Creating a landmark

IDS Center interior
Boxy white seating and lots of plants defined a relaxation area when the Crystal Court first opened. Submitted photo

Flipping through a box of vintage Minneapolis postcards last week, I was surprised to see a lone IDS Center reaching up into the sky from the city below.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when the building was built, but the postcards clearly looked ancient. Like when I used to see photos of the Foshay Tower as a kid. Did it really stick up like that from the rest of the city?

Maybe someday we’ll have 100-story skyscrapers downtown and both the IDS and Foshay will look like low-rise buildings. It made me want to look into the IDS Center’s history more.

When it was built in 1972, the 51-story building towered over it nearest competition: the Foshay Tower, a mere 32 stories tall. Investors Diversified Services (IDS) was incorporated in 1894, and by 1972 it was the largest financial institution of its kind in the world.

For their new headquarters they hired East Coast architect Philip Johnson, who was on his own rise to fame designing contemporary high-rise office buildings.

Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906. As a child he traveled regularly with his mother to Europe to study art and architecture. His extensive travels and undergraduate degree in philosophy and the classics landed him a job at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a curator of architecture and design.

IDS Center exterior
From any vantage point, 775-foot tall IDS Center reflected downtown’s much shorter buildings as well as the massive sky surrounding it. Submitted photo

One of his early projects was to plan an exhibit documenting the new architecture going up in Europe in the 1920s. Johnson is credited as coining the term “International School” for that exhibit.

While he maintained ties to MOMA, Johnson returned to Harvard for a degree in architecture and designed his first building at age 36. By 1979 Johnson was a world-renowned architect and received the first Pritzker Architecture Prize — architecture’s equivalent of the Pulitzer.

The IDS Center was an early landmark for Johnson, but his controversial AT&T Tower (1984) in New York City with its Chippendale top is credited as beginning the post-modern era of architecture

The IDS Center was the first downtown building to have skyway connections on all four sides. On the second level, pedestrians converged on balconies overlooking downtown’s center, the Crystal Court. One city block contained the 18-story Marquette hotel, the Crystal Court and a faceted octagonal 51-story tower.

Tenants moved into the building in 1972. Within the next couple of years the Orion Room restaurant and lounge opened on the tower’s 50th floor, and a 360-degree observation deck filled the 51st floor. The building was launched into national celebrity when opening credits for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” were shot in the Crystal Court and on Nicollet Mall.

The ethereal, light-filled space became a favorite space for celebrities and politicians. Prince filmed scenes for “Purple Rain” there in 1983. Emilio Estevez visited a few years later while filming “The Mighty Ducks.” President Bill Clinton rallied support for his healthcare plan on a stage in 1994; then the 2008 Republican National Convention used the Crystal Court for its media hub. In 2010, Charlize Theron filmed scenes from “Young Adult.”

Though the observation deck and Orion Room have long since closed, the Crystal Court maintains its prominence as downtown’s busy circulation hub. And the IDS Center still reigns over the skyline as an architectural jewel.


The first floor’s Peoples Organic was founded by Minneapolis resident Lynn Gordon, a pioneer in natural foods with this restaurant and her other one, the popular French Meadow Bakery. Stop in for a grilled Cobb salad with salmon.