Withering Glance: New life for grand old St. Paul buildings

  • Updated: November 9, 2013 - 2:00 PM
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Architectural historian Larry Millett calls the Endicott and Pioneer buildings “the finest ensemble of late 19th-century office buildings in the Twin Cities.”

Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

CP: Live the dream, Rick. Rent a new apartment in a building designed by no less august an architect than Cass Gilbert. Lofty ceilings, big windows, marble and wood flooring that has been softly worn by nearly 125 years of use. For you and Robert, I see nothing less than the penthouse.

RN: Except that the penthouses are next door in the 16-story Pioneer Building, which was designed by Solon Spencer Beman. Gilbert’s gracious six-story Endicott wraps itself like an L around the Pioneer. Kudos to developers Rich Pakonen of PAK Properties and Clint Blaiser of HBG for restoring these two connected landmarks into an apartment complex.

CP: With 234 units that range from studios to two-bedrooms. I guess that phase one, at the Endicott that fronts on 4th Street, already is almost fully rented. Who says people are not drawn to old buildings, beautifully re-used?

RN: Not me. I gay-gasped the moment I took one step into the Pioneer’s vertigo-inducing interior atrium. What a wowser, right down to the hall floors’ original tile. The Pioneer pre-dates the Mill City’s long-demolished yet far more famous Metropolitan Building by a year, but because it’s located in St. Paul and not Teardownapolis, it survives.

CP: Hey, before pounding that admittedly minor chord on your piano again, let’s recall that St. Paul has torn down many grand old buildings. Why, right across from the mighty Pioneer — which was downtown’s tallest building when it opened in 1889 — was the palatial Germania Life Insurance office. It came down for the bland Kellogg Square in 1970, just a few years after the leveling of the impressive New York Life Insurance building at 6th and Minnesota. For a parking ramp.

RN: There’s a truly hideous parking ramp next door to the Endicott. I love hearing that its roof is going to become a garden for Pioneer Endicott residents.

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