Stewards of the historic Young Quinlan building hope to spur others to pursue adaptive reuse projects across the state.
Any walk along Nicollet Mall isn’t complete without seeing the Young Quinlan building.
While it is has been a mainstay at 9th & Nicollet in the heart of Minneapolis since 1926, the Young Quinlan building nearly didn’t survive. Bob Greenberg and The 614 Company saved the building from demolition by adapting the building 25 years ago.
To celebrate, Greenberg established an endowed fund with the Minnesota Historical Society to spur historic preservation and adaptive reuse, as they did with the “perfect gem” of Minneapolis business pioneer Elizabeth Quinlan.
“We’re stewards of her legacy,” Greenberg said. “We hope to honor the 25th anniversary and honor the concept of [adaptive reuse].”
The fund is open to projects throughout the state that focus on preserving and adapting historic buildings for modern use — something Greenberg knows from experience.
Greenberg, the third-generation leader of his family’s locally owned real estate firm, The 614 Company, took control of the Young Quinlan building in 1985, decades after Quinlan and her famous department store brought international fashion to the Midwest.
The building is known locally as the flagship location for the Young-Quinlan department store, considered to be the first ready-to-wear dress shop west of the Mississippi River and one of the largest women’s specialty stores in the country in its day. It was designated a local landmark in 1988.
When Greenberg took full control of the building, it was in poor shape and faced demolition from the city and a French development company. However, he decided to invest family capital to repair the crumbling infrastructure at a time before historic tax credits.
For the next four years, Greenberg gutted the building, preserving and adapting an array of features along the way, from the large cathedral windows, marble staircases — even original, stained glass exit signs. The many Young Quinlan logos and the last of the city’s manually operated elevators, while modernized, preserve the building’s legacy while remaining up to snuff for tenants.
Quinlan’s department store logo appears throughout the building and on the exterior.
As the second part of the renovation, the building also became home to new tenants. Greenberg said a majority of the renovated building’s tenants are still there today and in the historic uses of the building, chiefly commercial on the first floor and professional services on the upper floors.
The names of many of the state’s business pioneers appear in the building today, including Target Commercial Interiors (George Dayton) and Haskell’s (Fritzi and Benny Haskell), in addition to historic groups like the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Council.
J.B. Hudson, a jewelry store with 130 years of history in downtown Minneapolis, now calls the building’s signature space on the corner of 9th and Nicollet home. The store features Quinlan’s expansive mezzanine, original iron banisters from master craftsman Sam Yellin and clocks from the department store.
“Our mission was to do the best of the old and the best of the new,” said Jeannie Joas, president and CEO. J.B. Hudson, in step with the Greenbergs, brought in its own antique cases and original chandeliers to match the building’s old-world grace. “We couldn’t be happier. It’s a gem.”
Elizabeth Quinlan stands on the building’s wide mezzanine staircase where J.B. Hudson now resides.
Minneapolis’ first fashionista builds her ‘perfect gem’
Quinlan’s life as one of Minnesota’s leading businesswomen continues to inspire the Greenbergs and many visitors of the building.
“You can’t help but not be touched by [Quinlan’s story],” Greenberg said.
Quinlan, born in 1863, started her career in the fashion industry at 16 as a clerk in Goodfellow’s Dry Goods store in downtown Minneapolis. In just five years, she became the company’s top salesperson and earned more than any of her male colleagues.
She then decided to open her own store with partner Fred Young, selling innovative, ready-to-wear clothing, which didn’t require the sewing or care of the clothes available at the time.
The store was a quick success, garnering Quinlan fame in the fashion industry across the globe. In the 1930s, Fortune Magazine and other national publications credited her as one of the nation’s top businesswomen.
Despite offers to leave the Midwest behind for bastions of fashion in New York and Europe, Quinlan decided to invest in the Twin Cities and make her own European-style palace here.
When Quinlan’s $1.25 million building opened in 1926, with an opening reception attended by 20,000 people, it was a true sign of the time, reflecting her personal taste in elegance, convenience and, at the time, marvels in architecture.
The Young Quinlan was full of architectural innovations when it opened.
Master architect Frederick Ackerman, whose wife was a friend of Quinlan, designed the building with underground parking facilities with an elevator that went straight to the sales floors, which was very rare in an age of Ford Model Ts.
Heritage Preservation Commissioner Linda Mack, who also was the longstanding architecture critic at the Star Tribune, said these forward-thinking additions to the building made it easier to adapt.
Ackerman designed the building in its characteristic Renaissance Revival style. The building’s look is Quinlan’s doing, which she described as “half Spanish, half Italian,” with its Kasota limestone streetscape. Mack described its style as “a little bit more flamboyant” than many buildings downtown and it caused the building to stand out over time.
Ackerman also used the same style in designing Quinlan’s home in Lowry Hill at 1711 Emerson Ave. S, designated a local and national historic landmark in 2010 and 2012, respectively.
Greenberg said the fact that there was discussion about demolishing the building shows how far Minneapolis has come in valuing and preserving historic structures. He referenced the North Loop as an example of how historic aspects of the city mesh well with the modern.
“The new blends well with the old, and the old with the new,” he said. The value we place on historic buildings has changed drastically since the Young Quinlan building was renovated, he said.
Besides simply preserving history, he said, his fund through the Minnesota Historical Society seeks to help projects that adapt historic parts of the city for modern use.
“The goal was to create a building that, as it moves into its next phase of life, its workable,” he said. “If you create a mausoleum that doesn’t do much for anybody.”
For Greenberg, the renovated Young Quinlan building remains a testament that history and modern life aren’t only compatible, but can add value to each other over time.
And for visitors who may not know the history, it continues to enchant Nicollet Mall with its own charm.
“It’s the most beautiful building on Nicollet Mall,” Mack said. “Today, it stands out more even when it did years ago.”
All images submitted from the 614 Company and Minnesota Historical Society