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.