April 2019 – Architecture

RCHS Facebook Posts from April 2019 – Saint Paul Architecture

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” ‑ Winston Churchill.
This month we’ll be exploring the incredible architects and buildings that helped shape St. Paul’s unique character. We’re starting with Emma Frieda Brunson, the first woman to register as an architect in Minnesota in 1921. Emma F. Brunson owned her own architecture firm after working for Augustus Gauger. Her house designs ranged widely in style, but many were influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement. She was known for making the most of every square inch of the floorplan, eliminating hallways and wasted space, creating flow from room to room and adding generous amounts of natural light. More on Emma here @ http://bit.ly/2umIwnb
Featured image: collage of architectural details from throughout Saint Paul, with portrait of Emma Brunson.

Once referred to as “the man who probably knows more about the Capitol than anyone now living…” in the 1930s, John Rachac Jr. (working as John Rockart), son of Czech immigrant and MN State Capitol carpenter, drew the plans for the oval stairs in the NE corner of the Capitol while working for the building’s architect Cass Gilbert, where as a valued associate he was listed on the firm’s letterhead. He is also one of the names in the cornerstone box of the Capitol. Learn more @ http://bit.ly/2Cy6mAP.
Image: 1901 photograph of the NE corner of the State Capitol while under construction, from Ramsey County History article.

The opening of the Ford plant in Highland Park in 1924 was only the beginning. Business leaders wanted the entire area south of St. Paul Avenue for industrial development: 700 acres above the bluff for factories and 600 acres on the Mississippi River for coal receiving by barge. Marc Manderscheid explains how city and business leaders planned to make a great new industrial district, plus discover what multiple factors killed the industrial dream. More about the neighborhood and the impacts in the Ramsey County History magazine article here.

It’s been said that over 2,500 Carnegie Libraries were built between 1883 and 1929 all over the world. The three Carnegie libraries in St. Paul were designed by architect Charles Hausler in a distinct Beaux-Arts style. The libraries were built after his plans were approved in 1915 after quite a bit of back-and-forth discussion from Carnegie’s Secretary, James Bertram. Each building follows the pattern of Carnegie Libraries throughout the country, but the facades and details reflect the local neighborhood. More details to come, or see for yourself at the article here.

Each St. Paul Carnegie Library had distinctive architectural details. St. Anthony Park Library featured elevated ornate design elements, including a monumental entry, laurel wreath patterns and Corinthian-inspired columns. The former Arlington Hills Library, now East Side Freedom Library, is distinguished by the use of didactic sculpture with symbols relating to knowledge and education, and concrete stylized Ionic columns. The Riverview Library utilizes simpler use of Classical styling, with a straight entry of stairs, brick construction and circular pieces of marble. Arlington Hills and Riverview are still part of the Saint Paul Library system. Learn more in the article @ http://bit.ly/2TRW5tK.

In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a massive building boom in St. Paul. Many of the buildings in downtown that were constructed at this time still survive, designed in the then-new Art Deco style. Influenced by industrial streamlining, and Egyptian and modern art, the style featured geometric lines, symmetrical layouts, rich colors and surface ornamentation. Perhaps the most famous in Art-Deco building downtown St. Paul is the City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse. Built in 1932, the building was designed by the Chicago firm of Holabird and Root with help from the new Ellerbe firm of St. Paul.

Other St. Paul buildings inspired by the Art-Deco style include:

  • The current Union Depot (1923)
  • The Minnesota Building (1929)
  • The First National Bank Building (1931)
  • The State Office Building (1932)
  • Mickey’s Diner (1937)

Collage image includes Mickey’s Diner, First National Bank and the St. Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse.

There were two earlier Union Depots in downtown St. Paul before the current one. The first Union Depot was constructed in 1881 at the corner of Sibley and Water Street. Designed by the Minneapolis architect LeRoy Buffington, the first Depot was badly damaged by fire. Buffington then designed a second Union Depot, located on Sibley at the Lower Levee steamboat Landing. That Depot was also destroyed by fire in 1913, but before that it handled 268 trains A DAY (nearly one every 5.5 minutes!) transporting over 8 million passengers a year. The current Union Depot was finished in 1923, at a cost in today’s dollars of about $215 million. For more on the early history of St. Paul, Custom House is a great resource! http://bit.ly/2EBpAIu
Image of the early Union Depot, circa 1900.

Pre-World War II artist and sculptor Lee Oscar Lawrie wrote in 1934, “It is the mural sculptor’s business to see to it that his expression is in accord with the idea of the building, its time and place, as well as its design.” Lawrie’s work was influenced by Modern Gothic to Art Deco throughout the years, and he made his mark locally on the St. Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse (among many other notable buildings in the U.S.). He did not apply his carvings onto the buildings as many other designers did, but rather had them carved directly INTO the buildings. The stonework on the Courthouse was carved to Lawrie’s specifications by Italian immigrant John Garatti, who lived in St. Paul. There’s much more on Lawrie’s unique viewpoints and style in the article here.
Two carved stonework panels from the City Side and County Side of the St. Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse, from the RCHS article.

If the walls in the century-old Tazewell Apartments could talk they’d have many stories to tell. Authors Eileen and Aine McCormack worked through old documents and oral histories to bring readers the story of the Tazewell Apartments in Ramsey County History. Discover their history and many more details in the article here. It’s a fascinating tale of one of architect Perry E. Crosier’s early works; the birth of the building and early years, the stable middle years, and then the building’s decline and eventual rebirth. Today, Tazewell condo owners enjoy living in the shadow of the past with modern shops, restaurants, and businesses around the corner.

The building that served as White Bear Town Hall from 1885 to 2011 is believed to be the first government structure designed by an up-and-coming St. Paul architect named Cass Gilbert. He went on to build a few other, slightly larger, government buildings, including the Minnesota State Capitol, and the U.S. Supreme Court! The town hall, which has relocated three times since it first stood on the shore of White Bear Lake, now resides at Polar Lakes Park and is being renovated to look as it most likely did 129 years ago. It soon will reopen as an historical interpretation site with exhibits, presentations, and programming. Learn more @ http://bit.ly/2Jwxgiz
Images Courtesy of White Bear Lake Area Historical Society.

One of St. Paul’s surviving architectural gems is Landmark Center. Built in the Romanesque style, the exterior of the castle-like Landmark Center is St. Cloud red granite, and Butler Brothers Co. (builder of the State Capitol and the firm John Rachac Jr.’s dad worked for) did the interior work. Did you know the tallest tower is equal in height to a 17 story building? Read more @ http://bit.ly/2EBpAIu and thank you for following us as we explored the unique, stunning architecture of St. Paul and the stories behind it.
Historic postcard with an aerial view of St. Paul, taken from the perspective of Harriet Island.

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