'Brick Man' stays tall over Downtown

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May 26, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

\'20s statue nearly came tumbling off his perch over Loring Park

For two years, the iconic 10-foot-tall brick statue has welcomed motorists to Downtown from his rooftop home above Olson + Co. Advertising, 1625 Hennepin Ave. - but he wasn\'t exactly legal. When Olson + Co. erected the statue and letters spelling out the company\'s name, they didn\'t get sign permits.

In March, an eagle-eyed Minneapolis zoning inspector flagged man and sign as a violation of city code, which prevents rooftop signs, and Heritage Preservation Commission\'s guidelines (Olson + Co. lies within the Harmon Historic District).

So, on May 13, Olson + Co. came before Minneapolis\' Heritage Preservation Commission to admit their wrongs and plead for \"Brick Man\'s\" life.

Agency owner John Olson asked the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness for \"Brick Man\" plus a recommendation to the City Council to approve an historic variance on the rooftop structures. Approximately 30 people attended to support Brick Man.

\"We did make a mistake,\" Olson told the commission. \"I believe we screwed up, but now we\'ve got this icon.\"

Olson resurrected \"Brick Man,\" a piece of 1920s art representing bricklayers. He explained that for his company, it represents the intersection of art and commerce; \"Brick Man\" is prominently featured on the company\'s website, www.oco.com.

Like a huge three-dimensional paper doll, company employees regularly dress \"Brick Man\" depending on the Downtown event - for example, giving him a feather boa for the annual Gay Pride Parade.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) testified in favor of keeping \"Brick Man\" atop the building. She argued that \"Brick Man\" is public art, not signage, and should be allowed to stay.

Goodman and Olson also pointed out that rooftop signs had existed on the building in the past.

HPC staff recommended giving Olson + Co. half a loaf: no rooftop lettering, but \"Brick Man\" could stay. According to Commissioner Kathleen Anderson, the \"whimsy\" of \"Brick Man\" proved too appealing. Anderson\'s motion making \"Brick Man\" art, not a sign, passed unanimously.