A Fantasy in Iron

This section of ornamental ironwork was harvested from the wreckage of the demolished Metropolitan Building, 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue South, in downtown Minneapolis. It was created by August Malmsten and Andrew Nelson who, in 1878, began a blacksmith business on the banks of the Mississippi River overlooking St. Anthony Falls. The business expanded rapidly, providing machinery repair services to the surrounding flour and sawmills, and supplying steel for the booming building trade in and around Minneapolis.

By 1884 the Malmsten and Nelson Company had become the Crown Iron Works Company. The company became the leading fabricator of structural steel, ornamental iron, and bronze and aluminum metal work. In 1888, at the height of what became known as Minneapolis’ “Golden Age” of architecture, Crown Ornamental Iron Works was commissioned to create an extravaganza of ironwork to dress the atrium of the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building. Twelve stories of bronze-trimmed, cast, and wrought iron, in the art nouveau style, at a cost of $167,000, was created in the Minneapolis plant, located at 113-117 2nd Avenue S.E. The remnant seen here was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Wayne Murphy, former Director of the Robbinsdale Historical Society.

Metropolitan Building interior

In 1890 the doors opened to one of the most significant, not to mention stunning, pieces of architecture in Minneapolis history. Designed by E. Townsend Mix, for Louis Menage, the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building was born of light filled glass, breathtaking Art Nouveau filigree iron work, green New Hampshire granite, Red lake- Superior sandstone, and Italian marble, and was crowned with an open- air roof garden and observation tower. 8,000 illustrious guests attended the grand opening.

Metropolitan Building c 1890s.jpg

The first tenants included forerunners to Pillsbury, Wells Fargo, and the Soo Line railroad companies, as well as one of Minneapolis’ first African American Restaurant owners, Jasper Gibbs. It was the most prestigious business address in Minneapolis. In 1905 The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company bought the building, it has since been known as the Metropolitan Building.

The onset of urban renewal in the late 1950s set in motion discussions of the razing of the Metropolitan Building. The movement to save the Metropolitan was impressive. It was led by Robert Bliss, University of Minnesota professor of Architecture. In September  1961, Sidney Simon, Director of the University Gallery, Martin Friedman, Director of the Walker Art Center, and Carl J. Weinhardt, Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, issued the following joint statement at their museums, accompanied by an exhibition of documentary photographs of the Metropolitan Building:

“Photographs such as these may soon be all that will remain of this important architectural monument. This magnificent pioneer skyscraper originally known as the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building was designed by E. Townsend Mix and constructed between 1888 and 1890. This building made audacious structural use of steel, concrete and glass. Its fanciful design motifs are characteristic of the turn of the century. The principles involved in the cantilevered balconies with their translucent floors and light filled court are completely consistent with those found in the best recent architecture”

Ninety days later, demolition of the Metropolitan Building began.

 

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