Federal Building, Minneapolis, MN
The Federal Office Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota occupies nearly the entire block bounded by Washington Avenue South on the south, Second Street South on the north, Third Avenue South on the east and Second Avenue South on the west. A wide concrete sidewalk with trees surrounds the site and encloses grassy lawn areas on the north, south and east elevations of the building and an asphalt paved parking lot on the west.
The north, south and east elevations of the neo-classical revival style building are clad in granite and exhibit character-defining details and features. The west elevation, or rear of the building, is clad with buff-colored brick and is much simpler in appearance. The three main elevations, set atop a raised basement, consist of solid and entry pavilions flanking multiple fenestration bays divided by columns or pilasters. The east, or front elevation of the building, is expressed as a two-story section; a third story, with sloping mansard roof, is set back from the plane of the front elevation. Pairs of two-story, fluted Greek Corinthian columns divide the center section into 11 bays. Flanking the bays are two-story pavilions with paired pilasters. On the first floor levels of the pavilions are single window openings capped with projecting pediments. Within the bays of the center section of the elevation are original two-story, cast-iron window compositions with frames, mullions and spandrels which contain replacement fixed steel sash. A wide granite stairway leads up to the center three bays on the first floor level which feature the cast-iron frames with copper domes which originally contained revolving doors. Full-light metal doors with sidelights and transoms have since been installed. Fan lights are featured over the three entrance doors.
The columns and pilasters of the main elevation support a Greek entablature consisting of a banded architrave, frieze with floral rosettes and flat panels, a dentil and egg-and-dart molding leading to projecting cornice with modillions. Centered on the main elevation in the frieze are metal letters spelling "UNITED STATES FEDERAL OFFICE BUILDING". A panelized parapet with granite coping sits atop the cornice and features panels of carved circular designs. The parapet wall screens a flat roof, with numerous former skylight frames.
Both the north and south elevations are divided into 13 bays by pilasters and appear as one-story wings over a raised basement capped by an entablature and parapet. The three-story section is set back from the plane of the elevations at their eastern ends. The elevations match each other with the exception that the south elevation has a pair of entrances with porticos providing access to the first floor level while the north elevation has only one entrance with a portico up to the first floor and two down to the basement level. All three first floor entrances sit atop flights of concrete steps and still contain the cast-iron revolving doors frames. On the south elevation, the steps are flanked by curved granite support walls. On the north elevation, the support walls are straight and concrete, rebuilt after the 1970 explosion. The remaining bays contain single window openings trimmed with architrave framing and flat arches with projecting voussoirs.
A single, granite-clad bay, matching the details of the north and south elevations, wraps each end of the west elevation. The remainder of the elevation is clad in buff-colored brick with granite water table banding projecting cornice and parapet wall. The surface of the brick is divided into 15 recessed bays. Located at the center bay is the raised loading dock and service entrance. The other bays contain openings with single-light, fixed sash steel replacement windows.
Numerous interior renovations and remodelings have altered and reconfigured the interior of the building. The most notable of these was in the mid-1930's and created two interior light wells and a new first floor circulation system. However, the original main entry lobby with its mosaic tile floor, marble wall panels and barrel-vaulted plaster ceiling remains virtually intact. Though somewhat modified, the original postal lobby/corridor, with its mosaic tile floor, wood and glass screen walls and groin-vaulted plaster ceiling is also impressive. The remainder of the interior appears as modern office space with a smattering of original details and features.
The Federal Office Building in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota is of historical significance for its contribution to the community of Minneapolis and of architectural significance for its original design and the overall integrity of its exterior.
The history of the Federal Office Building, originally constructed as a post office, can be traced back to the 1880's. The 1880's were a period of rapid growth for Minneapolis, marked by a construction boom in the downtown area. The boom was also reflected in the population of the city; it doubled during this decade. As a result, the four-story, Romanesque style building, built in 1889, which housed the post office, U.S. District Court and numerous federal offices became inadequate in size. Planning for a new post office facility began, and in 1907, the block bounded by Washington Avenue, Second Street, and Second and Third Avenues South was purchased and cleared for construction of a new postal facility. The site selection was unpopular as the area was occupied by retail and wholesale establishments and manufacturing concerns relating to the freight depot for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad.
Presentation drawings for the building were completed in July 1909 under the direction of James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department. The drawing depicted a two-story, neo-classical structure with a hipped copper roof. This design is similar to the appearance of the final construction; however, the main elevation of the building was orientated to Washington Avenue rather than Third Avenue South. This orientation was probably selected initially because the tracks of the Twin City Rapid Transit streetcar line ran along Washington Avenue, and at this time Third Avenue South dead-ended at the Mississippi River.
A set of construction drawings based upon this design was completed in 1910. While the building remained oriented toward Washington Avenue, a third story had been added to the design. In 1911 and 1912, a second set of construction drawings was executed which changed the orientation to Third Avenue South, facing away from the downtown area and toward the freight terminal. This was apparently the direct result of lobbying by city officials. This decision, coupled with the initial unhappiness over the selection of the site itself, proved to be a source of continuing displeasure to the people of Minneapolis.
Construction was begun in 1912 and proceeded until early in 1915. During the course of construction, numerous design changes were made. On the exterior, various "improvements" were designed as additions to the original contract. These included adding porticos and curved support walls to the entrances on Second Street and Washington Avenue and constructing a one-story, stone-faced wall enclosing the area adjacent to the rear mailing platform. On the inside, the "betterments" included the addition of mosaic tile floors, marble floor and wall trim and "imitation caen stone" wall surfaces in the vestibules and corridors. The new post office was officially opened with a flag raising ceremony on January 18, 1915. The building had been completed at a total cost of $1,267,162 which included the land, building and equipment.
The postal service continued to expand its services and staff after moving into the new building. In February 1926, plans were announced for an extensive renovatation and four-story addition to the existing facility. The plans called for the demolition of the existing 1889 Federal Building with all federal offices and courts to be housed in the new space created at the post office. A $2,000,000 appropriation passed the Senate on February 17, 1926, having previously been passed in the House. However, by 1929, political forces in the city had begun a drive for the construction of a totally new postal facility with the federal offices and courts being relocated to the renovated 1915 post office building. This plan raised an immediate uproar from the judges of the Federal Circuit and District courts, who had no intention of being relocated from admittedly cramped and dilapidated quarters in a suitably located building to quarters of unknown quality located in a building in what had become a decaying part of the city. In June 1930, the judges announced their consideration of a renewed campaign for the construction of a new federal building, in light of continuing plans by the federal government to renovate the post office. Ultimately, it was decided to go ahead with construction of the new post office and leave disposition of the present post office for consideration at a later date.
Construction of a new post office facility was begun in 1933. In July 1933, it was revealed that the federal government was considering the demolition of either the 1915 Post Office or the 1889 Federal Building as a means of obtaining land for the construction of a new federal office and courts building. The new post office facility was dedicated on September 20, 1934; the postal service vacated the 1915 building and moved to the new facility in March of 1935. In October of 1935, plans were announced that the 1915 post office would be remodeled to house federal offices other than the courts, with the court-related activities remaining in the 1889 building. Construction documents were completed in early 1936 under the direction of Louis A. Simon, the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. The construction, at a contracted cost of $43,725, began in June of 1936. The bulk of the work reconfigured the first floor with the creation of two large lightwells and a new circulation system. The new occupants, primarily the Internal Revenue Service and the recruitment offices for the various branches of the armed forces, moved into the building in January 1937. The building was officially renamed the Federal Office Building on January 13, 1937.
In the 1960's and early 1970's, the presence of those very same tenants resulted in renewed public awareness of the building, as it became the focus of local anti-war demonstrations against the I.R.S., the armed forces, and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, a Minnesota native. In August 1970, an explosion caused extensive damage to the building in the vicinity of the Second Street entrance.