In the early days of Minneapolis, the captains of industry had high hopes for developing a textile industry at Saint Anthony Falls. Textiles never really took off. Minneapolis was just to far away from eastern markets and shipping centers to compete. The North Star Woolen Mill was an exception. In 1925 North Star became the largest manufacturer of wool blankets in America. In 1949 the North Star Woolen Company moved its operations to Lima, Ohio. The building sat empty for close to 50 years until it was converted in into condos at the turn of the century. Developers kept the old building’s exterior including the old North Star Blankets rooftop sign .
Opened in 1884, the West was the first grand hotel in Minneapolis. There were 407 rooms, 140 baths, and an immense lobby. John T. West, the hotel’s first owner and proprieto, got his start as manager of the Nicollet House. He was quite successful that his rich uncle, Charles W. West, offered to bankroll a new hotel. Designed by LeRoy Buffington and built on John H. Stevens’ downtown land, the West was probably the most luxurious on the far side of the Mississippi River. The building’s larger than life Queen Anne style featured gable roofs, projecting bay windows, towers, and dormers. In the 1880s, the West was a temporary home to Mark Twain . In 1892 the hotel catered to delegates of the Republican National Convention. In 1901 Winston Churchill stayed in the West. In 1906 a large fire burned though the “fire proof” building killing 10 people. The West was refurbished and reopened, but the hotel’s peak had already passed. The grand old place operated at a loss for many years before a general business downturn and the Great Depression finally shuttered the place. The hotel was demolished in 1940.
In 1878 the Willow Brook State Fish Hatchery was opened below the bluffs of today’s Mounds Park. An unlikely attraction, every summer thousands of tourists were lured along a steep, winding road to visit the local landmark and it’s small wildlife museum. At one time the hatchery contained 7 spring fed ponds, but they were all drying up by the 1940′s and operations were moved to indoor tanks. Willow Brook was used to raise splake, lake trout and rainbows until the facility was closed 1995.
Born in Minneapolis, Edith Day made her Broadway debut in Pom-pom in 1916. Three years later she became a major star playing the title role in Irene. Five months into the run, she departed the cast to create the role in the London production. Embraced by the London critics, she decided to remain there after the show closed and went on to become the first lady of West End musicals, with triumphs in Rose Marie, The Desert Song, and Show Boat.
This view across Cedar Avenue hasn’t changed much in the last 58 years or so. After a couple coldies at the good old 400, it’s easy to imagine the view hasn’t changed at all. Northwestern Banks used logos designed after the famous weatherball on the roof of their downtown headquarters until 1983. I’m pretty sure the ball on the sign in this picture lit up and predicted the weather too. The old drive-through behind the building became a restaurant in the 80′s.
When employees of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) showed up for work on the morning of July 5, 1939, they found bulletin board notices announcing a reduction in hourly wages and an increase in the number of required work hours. Rumors spread that many would soon face termination. It didn’t take long for the unhappy WPA employees were refusing to work under the new conditions. A bitter two-week strike quickly shut down a variety WPA projects in the Twin Cities and across the country
Here’s a picture from one of a series of WPA riots in Minneapolis in the summer of 1939. This one began outside a North 2nd Street sewing project building on Friday, July 14. The project had been closed down on Monday of the same week , but the Assistant State WPA Administrator, Sidney L. Stolte figured that a large number of employees would return to work on Friday if the police could provide protection . He got in touch with Minneapolis Police Chief Forestal who arranged for all his available men, including motorcycle and traffic officers to go on strike duty. Over 200 WPA Workers were permitted to enter the building Friday morning without incident. The non-strikers were just finishing up about 7:00 P.M. when things took a turn for the worse with a crowd outside the building. Police opened fire with tear gas and guns. A elderly relief client named Emil A. Bergstrom was shot and killed and 17 others were injured. At least six men were shot. Mayor George Leach announced on the radio that the problem was no longer under the jurisdiction of the city and that he was asking for federal action. He told the audience that “In order to avert civil war ” he had advised WPA Administrator Linus Glotzbach that the city would no longer assume responsibility for the conduct of federal projects.
Frank Semple, was a partner in a wildly successful wholesale hardware firm. Janney Semple and Company, began on the Mississippi riverfront in 1866 and operated under different names until it was acquired by a national retailer in 1960. Framk and his wife Anne built this imposing Beaux-Arts mansion on the corner of Franklin and Blaisdell in 1901. The building has amazing reception hall complete with mahogany paneling, a hardwood floor with marble inlays, and a frescoed ceiling. Frank’s funeral was held there in 1904. He’s buried in Lakewood. The home continued to be a private residence until 1935 when it was acquired by Ministers Life and Casualty Union. In 1954, it became the headquarters of the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation and in 1961, it became Franklin National Bank. In 1996 The bank moved across the street and the building went to African American Family Services. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. In 2005, the Semple Mansion was purchased by the current owners and these days 1,000-square-foot living room and a ballroom are available as a reception site for weddings and other events.