1.13. “MODERN AMERICAN:” THE FIRST IRON-FRAMED GLASS BOX?

Hodgson & Son, Bank of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, 1885. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)

Another Minneapolis building designed in 1885 that exhibited an even clearer allegiance to Chicago’s contemporary buildings but went much further than anything constructed there in terms of its expression of its iron frame was the seven-story Bank of Minneapolis, located on the southwest corner of Third Street and Nicollet Avenue and designed by Hodgson & Son.  Their design is even more remarkable when compared to their Minnesota Loan and Trust, designed only a few months earlier in the same year.  It was reputed by some sources as having been completely iron-framed.  The Saturday Evening Spectator described its structure as “a complete iron and steel cage…from top to bottom”, that, if true, was more advanced than any building in Chicago at the time.  (I suspect that the two party walls were masonry loadbearing for fire protection and wind resistance.) Some sources, however, claim that the building also relied somewhat on masonry piers.  Nonetheless, what the architects had achieved was a design comprised of a repetitive rectilinear structure, veneered with a white Ohio sandstone, with large double windows (not the triple window of the Leiter Building that actually would block out more light) infilling each bay.  Particularly noteworthy were the single pane windows on the second floor, where the bank offices were located, that were ten-by-fourteen feet panes of glass, the largest single piece of glass that could be produced at the time.  These were so detailed that they could be tilted outward for summer ventilation. (I am not aware of any windows, let alone operable windows, of this size at this time in Chicago.)

Hodgson & Son, Bank of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, 1885. Detail showing how 10’ x 14’ windows in the second floor pivoted open at the top and bottom. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)

While at first glance, the Bank of Minneapolis’ family tree can be traced back to Jenney’s First Leiter (including the pinnacles at the top of each pier) and then, to McLaughlin’s Shillito’s Store, it truth, the proportion of glass to structural frame has been so maximized that it no longer reads as a masonry grid of structure like its forbearers, but more as a true glass box, maybe the first of a line of new designs that were come in the near future.  This was best stated by the Evening Spectator’s review of the building at its opening, “The form and features of the walls are not in any of the so-called ‘styles,’ but may be termed a structure of the ‘Modern American’ model.”

FURTHER READING:

Millett, Larry. Lost Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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