While Chicago continued to struggle to restart its real estate market during 1887 and the first half of 1888, Minneapolis and St. Paul were erecting skyscrapers that were beginning to overtake what Chicago had built prior to its economic slowdown.  Even as early as April 1886, it was reported that the twelve-story Palisades Hotel (never built, however) was being planned for downtown Minneapolis (Chicago had only completed the 12-story Maller Building a year earlier, and the 11-story Rookery was just coming out of the ground).  In March 1888, announcements were made in both cities that a twelve-story office building was being planned for each city.  The race between the Twin Cities was on again.  St. Paul appears to have been the first out the gate with the announcement that the Pioneer Press had commissioned Chicago’s S.S. Beman to design a building taller than what its competitor, the St. Paul Globe, designed the previous year by E. Townsend Mix had just completed.  Within weeks of this announcement, Minneapolis real estate mogul Louis F. Menage released the news that he had hired Mix to design a twelve-story building for his company, the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Company, for the western corner of S. 3rd Street and Second Avenue S.

E. Townsend Mix, St. Paul Daily Globe, St. Paul, 1887. (Millet, AIA Guide to the Twin Cities)


S. S. Beman, Pioneer Press Building, St. Paul, 1888. (Minnesota Historical Society)

This news made the Pioneer Press increase its building to 13 stories.  While Chicago had no 13-story buildings in early 1888, it did have a large collection of 10-story skyscrapers and the corresponding construction experience to design such a building, so the newspaper had gone to Chicago and hired Beman to design their record-breaking skyscraper for the north corner of Fourth and Robert Streets.  Not surprisingly, Beman still conservatively chose to use load-bearing masonry on all four exterior walls.  

Beman, Pioneer Press Building. Entrance. (Online)

Beman produced a well-proportioned box that had a two-story stone base, upon which he placed an 11-story body encased in a light brown brick, that was articulated in layers with a 1:6:1:2:1 rhythm.  He had capped the six-story middle layer with a series of arches that were supported on five-story piers.  One unfortunate detail he could have eliminated was a superfluous sill course at the ninth floor that randomly interrupted these piers at this point.  Beman detailed floors eleven and twelve with windows that were half the width of those in the layer below it, with arches spanning the openings in floor eleven, while the windows in floor twelve were spanned with a lintel.  Floor thirteen was solid except for small vertical strips located above each window below, which betrayed the mechanical equipment located on this level.  A bracketed cornice gave the box a crisp profile.  

Beman, Pioneer Press Building. Atrium. The stairway has been glazed over in a later renovation that also added three floors. (And you thought the stair in the Rookery’s atrium was scary…) (Online)

The dimensions of the site allowed Beman to line all four sides with single-loaded offices that left a 30′ by 40′ rectangular atrium in the center that extended for the entire height of the building’s 13 stories, the tallest atrium in the country.  Beman detailed the conventional Hyatt glass prisms in the floors of each gallery to permit as much daylight to penetrate down into the lower floors.

Beman, Pioneer Press Building. Atrium. Note the glass prisms inserted in the balcony floors. (Author image)


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.

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

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