Weekend Tourist: The W stands for Wilbur

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February 28, 2011
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky
Wilbur Foshay was a child when he first visited the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Standing below the 555-foot tall Washington Monument, he was awestruck by the obelisk shape and vowed that when he made his fortune he’d honor it. Today, you can visit Wilbur’s monument and even spend the night there.

Born in New York in 1881, Wilbur Foshay made his fortune in Minneapolis buying utility companies then selling their stock. His business grew into many states and he decided it was time to build magnificent headquarters. Collaborating with local architects Magney & Tusler, Wilbur designed his dream skyscraper not only as a home for his business, but also as his personal residence. The concrete and steel construction combined with the building’s distinctive shape was awarded a design patent.

Standing 447-feet tall with 32 stories, the Foshay Tower is an Art Deco treasure clad in Indiana limestone. The $3.7 million dollar tower rises from a two-story base, there are four floors of underground parking, and 10-foot-tall letters spell out “FOSHAY.”

The building opened to the public with great fanfare in September of 1929. John Philip Sousa’s “Foshay March” was played for a crowd of 25,000 politicians, celebrities and local residents. But the glory wasn’t to last. The stock market crashed just weeks after the building opened and Wilbur lost everything. He never even got to live in his two-story residence on the 27th and 28th floors. He was indicted for mail fraud in 1932 and spent three years at Leavenworth but was eventually pardoned by President Truman.

You can learn more about Wilbur in the museum dedicated to his story on the building’s 30th floor. There you’ll see Sousa’s original sheet music, historic photos of the building and plenty of Foshay souvenirs. A short stairway from the museum leads to one of the country’s few open-air observation decks.

Even with our current wind chills, the tiny deck’s a treasure. You can walk around the whole building and use free telescopes to gaze into the horizon. It’s a rare opportunity that every Minneapolitan shouldn’t miss. The museum and observation deck are open Monday–Saturday, noon–9 p.m., and Sunday, noon–6 p.m. with an $8 fee (Call to verify during questionable weather, 215-3700.)

The first W Hotel opened in New York City in 1998. Since then, the chain has become known as a modern, upscale hotel with an enticing motto: Whatever/Whenever. The Foshay Tower was reborn as a W Hotel in 2008. Although much of the original Art Deco elements remain on the first floor, W’s signature magenta color and darkly lit, sleek, contemporary design permeate the building. From the first floor’s Living Room bar to Wilbur’s 27th floor, mahogany-paneled boardroom, now a bar called Prohibition, W is party central. Hotel rooms feature fully-stocked bars, low lighting, lots of grey and black materials, and custom-designed furniture. Upper floors have just four suites per floor! But the best part of staying at W is the stunning views of the city from the slender windows.

The Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis and a symbol of the city until 1971 when the IDS Center was built. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places six years later. Whether you go there for a drink or a weekend getaway, a visit to W will be historic.


Pie break

In addition to their renowned breakfasts (served all day) Keys Cafe is famous for caramel rolls, pies and cookies. This family owned business has been serving the Twin Cities since 1973. (First floor, 9th Street side.)


W Minneapolis
The Foshay
821 Marquette Ave.