Long before naming rights were sold for stadiums and sports arenas, buildings had other identifiers. Inscriptions, plaques, friezes, cornerstones and completion dates lent buildings a sense of identity and meaning, and gave them a toehold on history.

From humble 1920s apartments with evocative names like “Verona” or “La Casa” to public libraries adorned with famous quotations, edifices have been used to honor the year a building was erected, its purpose, its architects, builders and more. There are plenty of edifying edifices around the Twin Cities. Here are just a few:

Mechanics, ‘greatest minds’

Nearly 75 years after it was built, the art moderne Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank building (now the Minneapolis Westin Hotel) still extols the bank’s virtues of hard work, strength and reliability. Two inspirationally fit workers — a farmer and mechanic — flank the front doors on 7th Street. Around the corner on Marquette Avenue, a formidable Great Dane sits atop a locked strongbox. Nearby, the Latin word Fides (meaning good faith and trustworthiness) is carved into Kasota stone. It’s hard to miss the point.

Builders of the George Latimer Central Library in St. Paul used words to express the ideals of the structure. In the 1917 magazine room, the ceiling beams are inscribed with a pantheon of names that the library refers to as: “the greatest minds of old Europe, including Homer, Socrates, Descartes, Voltaire, Galileo, and Da Vinci.”

Leonardo da Vinci also makes an appearance on the facade of the Architects & Engineers Building (1200 2nd Av. S.) in downtown Minneapolis. Designed by Hewitt & Brown in 1920 to house studios, this remarkable limestone building is rich with words and detailing. Recalling a Florentine villa, the arching windows on the third floor are topped with beautifully white lettered names of great architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, Henry Hobson Richardson and Filippo Brunelleschi.

Others honored in the edifice include less-well-known master builders, such as William of Sens, who oversaw the construction of Canterbury Cathedral in England. Long before architecture was even a defined profession, these masters brought together the sciences, art and engineering. That’s a fitting inscription for a building meant to house everyone from furniture makers to civil engineers.

Ghost buildings

Even relatively new cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul have lingering connections in the ghosts of former buildings — the churches, houses, smaller stores and offices — that came before.

In 1895, a fire destroyed the Westminster Presbyterian Church at 7th Street and Nicollet Avenue S. The church moved (to its current location at 12th Street and Marquette Avenue S.) and George Draper Dayton purchased the site, where he built Dayton’s department store. If you look closely among the downtown Macy’s storefront windows, you’ll find a plaque that tells the story of the original church.

Name that architect

Architects once proclaimed authorship of buildings by signing their names in stone, usually near the front door. You can see the name Hewitt & Brown proudly engraved on such landmarks as the Citizens Aid Building (404 S. 8th St.) and in the entry portico of Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church (2020 W. Lake of the Isles Pkwy.).

In the 1920s, Magney & Tusler was an up-and-coming architecture firm whose French designer, Leon Arnal, created landmarks ranging from the Calhoun Beach Club to the Foshay Tower and the WPA moderne Minneapolis Post Office. One of his most sophisticated designs was the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis on the south end of Loring Park. At the club’s Oak Grove Street entry, you can find the name Magney & Tusler Architects and Engineers engraved in limestone.

Keeping names alive

While completing a recent new addition, Temple Israel and architects from HGA restored the long faded name — Liebenberg & Kaplan Architects — inscribed on the synagogue’s original Emerson Avenue entrance. When the temple was completed in the 1920s, Liebenberg & Kaplan was one of Minnesota’s most important Jewish-led architectural firms. It was also a time when Jews — and Jewish businesses — were openly discriminated against. Jewish doctors couldn’t practice in most hospitals run by Christian denominations. Many neighborhoods and clubs were restricted.

Liebenberg & Kaplan built their practice designing movie theaters, including many of the most distinctive ones in the state, including the Uptown, the Hollywood in northeast Minneapolis and the NorShor in Duluth. Chances are that they would have never been hired to design a church or perhaps a high-profile office building. But they were commissioned to design a synagogue.

Restoring the company’s name on Temple Israel is one of the ways to continue the story of American architecture — and an example of a society that didn’t always live up to its populist ideals. 

Frank Edgerton Martin is a landscape historian and Minneapolis-based design writer.