1890: Metropolitan Building in Minneapolis


I noticed a rather tall building in this 1891 Bird's Eye View of Minneapolis. The available zoom is amazing, so make sure you check it out. The following description was provided with the map.
  • Map of the city of Minneapolis in 1891 which is drawn using a bird's eye view, includes list to find 54 Minneapolis businesses and buildings.
The Metropolitan Building


1891 Bird's Eye View of Minneapolis
I counted 15 stories in the above image, but apparently those are "only" 12. Let us see what Wikipedia has to say about this building:
  • The Metropolitan Building, originally known as the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building, is considered to be one of the most architecturally significant structures in the history of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • The building is considered the city's first skyscraper, with 12 stories and standing 218 feet (66 m) tall.
  • It was built of green New Hampshire granite and red Lake Superior sandstone, with the interiors dressed in antique oak and beautiful ornamental iron and brass work by Crown Iron Works Company of Minneapolis.
  • Small observation towers poked up above the corners, and the rooftop had a popular garden
  • A large skylight allowed the interior to be safely lit in a time when electric lighting was rare (though the building was eventually wired), and the floors of walkways circling the center court were translucent to allow more light to filter through.
    • KD: 12 stories with no electricity, right?
  • Architect E. Townsend Mix designed the building, and it is considered to be his most notable achievement.
    • The dude also built whole bunch of other "notable" achievements. Check him out.
  • It stood from 1890 until it was torn down starting in 1961 as part of major urban renewal efforts in the city that saw about 40% of the downtown district razed and replaced with new structures.
The Architect

Edward Townsend Mix

Edward Townsend Mix was an American architect of the Gilded Age who designed many buildings in the Midwestern United States. His career was centered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and many of his designs made use of the region's distinctive Cream City brick.

Our Building
It was an absolute top-of-the-line building. Everything about it was better than what you would have typically found in construction at the time. A typical eight to 10 story building in Minneapolis at the time would have had two elevators. He had seven.


Looking down to the bottom of the Metropolitan Building’s light court, 1961. Many of the galleries surrounding the court featured floors consisting of 1-inch-thick panels of translucent glass.



It has been 50 years - Dec. 19, 1961, to be exact - since the wreckers took their first swing at the fabled Metropolitan Building, but the wounds to the city's psyche and skyline still seem fresh. If only we could travel back in time 121 years, to 1890, when 8,000 people, including the upper reaches of Minneapolis society, gathered to celebrate the opening of what was originally called the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building.
  • It was billed, correctly, as the largest, most lavish office building in the Northwest, and it was a study in contrasts, with its ponderous stone exterior masking a breathtaking interior atrium. Sunlight, pouring in from an enormous skylight, shimmered through green glass-block floors and bathed the soaring space in an aquatic, cathedral-like glow.
  • "The most profound experience we had was the privilege of walking into the Metropolitan Building and witnessing one of the most exciting spaces we had ever seen," is how the editors of Progressive Architecture magazine, aghast at the prospect of the building's impending destruction, described the Met's light court in 1960.
  • The Met's demolition is considered by some to have paved the way for a more preservation-conscious Twin Cities. If not for the outcry that followed its unnecessary destruction, would beloved architectural treasures - Landmark Center in St. Paul, Butler Square in Minneapolis - still be standing?
  • Stylistically, the Metropolitan was a trendsetter. The light court's filigreed grillwork presaged the Art Nouveau movement by a decade. Six manually operated birdcage-style elevators and their machinery were open for all to see, a delicate form-follows-function solution. And the sweetness and light of that thrilling 11-story atrium, which architect E. Townsend Mix gift-wrapped - for maximum contrast - in a hulking, rough-hewn facade, was ahead of architecture's Brutalist movement by several generations.
  • The first three floors boasted 4-foot-thick exterior walls of green New Hampshire granite. Red Lake Superior sandstone, quarried near Houghton, Mich., trimmed the upper nine floors, where the exterior walls slimmed to 2 feet. Hallways were lined with 7-foot-high Italian marble wainscoting and doors and windows were trimmed in a veritable forest of irreplaceable old-growth oak.
  • The open-air rooftop garden and observation tower were tourism magnets for more than a quarter-century. Gibbs' Restaurant initially occupied much of the 12th floor, where 50 cents bought a multi-course dinner served on Haviland china by tuxedo-clad waiters. Its owner was Jasper Gibbs, an African-American, and the Minneapolis Tribune described the rooms of his sumptuous restaurant as "marvels of comfort, elegance and convenience," the "largest, finest restaurant west of Chicago." (The space later housed Pillsbury's baking labs).
  • The building's remaining tenants were evicted on Halloween 1961. Seven weeks later, on an overcast Tuesday morning, sledgehammers hit sandstone trim on the building's roof, although the literally rock-solid Met didn't go without putting up a fight.
  • The post-demolition plan didn't go any further than selling the land - for $32,000, about $240,000 in 2011 dollars - and it promptly became, yes, a parking lot. For nearly 20 years. "It's one of the most expensive parking lots in the history of Minneapolis."
  • Parts of the building were salvaged. The intricate grillwork disappeared into homes and businesses. Many of the massive stone blocks were laid to rest in a Delano landfill. Some of that granite recently has been resurrected and repurposed into a sculpture-park project in south Minneapolis.
  • A relentlessly banal office building filled the parking lot in 1980, a dose of the suburban blahs plopped onto the streets of downtown Minneapolis. It may be standing on the site of the mighty Metropolitan, but it never replaced it. Nothing could.
  • They paved paradise
  • The mighty Metropolitan Building comes back to life
Video: The Metropolitan Life Building

What do you think those rocks next to the guy in the video are/were? And in general, what is your opinion of this 4 minute video above?

KD: The story is pretty fascinating, with all them "urban renewals" and "40%" demolitions. Cleaned up the past, didn't they?

But... there is one thing I did not see anywhere. There are many other questions to be asked, and our forum members are welcome to ask them. I have only one (may be two) for right now:
  • How much time did it take to build this building? As in... when did the construction start/end?
    • Are we supposed to believe it took them only one year to get it built?
I've tried to locate the video on Youtube, but looks like it was deleted.. ?
Does anybody have a copy ?

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