Lunchtime tourist

Share this:
November 22, 2004 // UPDATED 4:45 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Presiding over the busy intersection of 3rd Street & 1st Avenue North is an architectural gem that helped the Warehouse District earn its status as a nationally important historic district. The Langdon Building was built in 1887 and designed by architect W.H. Dennis. For many of its early years it was home to the wholesale grocer George Newell & Co., which evolved into SuperValu, the 11th largest food retailer in the nation.

The mostly red-brick building stands five stories tall, with a variety of different window shapes. Rough-cut Morton gneiss granite piers with carved brownstone caps surround expansive first-floor windows. The second story has semicircular windows that loft-dwellers would covet. Rectangular openings service the third and fourth floors, while the top floor has a series of narrow arched windows.

However, what really separates this building from others in town is the elaborate terra cotta ornamentation.

The term "terra cotta" is Italian for "baked earth." Although the ceramic clay dries hard and waterproof, its initial malleability allows workers to cast it into elaborate, artisan-made molds or dies for repeated use on a building's elevation. Chicago's Louis Sullivan was a pioneer in this technique.

Terra cotta tiles often have a colored glaze applied during the firing process. For a great example of this technique, see the former Teener's building at 729 Hennepin Ave. S. However, the Langdon Building has unglazed terra cotta that makes its ornament appear more like sculpture than tile.

Accentuating the second-story windows is a decorative terra cotta frame that culminates in three-dimensional lions heads. Between the arches are carved triangular panels featuring organic designs and round medallions with a prominent "L" encrusted by acanthus leaves. Prominently facing the corner is an elaborate cartouche held in place by cherubs holding a fabric swag.

The Langdon Building was carefully renovated in 1985 by KKE Architects, Inc., who are lucky enough to reside in the building.

LUNCH TIP: Fresh vegetables are still delivered to the Langdon Building for creative use at legendary Caf/ Brenda. Stop in for a gourmet vegetarian lunch.

Send your tips to