Metropolitan Building,308 2nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Metropolitan Building

Metropolitan Building
Address: 308 2nd Avenue S
Neighborhood/s: Downtown, Minneapolis, Minnesota
City/locality-
State/province
Minneapolis, Minnesota
County-
State/province:
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1890
Year razed: 1961
Primary Style: Richardsonian Romanesque
Historic Function: Business
Architect or source of design: Edward Townsend Mix
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Granite
First Owner: New York Guaranty Loan Company

Downtown Minneapolis Hennepin


Contents

History

From the Introduction to Lost Twin Cities by Larry Millett

"On December 18. 1961, wrecking trucks rumbled through the streets of downtown Minneapolis toward a rendezvous with the past. Their destination was the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue South, where for seventy-one years the Metropolitan Building (originally known as the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building) had towered above its neighbors like a "small red mountain." But with Minneapolis in the midst of the greatest urban renewal project in its history, the Metropolitan was about to come down, a victim of age, politics, and ideology.

Once, it had been the pride of the city, the building that more than any other announced to the world that Minneapolis had come of age. "Here there has been erected...the most magnificent office building in the whole round world," gushed the Minneapolis Journal when the great sandstone structure opened on May 31, 1890. The inaugural was a glittering extravaganza that drew thousands of visitors. "As early as 7 o'clock [in the evening] the throngs began to converge toward the building," reported another newspaper. "Every street in the city seemed to lead to it, as all roads in ancient times are said to have lead to Rome.

Motors, electric cars, street cars, steam cars and hacks deposited their loads before the marble entrance." Amid the bright glow of arc lamps and the aroma of fresh cut flowers, visitors strolled along the building's glass floors (which occasioned some fright), toured its four hundred shops and offices, and fought off vertigo to gaze across the central light court---a twelve-story high fantasy in glass and iron that was among the greatest spaces of its kind ever built in America. Many members of the crowd eventually found their way to the rooftop garden, where they danced the night away beneath the stars, enjoying the "incomparably grand" view.

By the early 1950s, however, the Metropolitan no longer seemed so grand a place, in part because of the company it kept. The building had the misfortune to stand at the edge of the Gateway District, which by midcentury was the city's most visible example of urban blight, a broken landscape of pawnshops, cheap hotels, brothels, nightclubs, and bars. Yet for all its squalor, the Gateway District was also a treasure trove of nineteenth-century commercial architecture, with the Metropolitan its crown jewel. No one in Minneapolis city government saw this side of the Gateway, however. all they saw was a fetid slum that, unless cleared, could forever poison attempts to reinvigorate and aging, dormant downtown rapidly losing business and population to the suburbs.

These concerns were genuine. The Gateway was in desperate need of redevelopment. But the solution chosen by the city was an extreme one--total destruction. This strategy of obliteration received final approval in 1957 when Minneapolis Mayor P.K. Peterson went to Washington, D.C., and convinced federal officials to help fund the ambitious project.

Five years and many millions of dollars later, much of the Gateway District, including the Metropolitan Building, was gone. All told, nearly two hundred buildings spread over seventeen square blocks were demolished. This amounted to 40 percent of the city's historic central business district. The Metropolitan was among the last buildings in the Gateway to fall, and it did not go down without a fight. A loose coalition of architects, historians, and people who simply loved the building did their best to keep it standing. Their efforts proved fruitless. Despite the building's architectural and historical significance, it had few friends in high places, and the temper of the times was against it.

Several years earlier, a prominent academic historian, displaying the bias of the era, had written that "perhaps no single building by a Minneapolis architect is worthy of measurement or preservation. "Such thinking was endemic in the 1950s and 1960s, when old buildings generally were viewed as aesthetic embarrassments, worthless relics cluttering the road to progress. An attorney for the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority [Palmer] called the Metropolitan "a monstrosity in the eyes of most observers." The Minnesota Supreme Court, in an opinion permitting destruction of the building, was equally unsympathetic.

Allowing the Metropolitan to stand, the court said, "would have an unfavorable effect upon the value of surrounding property." Other arguments against the building--- that it was too old, too dangerous (because of the threat of fire spreading up through the light court), and too poorly designed for modern use---could all have been answered a decade later when historic renovation became commonplace.

The day before the wrecking crews arrived, a newspaper reporter interviewed fight-eight-year old Wally Marotzke, who for twenty years had been the building's engineer. "I'm not gonna watch 'em rip it down," Marotzke told the reporter. "I don't think I could. But, I'll tell you one thing. The future generations are gonna read about this building and they'll see some of the buildings they're putting up here and they'll damn us, they will for tearing down the Met."[1]

Memories and stories

Photo Gallery

Related Links

Movie by University of Minnesota students 1961
Movie August 1961
They paved paradise
The men behind
By the numbers
The Met recollected

Notes

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