City Hall celebrates 125th cornerstone anniversary

City Hall's Father of Waters statue.

A special event will be held Monday, July 11 to mark the 125th anniversary of the installation of City Hall’s granite cornerstone — the symbolic start of construction on the civic building.

The anniversary celebration will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in City Hall’s rotunda. It will feature a civic ceremony, music, root beer floats, a chance to browse building artifacts and remarks by local architecture historian Larry Millett, among other things, said Erin Delaney, director of the Municipal Building Commission, which manages the building.

City Hall’s cornerstone is 30 feet above street level because the building was already two stories high when city leaders and other state dignitaries took time to celebrate construction of the building.

The City Hall and Courthouse building, featuring rusticated pink Ortonville granite, was built between 1887 and 1906, according to the Municipal Building Commission.

The City Council passed a resolution honoring the anniversary at its July 1 meeting, calling the cornerstone and the building it supports “a symbol for the Minnesota ideal of civic partnership and engagement for the next 125 years.”

The building features a five-story rotunda, a 365-foot tall clock tower and the 14,000-pound Father of Waters statue, which was carved of marble from quarries in Italy used by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, according to the Municipal Building Commission. The statue in the center of City Hall’s rotunda was originally commissioned for the city of New Orleans, but the city couldn’t afford it and it was later presented to Minneapolis officials in 1904 by leading citizens and the Minneapolis Journal.

It’s said to be good luck to rub the Father of Waters’ big toe.

Cedar Imboden Phillips, executive director of the Hennepin History Museum, and Jack Kabrud, the museum’s curator, have gathered items from the museum’s collection for displays at City Hall to mark the anniversary.

A newspaper from the late 1880s features a cover story on the new courthouse building. The headline reads: “A magnificent granite pile.”

The museum also has old City Hall ledger books and postcards.

A postcard of City Hall at the Hennepin History Museum. Photo by Sarah McKenzie
A postcard of City Hall at the Hennepin History Museum. Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Kabrud said he’s always been “in awe” of the building and has been visiting it since he was a child. He’s captivated with the building materials, ornate windows and elevators.

Phillips said she admires how accessible the building is to the public. “You can just wander in,” she noted.

She said there was great fanfare when the city celebrated the laying of the cornerstone July 16, 1891. There was a large parade and festivities attended by the governor, state Supreme Court justices, city and county officials. St. Paul leaders even attended despite a fierce rivalry between the two cities.

The City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County each owned and occupied half the building when it first opened. At various times in its history, City Hall has also been home to a blacksmith shop, horse stable and chicken hatchery.

The building was the tallest in Minneapolis until the Foshay Tower surpassed it in the 1920s.

City Hall tours are available for free on the third Wednesday of the month at noon or by an advance reservation. Call 612-596-9535 to schedule a tour or for more information. Audio tours of City Hall will also be available soon.