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W Minneapolis–The Foshay Hotel

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Foshay Tower
1927–1929, Magney and Tusler (Leon Arnal); 2006–2008, Elness Swenson Graham (ESG); Munge Leung Design Associates, interior design. 821 S. Marquette Ave.

Because of its unusual design, the Foshay Tower has been one of the major landmarks in the Minneapolis skyline since its completion in 1929. New York native Wilbur B. Foshay moved to Minneapolis in 1915. After purchasing an electric company the following year, Foshay established a public utilities holding company that eventually controlled sixteen public utilities companies across North America. Though Foshay had business interests in Chicago, New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, and Portland, he decided to build the headquarters of the W.B. Foshay Company in Minneapolis.

In the mid-1920s, the City of Minneapolis was searching for its civic identity and wanted a definitive building to anchor its skyline and mark its place as a thriving business center. In 1927, architect Leon Arnal led a team from the local architectural firm of Gottlieb Magney and Wilbur Tusler to design the Foshay Tower. As a youth, Foshay had visited Washington, D.C. where the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument made such an impression that he decided to build his headquarters in its likeness. The Foshay Tower was the first building in Minneapolis to use sloping side construction to create the obelisk shape, with each floor slightly smaller as the building gets taller. An existing two-story building on the Marquette Avenue and Ninth Street sides of the site provided a buffer between the street and the skyscraper.

The steel-framed, reinforced concrete structure stands at 447 feet tall, with an additional 163-foot-tall antenna. At 32 stories, the Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis until the IDS Center was completed in 1973. Clad in Indiana limestone, the tower has 750 window bays and 10-foot-tall, illuminated, recessed channel letters that spell Foshay on each side of the building just beneath the pyramidal cap. In total, Foshay spent $3.75 million on his eponymous tower.

While the building references the historical past on the exterior, inside it was utterly up-to-date. Foshay spared no expense creating lavish Art Deco interiors, among the earliest west of the Mississippi. Geometric forms and fine materials dominate the lobby, which also includes faceted recessed ceilings and elaborate terrazzo floor inlays. The elevator doors feature bronze miniature replicas of the building, a decorative device not uncommon in Art Deco skyscrapers. Foshay designed his own two-story lodging and office on the 27th and 28th floors of the building, complete with African mahogany and gold-plated faucets. Other extravagant materials include marble from France, Italy, and Belgium.

Foshay celebrated the opening of the building in August 1929 with a three-day event costing $116,000, complete with a march written by John Philip Sousa and Secretary of War James Good in attendance. The excitement died within two months, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Foshay never occupied his duplex in the tower; in 1932 he was convicted of fraud in what would now be called a pyramid scheme. He spent three years in the Leavenworth Penitentiary before being pardoned by President Harry Truman. Foshay died in 1957 in a Minneapolis nursing home that had a view of his building.

The Foshay Tower remains a vital element of the Minneapolis skyline. In 2006–2008 it was renovated by real estate developer Ralph W. Burnet and Ryan Companies with Elness Swenson Graham (ESG) restoration architects and interior design firm Munge Leung. Now the W Minneapolis Foshay Hotel, the 230-room lavish facility combines the original Art Deco interiors with an extremely contemporary design. Included are a lounge on the main level known as the Living Room, a bar on the 27th floor called Prohibition, and a museum that provides access to the reopened observation deck.

References

Aamodt, Britt. “Foshay Tower, Minneapolis.” MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. Accessed March 22, 2016. http://www.mnopedia.org/structure/foshay-tower-minneapolis.

Buzenberg, Bill. “Mr. Foshay’s Legend.” Minnesota Public Radio,February 1, 2000. Accessed July 20, 2014. http://www.mprnews.org/.

Gebhard, David, and Tom Martinson. A Guide to the Architecture of Minnesota.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.

Nelson, Charles W., “Foshay Tower,” Hennepin County, Minnesota. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1977. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lindsay Simmons
Victoria M. Young
Coordinator: 
Frank Edgerton Martin
Victoria M. Young
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Data

Timeline

  • 1927

    Design and building
  • 2006

    Renovation

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Citation

Lindsay Simmons, Victoria M. Young, "W Minneapolis–The Foshay Hotel", [, Minnesota], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/MN-01-053-0015.

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