Metropolitan Dreams

Metropolitan Dreams: The Scandalous Rise and Stunning Fall of a Minneapolis Masterpiece
Larry Millett
University of Minnesota Press, November 2018

Hardcover | 7 x 9 inches | 248 pages | 140 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1517904166 | $29.95

Publisher Description:
When it opened in 1890, the twelve-story Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building was the tallest, largest, and most splendid commercial structure in Minneapolis—a mighty stone skyscraper built for the ages. How this grand Richardsonian Romanesque edifice, which later came to be called the Metropolitan Building, rose with the growth of Minneapolis only to fall in the throes of the city’s postwar renewal, is revealed in Metropolitan Dreams in all its scandalous intrigue. It is a tale of urban growing pains and architectural ghosts and of colorful, sometimes criminal characters amid the grandeur and squalor of building and rebuilding a city’s skyline.

Against the thrumming backdrop of turn-of-the-century Minneapolis, architectural critic and historian Larry Millett recreates the impressive rise of the massive office building, its walls of green New Hampshire granite and red Lake Superior sandstone surrounding its true architectural wonder, a dazzling twelve-story iron and glass light court. The drama, however, was far from confined to the building itself. A consummate storyteller, Millett summons the frenetic atmosphere in Gilded Age Minneapolis that encouraged the likes of Northwestern Guaranty’s founder, real estate speculator Louis Menage, whose shady deals financed this Minneapolis masterpiece—and then forced him to flee both prosecution and the country a mere three years later.

Dubious as its financial beginnings might have been, the economic circumstances of the Metropolitan’s demise were at least as questionable. Anchoring Minneapolis’s historic Gateway District in its heyday, the building’s fortunes shifted with the city’s demographics and finally it fell victim to the fervor of one of the largest downtown urban renewal projects ever undertaken in the United States. Though the long and furious battle to save the Metropolitan ultimately failed in 1962, its ghost persists in the passion for historic preservation stirred by its demise—and in
Metropolitan Dreams, whose photographs, architectural drawings, and absorbing narrative bring the building and its story to vibrant, enduring life.
dDAB Commentary:
New York City had Penn Station. Chicago had the Old Chicago Stock Exchange. Every U.S. city of a reasonable size had a pre-WWII building that was demolished but whose presence lingers. I mention Penn Station and the Stock Exchange because they were located in the cities I'm most familiar with and because each had a lasting significance: the demolition of McKim, Mead & White's Penn Station in the mid-1960s led to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission; and the demolition of Adler & Sullivan's Stock Exchange building in the 1970s led to the death of preservationist Richard Nickel and parts of the building being reconstructed at the Art Institute of Chicago. While the unfortunate histories of these two buildings is known to me and many others, I'm guessing the similar fate accorded to the Metropolitan Building isn't familiar to those at a remove from Minneapolis. This new book from local architectural historian Larry Millett should help fuse the gap between it and the more famous victims of demolition in other American cities.

Built in the 1890s as Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building, the Metropolitan Building took on its lasting name in 1905, when it was bought by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York. The building designed by E. Townsend Mix stood until the early 1960s, when it was a victim of geography: it sat within a 22-block area in downtown Minneapolis pegged for the Gateway Center urban renewal area. The plan passed unanimously in 1958 and the Metropolitan Building came down a few years later. Instead of being replaced by a modern edifice, the site was used as a parking lot for nearly 20 years, until the horrendous 330 Second Avenue South went up in 1980. Millett, who wrote a lot about the Metropolitan Building before the publication of Metropolitan Dreams, has written that the loss of the old Gateway area is not worth lamenting — but the plan should have spared the Metropolitan Building, which was fully occupied when it was targeted for demolition and was built so strongly it took eight months to pull down. In Metropolitan Dreams Millett dives deeply into the building's design and realization, the Midwest city's decisions to develop and demolish, and even how parts of the building live on elsewhere in the city: a great read for Minnesotans but also preservationists in any state.

Author Bio:
Larry Millett is the author of many notable books on regional architecture, including Once There Were Castles, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury, Heart of St. Paul: A History of the Pioneer and Endicott Buildings ... and several AIA Guides to the architecture of the Twin Cities. He has also written eight historical novels involving Sherlock Holmes set in turn-of-the-century Minnesota.
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