Tangletown’s carved eagles and magnetic walls

Macalester students research the neighborhood’s architectural history

Washburn water tower
Macalester student Brooke Sapper studied the Washburn Park Water Tower, which supplied water to the Washburn Orphanage after its construction in 1895. File photo

Emma Heuchert, Mackenzie O’Brien and Brooke Sapper didn’t have any connection to Tangletown before this past semester.

Now, the Macalester College students are experts on three of the neighborhood’s architectural landmarks.

Heuchert, O’Brien and Sapper spent part of the spring semester researching the Washburn Park Water Tower, the Washburn Orphanage and the neighborhood’s collection of pre-fabricated Lustron houses. Their research was part of an internship through their public history class with the nonprofit Preserve Minneapolis, which works to highlight the city’s architectural history.

The trio presented their research at a forum April 24 at the Mill City Museum.

None of the three are from Minneapolis, or even Minnesota. Heuchert said they chose Tangletown from a list of projects Preserve Minneapolis provided them.

She said it was nice to compare Minneapolis’ Tangletown neighborhood with the St. Paul neighborhood of the same name, which abuts Macalester.

Heuchert researched Tangletown’s collection of prefabricated homes, which the Lustron Corporation produced between 1948 and 1950 in its Ohio-based factory and shipped to dealers around the country. The company went bankrupt in 1950, but Heuchert said as many as 2,000 Lustron houses are still standing, including 11 in Minneapolis.

She said homeowners aren’t able to drill holes in their walls but that everything in the house is magnetic.

“If you get some nice, strong magnets, you can hang up absolutely anything,” she said.

Macalester College students Emma Heuchert, Mackenzie O'Brien and Brooke Sapper
Macalester College students Emma Heuchert, Mackenzie O’Brien and Brooke Sapper studied three architectural landmarks in Tangletown as part of an internship this spring for their public history class. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

O’Brien studied the Washburn Orphanage, which architect E. Townsend Mix built in the 1880s at 50th & Nicollet. Businessman, Civil War general and one-term Wisconsin governor Cadwallader Washburn, who founded the company that became General Mills, left $375,000 for the founding of the orphanage upon his death in 1882.

The orphanage operated until 1929, when it was sold to Minneapolis Public Schools. The district tore it down and constructed Ramsey Junior High School, now Justice Page Middle School, on the site.

O’Brien admires the fact that Cadwallader Washburn’s legacy of caring for children continues to this day through the Washburn Center for Children mental health facility
in Harrison.

Sapper studied the Washburn Park Water Tower, which supplied water to the orphanage after its construction in 1893. The city contracted with architect Harry Wild Jones to build a new tower in the early 1930s, and Norwegian-born sculptor John K. Daniels created the “guardian-of-health” figures and eagles that adorn the structure.

She said the tower is hidden from most angles in the neighborhood.

Paul Schadewald, associate director of Macalester’s civic engagement center, said internships such as this one help students understand and contribute to the larger world around them.

Richard Kronick, who worked with the students, said Preserve Minneapolis plans to publish their research on its website of self-guided Minneapolis historical walking tours, minneapolishistorical.org.

Kronick, who runs the Minneapolis Historical website, said he would welcome anyone who is interested in historical architecture to write up a description for the site. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Note: Heuchert and O’Brien graduated from Macalester earlier this month).