Room at the Bottom

When Eisenhower-era civic leaders drunk on urban renewal laid waste to the Gateway district, they forever altered the topography of this town's hard-luck hotels and shot-and-a-beer saloons.

We'd pay them the money, but we'd only pay it to them after they moved and came back and told us where they moved, because we were trying to keep track of what happened. And it was interesting after they moved out into a little different neighborhood, when they came back they were dressed different. They were spruced up a little bit. They accommodated to the area.

Our offices were in the Metropolitan. It was made of that pink sandstone and it was subject to weathering. It was soft stone that water would get into and then it would freeze and the stone would fall off onto the sidewalk. I remember when we were there you could walk along the sidewalk in the morning and find big chunks of stone. The interior was really neat. On the upper floors there was thick glass, probably about 3 inches thick and it was kind of a greenish color. You couldn't see through it but light would go through it, and then the top was like a greenhouse, so all the light came in there. All of the interior was wrought-iron patterns. The elevators were all wrought iron and they were open. So I imagine when it was first built and all that was new, it was a pretty exciting building.

But then when it came around to try to fix this up, and you went to the city, they'd say, "Well, we wouldn't allow this to be built today. If there were a fire in the building this open atrium is just like a chimney going right up. All wrought iron, if you get any heat at all that disintegrates faster than a wood building. You'd really be in trouble." So they said if you were going to redo this you had to enclose the elevators, and you had to enclose the columns so they're insulated. It became a tremendously costly thing. And then when you got done you would have destroyed the building, what made it so great.

Wing Young Huie

When we got to the initial plan, we called the building "conditional acquisition," subject to some plans to see if we could rehabilitate it. We tried to get people interested in spending some money to rehabilitate it. It would have taken a lot of money to do it. What happened then is we started marketing the area. We had Knutson Co. as kind of an overall developer. Part of that was they didn't really trust the Housing and Redevelopment Authority to do what it said, so they wanted some private person who had control over the whole area. So Knutson planned three buildings in front of the post office, and they got Northern States Power, Northwest International Life, and IBM--those were four projects that were all committed at the same time. Sheraton Hotel was the other one. So that was a core package which really firmed up the end of Nicollet Avenue.

But before they would sign the contract, they wanted assurance that any of these old buildings still in the Gateway were going to be torn down so they weren't faced with the problem of further deterioration of the area. We had to either make a commitment to tear the Metropolitan down or postpone development. So we let a contract to tear it down and the bulldozers came out to start working on the building.

It was unfortunate that there wasn't some way to save it, but I don't think you can say it was an "inexcusable act of civic vandalism." That implies that it was just an outright unthoughtful act, which was not true. It wasn't an arbitrary act. It was something that was considered within the tools we had to work with.

The new buildings were modernist, contemporary architecture. People thought that was pretty great, and so did I. It really appealed to a lot of people and it sure appealed to me. It was forward-looking. Everybody was optimistic. It was a booming time.

I don't think I would have done it a lot different than we did it, except probably we would have some tools to preserve some of the buildings.

Now, the Sheraton Hotel, that was a disappointment, you know. The Sheraton went up in the Gateway, I suppose 1960. And it's already been torn down. The problem was that it wasn't big enough to be economic. But it was really a neat place for a long time. You could sit out there and eat lunch. They had a skating rink in the winter time. The IBM building--that was torn down, too.

I guess from my point of view every generation has a right to do something for their generation. And you don't necessarily have to preserve everything that went before you. Every generation has a different concept of what should be done in their time and place. At this time there was a need to do some dramatic things in the center city. And I think the Gateway project was one of them.

After prohibition was repealed, Bea Anderson's father managed the bar at the Schooner Hotel, where railroad and foundry workers could rent rooms by the week. Located on East Lake, the Schooner still operates today, although under different ownership.

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