Warehouse lofts pay tribute to city's past

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January 16, 2006 // UPDATED 2:04 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

For many Downtown dwellers, having a connection to the city’s past is one of the major draws of living in a converted warehouse.

Several developers have found unique ways to evoke the histories of the old buildings they have transformed.

At the Bookman Lofts, 345 6th Ave. N., in the North Loop, the lobby is lined with photographs of one of the city’s darkest chapters: the bloody labor strike of 1934.

On July 20, 1934, a day known as “Bloody Friday,” truck drivers and union activists clashed with police and business officials on the corner of North 3rd Street & 6th Avenue North — a block from where Bookman Lofts stands today.

During the riot, police killed two strikers and injured several others. Then-Gov. Floyd B. Olson declared martial law in the city and brought in the National Guard. Later, President Franklin Roosevelt intervened and pushed the business community to recognize the union.

The building now home to Bookman Lofts was a grocery wholesaler, in the 1930s.

One of the lofts’ residents, photographer Tom Berthiaume, went through Minnesota Historical Society records to research the labor strike and find photos for the exhibit in the lobby.

While it’s a haunting memory to showcase, Bookman developer Steve Frenz said it was important to pay homage to the event.

The lofts also have reminders of less tumultuous times. After housing a grocery wholesaler, the 1922-era building was home to Bookman Publishing, owned by two brothers.

The loft development features a photograph of the brothers during their publishing days. There are other photos showing the neighborhood when streetcars ran through it and old insurance maps reflecting the different types of businesses in the North Loop over the years.

Bookman Lofts stands in stark contrast to Frenz’s condo development next door: the Bookman Stacks, a futuristic gray building that acts as counterpoint to its traditional brick neighbors.

In coming weeks, Bookman Stacks will unveil 56 photos of the city’s local luminaries — politicians, artists and other local public figures who have made it big.

The photographs, taken by Berthiaume, will include Walter Mondale, Will Steger and Ann Bancroft, among others.

“It’s a totally different concept but really exemplifies what Minneapolis is,” Frenz said.

Another North Loop condo conversion that pays tribute to its historical roots is the North Loop’s Tower Lofts. The development team, Chuck and Mary Leer, have preserved some of the building’s original elements, including a portion of its original boiler, now sits in the lobby.

A silkscreen print of the old warehouse, along with a horse and buggy along Washington Avenue, is another historical detail.

The Tower Lofts, 700 Washington Ave. N., started out as a warehouse for the Northern Bag Co. and later housed artist studios.

The historical details are not limited to converted warehouses. Developers building new condos also are finding ways to blend in elements of the past.

The sales office for the Flour Sack Flats, for instance, on the river’s East Bank is in one of the city’s original Union Railroad storage warehouses.

During the city’s legendary milling days, sacks of flour were shipped from the warehouse.

In the Mill District, some of the city’s first loft conversions blend the old and new in historic flourmills.

The Humboldt Lofts, for instance, developed by Brighton Development Corp. and designed by noted architect Julie Snow, is an incarnation of the 1870s-era Humboldt Mill.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983, the mill was outfitted with lofts in 2003. Many of the unique historical elements, such as arched windows, have been preserved.