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Metropolitan Dreams

The Scandalous Rise and Stunning Fall of a Minneapolis Masterpiece

2018
Author:

Larry Millett

Metropolitan Dreams

The story of one of Minnesota’s most famous and most mourned buildings, set against the history of downtown Minneapolis

Against the thrumming backdrop of turn-of-the-century Minneapolis, architectural critic and historian Larry Millett recreates the impressive rise, and eventual fall, of the massive Metropolitan Building. Metropolitan Dreams 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.

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.

Metropolitan Dreams

Larry Millett is the author of many notable books on regional architecture, including Once There Were Castles, Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury (winner of a Minnesota Book Award), and Heart of St. Paul: A History of the Pioneer and Endicott Buildings, all published by Minnesota, as well as Lost Twin Cities, Minnesota’s Own: Preserving Our Grand Homes, 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.

Metropolitan Dreams

Contents
Introduction: “They Will Damn Us, They Will”
1. “Risen Like an Exhalation”
2. “A Man of Peculiar Genius and Business Methods”
3. “One of the Great Architects of the Day”
4. “The Best Office Building in the World”
The Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building, 1890–1900
5. “One of the Most Colossal Swindles of the Decade”
6. “The Lower Loop is Sunk”
7. “How Sick Is This Heart of Minneapolis?”
8. “A Monstrosity in the Eyes of Most Observers”
Epilogue: “The Most Unfortunate Thing”
Acknowledgments
Notes
Illustration Credits
Index