two buildings did not have the requisite “soar” of a skyscraper, another Minneapolis building of 1885 certainly did. The Minnesota Loan and Trust Building at 311 Nicollet Avenue was seven stories that were topped with a three-story clock tower that could be seen from all over town. Designed by Isaac Hodgson, an architect who had recently relocated from Indianapolis, it bore a slight resemblance in its overall profile to Hunt’s New York Tribune Building. In its exterior, Isaacson incorporated a progression in the window openings of 1:2:3 to create a sense of false perspective that was only enhanced with the addition of the slender tower and its pyramidal roof.
The building’s premiere visage in the Minneapolis skyline was very short-lived, however, as it was quickly surpassed by the ten-story Lumber Exchange at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Hennepin. It was designed also in 1885 by the recently formed firm of Franklin Long and Frederick Kees. Long (1842-1912) born in New York state had grown up in Woodstock, IL, some 50 miles northwest of Chicago and had apprenticed with Chicago’s John C. Cochrane before moving to Minneapolis in 1868. Kees (1852-1927) grew up in Baltimore and moved to Minneapolis in 1878 where he had found work as a draftsman with Buffington. They formed their partnership in early 1885.
Their design seemed to owe its overall form to Root’s Insurance Exchange but it lacked any of Root’s subtleties. (I want to note here that a 10-story building in 1885 was still big news in Chicago: at the time Long & Kees received this commission Root was designing the Rookery as a 10-story building.) The entry had the same, obligatory two-story triumphal arch. Root’s entry turrets were raised to the top of the building,, as he was planning to do at the same time in the Rookery. The major departure from most of Chicago’s contemporary brick skyscrapers was the fact that the exterior was all sandstone. Each floor was articulated with a continuous sillcourse, the entire elevation being treated with little artistry, comprised of alternating stone piers and flat-headed windows. Logically, they reserved the use of the arch for only the windows in the top floor, symbolically capping off the building. What seemed to be a Twin Cities local detail was the installation of a tower at the main corner of the building that resulted in an unfortunate conflict within the symmetry of the building’s elevation. While the entry arch and center turrets established a symmetry across the face of the building, this was immediately negated by the visual weight of the corner tower. We will see this rather awkward detail afflicting a number of buildings in both cities designed after the Lumber Exchange.
For instance, the following year Long and Kees won the competition to design the new eight-story Masonic Temple on the corner of Sixth and Hennepin. The corner was once again given a vertical extension, in this case by an onion dome, alluding to the “exotic” character of the Masonic Order. This time, however, both corners of the long, Sixth Street facade sprouted a dome, lending a sense of balance at least to this elevation. Long and Kees again used only sandstone in the exterior, detailing the elevations into a base:1:1:2:2:cornice rhythm. In contrast to the Lumber Exchange’s repetitive layering of each floor, the architects gave the Masonic Temple a strong vertical reading by employing continuous vertical bays at the center and corners. This was reinforced by their detailing the two-story layers as continuous arcades by recessing the spandrels in floors 5-7. (Note that in the Fifth floor, they had the same problem as Root did in the Rookery: while they had detailed the top of an arcade here, they still wanted the vertical to continue through it.) As the building and its owners had more “identity” than did the Lumber Exchange, the architects probably felt more at ease in approaching its design from a more romantic, than a rational point of departure.
Christison, Muriel B.. “LeRoy S. Buffington and the Minneapolis Boom of the 1880’s,” Minnesota History, Sept. 1942, p. 50..
Hess, Jeffrey A. and Paul Clifford Larson. St. Paul’s Architecture: A History, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Larson, Paul Clifford. The Spirit of H.H. Richardson on the Midland Prairies. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1988.
Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.
Millett, Larry. Lost Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992.
Morrison, Hugh. “Buffington and the Invention of the Skyscraper,” Art Bulletin, vol. XXVI, No. 1, March 1944.
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