The Met: Recollected

  • Updated: December 15, 2011 - 1:14 PM

Metropolitan building, interior glass block floors

Photo: Robert Jacobson

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"It would still be a treasure, and a very hot property, if it was still with us. But it has probably gained more notoriety for having started the modern preservation movement. That amazing light well, and those glass block floors, and their jewel quality, really made the Metropolitan unique. People are always drawn to things that have a quality of openness to them, a sense of scale and light. Plus, it had that amazing rooftop deck. We'd all be drinking cocktails up there."

  • Bonnie McDonald, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota

"If the Metropolitan were standing today, the debate wouldn't be about the building on its own, but about the Gateway District surrounding it. I think about Seattle and its Pioneer Square area. We tore down our skid row, but they kept theirs and turned it into a beautiful part of the city. My mom took us on a drive through the Gateway before it was demolished -- she told us, 'Remember this, because it's going to be gone' -- and although I was really young I remember it as a dark sort of place. Scuzzy, really. But I would do anything to get it back, because if the Metropolitan were standing today, it would be a random historic building. Beautiful, of course. But isolated, and surrounded by disposable buildings. We need to think about preserving not just buildings, but districts."

"The Metropolitan Building is an important and vital architectural monument not because it is the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi, but because it is one of the first great skyscrapers built anywhere. The grandeur and awe-inspiring quality of its central well make most contemporary efforts to achieve monumentality in architecture look shabby and half-hearted. From a purely economic point of view, the developers of the lower loop are contemplating the unthinkable folly of destroying what will in a short time become the most gilt-edged commercial asset in the whole venture."

  • Carl J. Weinhardt Jr., director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, in the Minneapolis Star on Nov. 31, 1961.

"I never saw it in the flesh, so to speak, but if it were still standing, it would clearly be one of the most beloved buildings in the city, second only to what everyone calls City Hall but is really the Municipal Building. It would definitely be the city's premium office building, and there is no question that we would be there. We have had our offices in the Grain Exchange for 30 years, and we're happy to be here, but if the Metropolitan had been available when we were looking for space, that's where we would be."

  • Minneapolis architect Robert Mack

"We are a people who will pay $2.3 million for a Rembrandt, but who will raze a beautiful, interesting or historic building worth far less than that because it is 'uneconomical.'"

  • Minneapolis Star columnist Don Morrison on Sept. 5, 1962

"It may have been old and in need of cleaning and repair, but it was never mediocre, which is more than can be said for most of the new buildings thus far constructed in the lower loop. May it rest in peace, and may its fate alert our citizens to the need for early and more thorough organized efforts to safeguard other distinguished landmarks whenever they are threatened. Only thus can Minneapolis hope to become a city of architectural significance in depth, rather than surface glitter."

  • Angus Cutts in Select TC magazine, August 1962

"In their new book, 'The Architects of America: A Social and Cultural History,' John Burchard and Albert Bush-Brown, both historians at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have singled out the Metropolitan building for favorable comment. It is the only building in Minneapolis mentioned in their exhaustive survey."

  • H.F. Koeper, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota, in a letter to the editor in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, Aug. 27, 1961

"I can assure you that there are a great many people in Minneapolis and outside of Minneapolis who are getting very angry at the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority for the 'Public be damned' attitude they are taking with respect to this building."

  • Walter Wheeler, in a July 25, 1959 letter to Minneapolis mayor Kenneth Peterson. Wheeler, an engineer (his many design credits included the Mendota Bridge) and a Met tenant since Jan. 1, 1916, fought tirelessly to save the building from demolition.

"Minneapolis' citizens must be under some powerful opiate or anodyne if they permit destruction of this property now referred to as 'the Met.'"

  • Henry L. Prestholdt, president of the Old Colony Gas & Oil. Co. of Minneapolis, and publisher of "To Be Or Not to Be," a save-the-Met pamphlet created in September 1961

"I wish to make a plea for reconsideration of the authority's plan to demolish the Metropolitan Bulding. I am sure that it is the wish of the majority of Minneapolitans and thousands outside of Minneapolis that this unusual building be not destroyed. I am familiar with the arguments presented in support of the demolition plan, but the testimony of persons well qualified to judge shows them to be invalid. Most of the buildings removed [in the Gateway] have been a good riddance, but here is no reason why one fourth of a block cannot be spared for the preservation of a building so sound, so architecturally unique and forming such a valuable and useful bridge between the past and future. It will be to the eternal shame of all responsible if this building be not removed from the demolition list."

  • A. Harvey Nelson of Minneapolis, in a July 25, 1961 letter to the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

"One of the dirtiest tricks ever perpetuated on the city of Minneapolis is being played at the present time by the housing and redevelopment authority and the city council with the help of the courts. I refer to the plan to demolish the Metropolitan building. Prominent architects in the whole country have stated that it should be saved. Historical societies have tried to show the shame of the plan. Qualified registered engineers have attested to the building's basic soundness. The owners have the required parking space to serve the building and have promised to spend the money to put the building into safe and proper condition on both outside and in. Now surely there must be some way of bringing forces together to introduce a sane plan for its preservation. Once it is gone, it can never be replaced."

  • A.H. Nelson, in a letter to the editor in the Minneapolis Star, Aug. 25, 1960

"Notable for the quality of its detailing and its breathtaking expanse, the glass and iron atrium was one of the supreme spaces of its kind in the history of American architecture. The razing of this building in 1961-62 during the height of urban renewal fever was perhaps the most inexcusable act of civic vandalism in the history of Minneapolis."

  • Larry Millett in "Lost Twin Cities," published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992

Cases related to the Met reached the Minnesota Supreme Court twice. The justices ruled that the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority possessed the legal authority to acquire the building, and while the owners argued that it was worth $1.5 to $2 million -- they were originally offered $629,462 -- the court set the sum at $740,000, approximately $5.1 million in today's dollars. It took several years for the Met's owners to collect.

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