Lost Minneapolis – Skid Row 1959

I visited the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis recently for a lecture on the Architecture of the 1920’s. I got to the museum early and was intrigued by the Skid Row exhibit.  I looked at all the old photos and quickly realized that there is hardly a trace left of this portion of what was once the Minneapolis business district. I was so curious that I have spent a good part of this day digging through photos and reading about the area around Marquette and Washington. Buildings lost to the widespread demolition of this area,  most of which was already gone long before I arrived in town.

I did not grow up here in Minneapolis but by 1980 I was living in an inner city neighborhood and I had a steady job downtown. I  was working at 250 Marquette, I saw no vestiges of the old business area, the skid row hotels, bars, or the old Gateway Park. It had all been wiped clean before I arrived.

Good Bye Skid Row

In the late 1950’s, the city planners in an effort to “clean up” the “embarrassment” of what had become a very large skid row, created a major redevelopment design for the downtown business district. Buildings began to disappear around 1959 and it is estimated that about 40% of the city’s central business district or 17 square blocks of aging structures were leveled to make way for a cleaner and more modern downtown. I keep reading this over. It’s just crazy! 17 square blocks!

The photo below shows a few buildings that were located at the intersection of Marquette and Washington in the late 1950’s.

Washington Avenue & Marquette Avenue late 1950’s

Hello Modern –  Washington & Marquette

Today the intersection of Marquette and Washington is marked by some well designed modern architecture. The architect, Minoru Yamasaki designed a complex of three buildings which all include  simplified Gothic forms, grand plazas and water features. The building at 20 Washington is one of my favorite buildings in Minneapolis. I spent a lot of time there over the years sitting near the reflecting pools. It was so peaceful and no one was ever there. This building was originally set to be the centerpiece of the new Gateway District. It opened in 1965. It deserves a close look. It is stunning modern architecture.

20 Washington Avenue Architect: Minouru Yamasaki

The architect Gunnar Birkerts designed the original 250 Marquette. It opened in 1975 and was a building I worked in for many years. It was an architectural modern wonder and I had studied about it in Art History classes when I was at University. It has since had a major renovation due to costly asbestos abatement and a mold problem in the suspension cable enclosures. It is still an amazing building with a much appreciated green space on it’s plaza.

250 Marquette in the 1980’s

What Happened to Gateway Park?

The Gateway Park was near the Nicollet Hotel but it was also near Skid Row, all of which were included in the demolitions. The Flag pole isn’t particularly interesting but it somehow survived and is all that is left. It was originally at the convergence of Nicollet and Hennepin Avenues.  It was later moved out-of-the-way of a Hennepin Avenue redesign when the new Hennepin Bridge was built in 1990 . It is now completely dwarfed by the adjacent buildings and the multi-lane intersection at the Hennepin Avenue Bridge site. The photo below shows what it looked like when it was more prominently featured. You can see the Gateway Park, a pavilion and the Nicollet Hotel behind that.

Gateway Park Flagpole photo credit: Hennepin History Museum

The Andrews Hotel – circa 1981

By the time I started working in this area around 1980, about the only thing I remember that was still there was the Andrews Hotel. I often wandered through the lobby, curious about this tired old place and the old men sitting around. Maybe we bought cigarettes and liquor from the lobby liquor store or stopped into the coffee shop.

I usually envisioned that it was once a grand hotel but further investigation tells me that it was never grand. It was known as a solid hotel for business travelers at some point and it somehow, survived all the demolition in this area during the 1960’s. By the 1970’s it was known more as a flop house and was designated for use as transitional housing for veterans and homeless individuals.  It was built in 1911 and imploded on a cold Sunday morning in 1984. That I remember. Sadly the entire block it sat on has remained a parking lot ever since.

The Andrews Hotel, Minneapolis

Well, what got all my curiosity going was a film that was at the Hennepin History Museum Skid Row exhibit. I didn’t have time to watch it when I was there, but they had the URL to locate it online. I watched it the following day and the film sent me down a bit of a worm hole and then the journey of this post.

The film was made in the late 1950’s by John Bacich who later provided narration over it sometime in the mid 1980’s and the film has been newly digitized.  It provides a gritty and candid record of the Minneapolis Gateway District. It runs about 30 minutes. Click here to watch.

pres·er·va·tion               prezərˈvāSH(ə)n/

noun – the action of preserving something

synonyms: conservation, protection, perpetuation

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