Here’s a fresh idea for downtown living: cozy units furnished with the latest styles, located next to all the popular attractions. There’s no kitchen, but who has time to cook, anyway? There’s a restaurant in the building, and they’ll send up what you want. Stay a month or a year.
It’s the latest thing — if this were 1910.
This innovation in multifamily urban living wasn’t a hotel or an apartment. It was an apartment hotel, and it was decidedly upscale.
It’s hard to say how many that Minneapolis or St. Paul had, but you can gauge the idea’s prestige by looking at the swank Loring-area condo building 510 Groveland: It was an apartment hotel when it was built in the 1920s.
There’s only one local apartment hotel that still serves something close to its original purpose: the Continental at 66 S. 12th St. in Minneapolis. And despite the fact that it’s no 510, it deserves a little respect.
The Continental wasn’t always the Continental. From 1910 to 1948 it was the Ogden, named after the man who paid for its construction. James Odgen, a Philadelphia native, came to St. Paul in 1886 and worked for the St. Paul White Lead and Oil Co. He had a bright career in lead and varnish until 1910, when he retired and opened the apartment hotel that bore his name.
The architect was one of those little-known hands who shaped the city, one Adam Dorr. He was a prolific draftsman who designed more than 100 buildings — mostly homes in south Minneapolis but also commercial buildings, churches and apartments.
Who lived at the Ogden Hotel? Well, the Ogdens, for one. Dorr, the architect, spent a few years there, as did his son. The application for the building’s historical designation offers more details:
Of the 35 Ogden Hotel residents whose occupations are listed in a 1911-12 city directory, 10 worked as schoolteachers, two were lawyers. There was a bookkeeper, the owner of the Minneapolis Lumber Co., a stenographer, a stockbroker, the president of the Twin City Loan and Realty Co., and two secretaries.
In several cases, married couples had a second address elsewhere in the city. For instance, Harry Amick, president of the H.G. Amick Co. (law collections and adjustments), also had a house at 2621 3rd Av. S., and Mr. and Mrs. F.S. Hill (he worked as a glazier at the Decorative Art Glass Co.) listed another residence at 3004 NE. Taylor St.
Why would they do that? Perhaps to have a place to stay after a night on the town. Or a place to stow guests instead of putting them up at home. Or a place to live while their house was being remodeled.
Some tenants stayed for years, but the turnover rate was high. Because the Ogden, like most apartment hotels, offered month-to-month rents and furnished rooms, it was a popular place for middle-class people to stay while they sought out something for the long run. (Not everyone wants to eat from the same cafe forever.)
Wherever people landed after they left the Ogden, it probably wasn’t as cosmopolitan as the Ogden’s neighborhood was. There was the grand Public Library nearby, the stately Minneapolis Auditorium (now the site of Orchestra Hall) and nearby Loring Park. (At one time, there also was a Wilson Park, a patch of greenery sacrificed to the I-94 construction.)
But like everything else at the shank end of Nicollet, the Ogden aged and faded. The library fell; the auditorium was razed; the neighborhood lost its residential appeal. And the apartment hotel fell out of favor for one simple reason: apartments.
When you think about old apartment buildings, you don’t think “hotel.”
A hotel brings to mind a lobby with potted ferns, a snooty desk clerk, bellboys itching for a tip.
Older apartments, on the other hand, bring to mind three-story rectangular buildings, four units per floor, with “garden” apartments below grade.
Those kind of apartments are all over town — some shabby, some neatly maintained. They’re the result of a zoning change in the early 1920s that allowed for larger structures. Those larger apartments came to dominate the rental market.
Where did people live before these workhorse structures went up? Single-family homes, boardinghouses, row houses — and apartment hotels. But when apartment buildings started popping up, usually near a streetcar line, it spelled the death of the apartment hotel.
The Continental survived because it was rescued: it got its historical designation, which may have made anyone think twice about knocking it down. It’s now run by Aeon, a nonprofit that gives shelter to the homeless.
From its windows, residents can see the tall residential towers that ring Loring Park.
James Ogden’s idea survived to see another century. Now, as then, some people don’t call it an apartment hotel. They call it home.