On the cover of Variety this past Oct. 5, we ran a 26-foot-long panoramic photo of Minneapolis in 1907 — scaled down for print, of course. We also ran the panorama online (startribune.com/1907), where it was possible to zoom in and see the amazing detail of this historic photo. In part, because the photo was so large and contained so much information, we invited you to help unearth its notable elements as well as its oddities.
More than 350 responses later, we’re still learning about our city’s past. Here are some of the highlights:
One reader pointed out that what is now the Emery Hotel was known as the Midland Bank. (The hotel’s lobby still boasts the thick white columns of the original banking hall.) Another pointed out the Dayton’s building, which is once again known as the Dayton’s building.
We also learned the story behind an unpretentious building at 700 1st Av. N. It was Oscar Wepplo’s grocery store and boardinghouse. One reader shared that his grandfather and “other Finnish immigrant laborers stayed there, per the 1910 census.”
Another shared a fun fact about the Powers building, the third sister in the latter days of department stores, writing that it was home to the first escalators in Minneapolis, “installed in 1930, costing $60,000.” They called it a “moving stairway” then.
It wasn’t a building that interested another reader: It was the automobiles, which were featured on the city’s streets along with trams and horses and carts.
In 1907, the automobile boom was just beginning and one commenter unearthed a newspaper article that documented the rise of the car: “By 1910, Minnesota ranked ninth among the states in terms of car registrations — with more than 1,500 motor vehicles, up from just 260 in 1900. In 1909, more autos were reportedly sold in Minneapolis in ratio to its population than any other city in the country.”
Some people were able to identify the original purpose of a building, such as the Northrup King headquarters, or the office of Deere and Webber. Train geeks were able to decode the names of the railways on the boxcars. The economic historians wondered if a then-recent economic downturn was responsible for the shabby tents on the barren front lawn of a weary old house.
The panorama revealed plenty of iconic buildings that are still standing — Butler Brothers Warehouse, the Gold Medal Flour elevator, the Masonic Temple. And the collective wisdom shared online helped us learn a lot about our bygone city.
But Minneapolis was a different city in 1907.
The basic boundaries of the city were in place, although it would, of course, expand. The grid-system blocks were all laid out, if sparsely populated with houses the farther you got from the core.
But much of what we consider “old” or “historic” were still on the draftsman’s table. The great monuments of the teens and ’20s had yet to be built — the Post Office, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Great Northern Depot. The city was about to bloom, with shiny white monuments like these announcing its place among the great cities of the Midwest.
The population was almost 300,000. Surely 400,000 would follow soon, as one sign captured in the panorama prophesied.
But thanks to lax zoning and planning, that growth would bring disorder. In the teens, the city planners would look at the city — with its messy congested streets and rows of undistinguished small buildings — and propose to remake it all along the lines of a European city, with great diagonal boulevards slashing through the old blocks.
The city of 1907, in their view, was something to be remade.
To our eyes, of course, the city pictured in the panorama doesn’t need fixing. It shows a city that is dense, human-scaled, architecturally diverse and coherent. The entirety of human needs can be found in that picture; every profession, every ware, every amusement — it’s there, all knit together.
Oh, one thing is missing: City Hall.
That’s where the images were taken from. Someone climbed to the top of what was then the tallest tower to record the city that was.
We don’t know who that was, but we’re guessing he’d be heartened by the way his panorama was brought back to life more than a hundred years later and was pored over by hundreds of curious Minnesotans.
James Lileks • 612-673-7858 • @Lileks