The lunchtime tourist

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September 24, 2002 // UPDATED 1:31 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

The Warehouse District

Roughly bounded by Hennepin Avenue, the Mississippi River, 10th Avenue North, and 5th Street North.

Downtown's sprawling historic district encompasses 1,000 acres, includes 138 historically significant buildings and is a monument to the commercial development of Minneapolis.

In the late 19th century, James J. Hill's railroad stretched from the Twin Cities into the vast northwest. Towns blossomed along the tracks and new stores needed to be stocked with a variety of products. Soon the Warehouse District became the upper Midwest's wholesale trade center. Hardware, machinery, cars, tractors, fabrics, clothing, toys, pots and pans, and furniture filled more than 300 warehouses. The district's economic growth skyrocketed from $24 million in 1880 to $200 million in 1900 to $1 billion in 1920.

Buildings in this area were typically built between 1850 and 1925, and many were designed in the Chicago Commercial Style: steel frame construction with masonry or terra cotta exteriors and lots of windows. This style allowed for taller buildings and open floor plans.

Chicago's famous architect Louis Sullivan believed urban buildings should be designed like classical columns -- they should have a distinctive base, shaft, and capital. Look for buildings that follow this principle. Bases have ornamental banding and large display windows; middle floors have a repetitive pattern created by the window openings; tops are crowned with more decoration and projecting cornices. Keep this design philosophy in mind, and you can see how architects let their creativity flourish within the era's architectural fashion.

The end of the district's boom years came in the 1920s, due to the decline of the milling district, the Great Depression and the growth of national chain stores. Today, it's home to creative businesses, funky shops and unique restaurants. For a quick sample, walk along 1st Avenue from the Kickernick Building to Washington Avenue.

LUNCH TIP: Cafe Brenda (1st Avenue & 3rd Street) has been a Warehouse District staple for 16 years. Try one of their tantalizing specials.

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