In 1969, demolition of one of the most elegant Richardson Romanesque-Chateauesque-Style public buildings in the Upper Midwest seemed imminent. The federal government had declared the nearly vacant Federal Courts and Post Office Building (later named Landmark Center) in downtown St. Paul to be surplus property. Many public officials and business leaders in the city saw no means of rescue.
In the next few years, however, a persuasive coalition of city and county cultural and political leaders joined by redoubtable concerned citizens prevented its demise. What followed involved many years of analysis and discussion of potential options for reuse of the building involving careful renovation of Courts and Post Office Building. The building’s rescue contributed to the birth of historic preservation movement in this area. Today the building is meticulously restored and home for many of St. Paul’s cultural organizations.
The Federal Courts and Post Office Building has a commanding presence on its site bordered by Fifth and Sixth Streets, Market and Washington Streets in downtown St. Paul. Its main entrance is strengthened by its Romanesque-Chateauesque architectural stone features that enrich the building’s magnificent presence that enhances both structure and Rice Park’s landscape.
Construction of the Federal Courts Building and Post Office began in 1892 and was completed ten years later. It partially opened in 1898, but wasn’t finally completed until 1901. When completed, the Federal Courts and Post Office Building became five stories in height with a relatively slender tower on the south side that rises to a height of 150 feet. There is also a slightly lower tower on the north side that was added in 1899 when the building was expanded. The building cost nearly $2.5 million (about $70 million today). Between 1901 and 1967, all federal offices in the city were located there.
The National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form commented among the many notable persons who spoke at the dedication of the building in 1902 were the state’s first territorial governor Alexander Ramsey, Auguste L. Larpenteur, the city’s first postmaster, and Andrew R. McGill, former state governor and postmaster at that time.
Landmark Center has generated a strong architectural presence resulting in a consistent and remarkable quality that anchors those buildings surrounding the park. Its innovative structural system presaged the framework of modern buildings being built around the nation. Today, we can appreciate Landmark Center coming from an era when these architectural forms and styles today are no longer built, as high land values now determine downtown structures to reach for the sky. Lesser regard exists these days for architectural design expressing those features crafted by hand that speak to us and remind us who we are today. With some irony, those qualities possessed by Landmarks now serve also to instruct us of who we once were.
(Excerpt from Robert Roscoe’s upcoming book: Rice Park – An Intimate Enclosure Gives Grace to a City.)
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