The Lunchtime Tourist

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June 2, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: esher Square
esher Square

700 S. 3rd St.

When Downtown Minneapolis was known as Mill City, wheat from throughout the state and the Dakotas was brought in by rail and stored in the numerous grain elevators dotting the riverbanks. Pillsbury or the Washburn-Crosby Company ground some of that wheat into flour and it was shipped, along with other grain, downriver to New Orleans and then across the globe.

The hard winter wheat was harvested with threshers - large mechanical "dinosaurs" that gathered, separated and sorted wheat berries from the rest of the plant. Farmers from throughout Minnesota, the Dakotas and Iowa came to Minneapolis to buy their plows and wagons and other farm implements.

A major distribution center, Minneapolis had dozens of warehouses in the late 1800s. Many of these still exist and have been adapted to new uses. The six-story Advance Thresher building was built in 1900 and designed by local architects Keys and Colburn, who also designed the Grain Exchange, Flour Exchange and Wyman Building.

Four years later, Emerson-Newton Farm Company built an addition on the east side of the Thresher building. Not needing quite the floor height of the thresher company, they decided to build seven stories. Keys and Colburn unified the facade of the two buildings to look like one. You've probably driven past this building dozens of times and not even noticed there are more windows on the right side than the left one.

The building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. In 1984 the building was reborn as Thresher Square in a renovation by Elness Swenson Graham Architects. An atrium was carved out of the interior space, and offices jut out amidst the huge exposed lumber posts and beams. Passive solar lighting on the roof tracks and redirects the rays of the sun into the atrium with fresnel lenses. The system was patented by the firm and helped garner awards for this innovative renovation.

As a co-developer of the building, ESG has had their offices in the building but will soon move into their latest project at the Depot Office East. To see photos of the Thresher Square renovation, along with a beautiful wooden architectural model of another project, stop in their reception office this week on the second floor (take the elevators on the right side or you'll end up on the wrong floor).

LUNCH TIP: Minnesota's hard winter wheat was a favorite for semolina flour and helped make Italian pastas world famous. Celebrate our agricultural heritage at The Old Spaghetti Factory on Washington. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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