Where do you take out of town guests to show off the Twin Cities? The lakes are probably tops on most people’s lists. Or the Walker Art Center, Summit Avenue or Mississippi River. The choices are endless. Last week I was asked to give an afternoon tour to a visiting lecturer. I was thrilled, but how much time did I have?
David Garrard Lowe is the president of the Beaux Arts Alliance in New York City. The organization’s mission is to celebrate cultural links between France and the U.S. They give lectures, tours, trips and host exhibits. Lowe was invited to speak at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts about the glamour of Art Deco. His richly illustrated lecture showed how the design of textiles, clothing, furniture, trains and architecture evolved from a historic, classical style into the exuberant geometric patterns of Art Deco. The packed auditorium was filled with museum visitors and members of the Friends of the Institute, who sponsored the lecture. The crowd loved the presentation and Lowe received a standing ovation.
After a quick lunch at Lucia’s, we were off on our tour. I knew we’d need to visit some of our many Art Deco buildings, and I heard in advance that Lowe was a fan of Cass Gilbert’s work, so I mapped out a route that would take us through Minneapolis and St. Paul and visit many particularly Minnesota sites. We started at the Uptown Theater. Though it could use a facelift, the building shows the classic curves and sculptural reliefs typical of Art Deco. Plus, the facade has both the creamy beige Kasota stone and swirling pink and grey Morton gneiss — two of Minnesota’s architectural building stones that were popular in that era and are seen on buildings throughout both downtowns — and nationally.
While the tour was entirely by car, we got out at several locations. Lakewood Cemetery’s gem-of-a-chapel is usually open for visitors. The exterior was designed by Harry Wild Jones with interior mosaics by Charles Lamb of New York. This was a lucky stop because David Lowe actually knows Lamb’s granddaughter. We grabbed an extra visitor’s guide for her. Later, we saw Jones’s historic restrooms at Lake Harriet as well as his own residence, Elmwood, now a bed and breakfast.
Prairie School houses, lakefront properties, plenty of bungalows and 19th century immigrant workers housing were seen as we traveled along Red Cedar Lane, Minnehaha Parkway, Park and Milwaukee avenues.
In downtown St. Paul we visited the James J. Hill Reference Library (one of the greatest spaces in the state), city hall’s dramatic black marble interior and the hidden Irvine Park, home to Minnesota’s first governor, a quaint park, and Forepaugh’s restaurant.
Up on the hill we visited the Cathedral of St. Paul’s, James J. Hill’s house (the biggest house in Minnesota), the governor’s residence and several F. Scott Fitzgerald sites.
David Lowe knew about Cass Gilbert’s architecture because of his extravagant Woolworth Building in New York and the United States Supreme Court building in Washington. He had never been to Minnesota before and was excited to see more of Gilbert’s work. Many of his buildings are located on or near Summit Avenue. We saw the Minnesota State Capitol, a couple of churches and many homes including Gilbert’s mother’s house and his own residence.
The tour lasted about two hours and we ended up at Prohibition, W Hotel’s 27th-floor bar that was originally built as Wilbur Foshay’s personal residence. There was only so much I could pack in the tour so I left David Lowe with a list of downtown Minneapolis buildings to visit before his flight the next day. There is so much to see in the Twin Cities. I’m proud of our attractions and our artistic integrity. We have a lot to show off.
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W. A. Frost’s cozy bar (374 Selby Ave., St. Paul) is a perfect historic resting spot to enjoy a homemade hazelnut soda. A bar and restaurant since the 1970s, this building originally housed a pharmacy when F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in the nearby Commodore Hotel.