history · legacy

The Grand Lady


Sometimes we see a video on the news of a building being demolished.  If all goes well, the building is controlled and demolished without any significant impact on surrounding areas.  It’s inevitable, as new usage demands come into play, older dilapidated buildings, or ones with designs no longer viable for modern usage, are torn down.  New structures emerge, and skylines change throughout time.  It’s the nature of city design and modernization.  Any vibrant city will have construction projects underway, and glancing back through old pictures can demonstrate clearly how much can change over time.

We moved up to Raleigh, NC back in the late 1980s and my dad took us to a downtown demolition.  It was an early Saturday or Sunday.  I can’t remember, but I think it was an old apartment building or hotel, nothing like a skyscraper.  But it was a decent size structure.  After some time, we heard the countdown and then the muted muffles of the explosives.  The building went down without a problem, and within seconds, a structure that stood for many years was gone.  I found myself fascinated with the science of demolition, but also was surprised to feel a surge of emotion.

Sudden and unexpected thoughts of the workers filled my mind.  It was just a building, built long ago, but this was the legacy of workers from days gone by.  Who were they?  What would they think to see what we saw?  This building was a piece of their legacy, now crumbled into sheared metal, blocks, and dust.  The price of progress is not always monetary, but it sometimes demands the removal of something that may have been built with care and love.  I saw not a building being destroyed, but the removal of a piece of history.  I was somber and reflective for quite some time.

So this brings me to my recent business trip to the great state of Minnesota.  As we drove to the downtown Minneapolis hotel, my eyes were glued to the impressive skyline.  I saw the stadium the Vikings play at from the highway, and was gawking like an overgrown child.  After some conference sessions in our hotel, my legs were itching to get out and explore, and I walked for miles.

There’s a skyway system allows people to essentially move through all the downtown area without getting outside, which in winter, is a definite plus.  Maybe not equal to New York or Chicago in terms of impressive skylines, but it’s more than I’m used to.  Many of the buildings are quite modern, complete with the sleek glassy exteriors and curvy structures.  Many are impressive and tall, and most have some character.  Then my eyes were drawn to an old building from days long ago, and my imagination went to overdrive.

The Foshay Tower was the reigning queen of the Minneapolis skyline for many years throughout the 20th century.  It was the first to dethrone the Minneapolis City Hall (very beautiful and impressive in its own right) in terms of the highest structure of the city.  As I walked and explored, I saw murals that documented all the eras of Minneapolis from its humble beginning to modern times, in most decades, the tower ruled the skyline.

Now, the Foshay Tower can be lost in the skyline, depending on where you stand.  But when you see it from a good angle, it still stands out.  The art deco style and weathered stone is so much different from the neighboring buildings.  The classic style caught my eye immediately upon seeing it.  I love the modern building techniques as much as anyone, but for me, nothing compares to the classic styles.  The Empire State Building, or the Chrysler Building will always reign supreme to me.  Others may be bigger and taller, but size isn’t everything.  These were built before complex CAD programs or computers to calculate slopes, curves, and loads, yet they are still majestic and impressive as any modern structure.

Roaming through Minneapolis was delightful.  My legs and feet ached from the miles of walking, but it was a small price to pay.  I’ve seen the new baseball park, and the new football stadium.  I’ve ducked in and out of impressive buildings, but as I roamed, I found myself glancing over at the tower again.  I thought about the ones who designed the structure, and to those who built it.   Dedicated just a few short weeks before the great stock market crash in 1929, everyone associated with it are gone.   I wonder if the men climbing atop the structure while building it would know how grand and classy it looks even to this day.  I wonder if they thought it would still be standing when it reached a century of age.  On one hand it’s just a building of stone and metal.  On the other, it’s a lasting legacy of those who poured their hearts and efforts into making something last.  It seems to have more of a soul than the other buildings.

The most impressive of them all is not the tallest, nor the most versatile, but it’s this grand lady.  As other buildings come and go, I hope this one stands the test of time.

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