I was distressed to read in the Star Tribune that the 1907 Handicraft Guild building and its 1914 addition are destined for the wrecking ball (“Time is up for rare slice of old downtown Minneapolis,” June 21). Although the developer plans to incorporate the earlier building’s three-story façade into the fabric of an 18-story block-long apartment tower, this relatively small patch of brick, stripped of original storefronts, doors, windows and the addition that turns the corner, will barely register on the streetscape.
A building is an organic whole, not just a façade, and what makes the Guild buildings significant is their astonishingly intact interiors, and what took place in them.
The Handicraft Guild was established in 1904 to train craftsmen and raise the artistic bar of the modern domestic interior. Back then, the home was the domain of women, and the professional world belonged to men. So it follows that the Guild founders were women who turned to men for their building plans, since there wasn’t a single registered woman architect in Minnesota at the time.
They chose, successively, William Channing Whitney and Edwin Hewitt of Hewitt & Brown to follow their brief: a lecture hall, communal studios, individual studios, a shop to sell the wares, a bookstore and a tearoom to lure potential customers. And so the Guild came to play a significant role in the Arts and Crafts movement in America, and figured prominently in the 1994 exhibition “Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
In recent years, artisans of various stripes continued to occupy the buildings, adding texture to an increasingly bland downtown retail scene dominated by dreary national chain stores. And the buildings’ hand-laid brick, hewed stone and glass-paned windows add texture, literally, to a cityscape of banal prefab towers bristling among the parking lots.
The Guild buildings were designated historic by the city in 1998. But in 2000 their then-owner managed to get the addition’s designation rescinded by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which questioned whether it really was an addition to the earlier Guild building after all.
And so it will come to pass that downtown Minneapolis, with an embarrassment of empty lots, will sacrifice two historic buildings in order to get yet another apartment tower, thanks to the improbably named development corporation Village Green. Their motto is “Lifestyle for Rent,” but let’s face it, you can’t rent — or buy, for that matter — either life or style.
Rest assured, however, that this ill-advised development, aided by the court, will deprive the city of a bit of both.
R. Louis Bofferding is an antiques dealer and a writer and speaker on the decorative arts in New York.