The Lunchtime Tourist

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July 14, 2003 // UPDATED 10:58 am - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

The Armory

5th Avenue South and 6th Street

Taking up an entire city block, the Minneapolis Armory has defended itself from demolition plans and fought its way into Downtown's heart. Once home to the National Guard and naval reserve, the armory was the largest Works Progress Administration (WPA) building project in Minnesota and employed over 400 tradesmen.

The WPA was initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 as a nationwide employment project during the Depression. Nearly $5 billion employed more than 8 million people on 1.5 million projects, including highways, bridges, airports and civic buildings. Artists and writers were commissioned to document the American experience, some painting panoramic murals on buildings nationwide.

Built in 1935, the armory was designed by architect P.C. Bettenburg and engineer Walter Wheeler, who also worked on bridges and grain elevators. The massive building with rounded corners looks like military equipment. Aside from some grillwork and door reliefs, the only ornamentation on the building are two stone eagles over the entrances.

Inside the building were rifle and pistol ranges along with truck and tank parking in the basement. The vast drill hall's balconies held 4,500 people for military exercises along with political conventions, boxing tournaments and Minneapolis Lakers' basketball games. Two large fresco paintings remain in the headhouse's Trophy Hall.

After its original tenants moved out in 1980, the armory was used for concerts, ping pong tournaments and motorcycle races. Amid great controversy, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the building could not be torn down due to its historic status. Today, it survives as a very clean indoor parking lot, and the owner just received permission from the city to hold special events in the cavernous space.

LUNCH TIP: Enjoy lunch on the patio at the Little Wagon at 420 S. 4th St.

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