The first Minneapolis skyway is built, linking the Cargill and Roanoke buildings across 7th Street. Eventually, a system of 50 skyways turns much of the downtown area into an enclosed city within a city.*
When futuristic, climate-controlled Southdale Mall opened in 1956, the downtown real estate developers saw “the writing on the wall”, or rather the writing in the sky. Single connections between buildings above ground already had the example of the 17th floor connection between the Merchants Bank and the First National Bank circa 1931 in Saint Paul, MN. ** Architect David Griswold brought that idea down to the 2nd floor, bringing the idea of an interconnected city to a more repeatable and feasible level.
The following synopsis of Griswold’s achievement has recorded by mid-century real estate experts at TCModern.
“It was a simply designed, convenient way to get to the Golden Rule shopping store on (then) Eighth Street (now Seventh Place) and Minnesota street from their parking lot across the street. It was a very basic, crude structure, measuring roughly 8 feet wide with a concrete floor over a metal deck. It also didn’t have heating or air conditioning. It was however a very convenient way to get to and from the store without having to navigate through (at the time) one of the busiest intersections of both trolley lines and pedestrians in the city.” * Following suite to modernize downtown Minneapolis, real estate heavyweight Leslie Parker tapped Minnesota architect Ed Baker to design the first branch of its soon-to-be skyway system ca. 1959. This branch opened in 1962 connecting the Cargill and Roanoke buildings.** (Northstar Center and Northwestern National Bank) Mr. Baker’s design improved upon Griswold’s in its aesthetics and climate-controlled environment. *
Fueled by this success, Parker championed adding more branches in downtown Minneapolis. Within it’s first decade, Parker had built a bridge between Ed Baker and Phillip Glass in the design of the show stopping IDS Center. Moreover, it’s new Crystal Court become the hub connecting beaches of the skyway on all four sides in a dazzling, all-season semi-public space. ****
Though critics have decried the development as the demise of street life, time has shown that this may be a partial truth. Granted, the skyway system grew to encompass 80 city blocks and about 8 miles of connections. Acknowledged, this second-story system competes with street level development, making an indoor or outdoor walk a choice. As early as 1972, city officials and developers noted that this choice also doubled the options for walk-up traffic to small businesses, and raised the price of second floor rents. In the bi-polar environment of the Twin Cities, perhaps, two stories are better than one? *****
Developer of the Cosmos, let me come and join You in Your eternal “right now”. Can I sit by Your fire, and take a load off? Can we chat about this creative moment in the life of Minneapolis? On second thought, I will remain quiet and hear Your thoughts as You are the only Architect and Builder of life in this universe.
The foundation of this time is remembrance, so I remember these specific names to You. Thank You for the imagination of developer Leslie Parker. I won’t judge the motives of his heart, that’s Your job, but I am grateful for a human being that wanted downtown to remain relevant.
By the same token, let’s remember the names of Ed Baker and David Griswold. There is so much about architecture that is an Imitation of Our Father! One must be aware of history, art, aesthetics, engineering, mathematics, and materials to create relevant structures. We thank You for the insights, discipline, and positioning of these men to create these skyways at just the right time.
Additionally, we thank You for the jobs created in all the trades necessary to actualize these visions: steelworkers, riggers, crane operators, to name but a few. We are grateful for the nearly doubling of walkable areas downtown, and the small businesses supported by this foot traffic. It’s a good thing to add the notion of “third spaces” to a growing city. Thank you for these insights!
We have judged the skyways and their creators: in their beauty or lack of it, in utility for downtown renters, as advantageous to major and minor downtown businesses, and in a means of isolating the business class from the urban street level. Will You forgive us in our criticisms in this era of 1962 and through to the present?
Will You forgive our judgment of another’s sense of aesthetics? Will You forgive our judgments of the skyways in relation to downtown residences? Why is it our business if someone else wants to have their home interconnected with and 80 block grid? We have exuded envy that our major or minor workplaces have too little or too much access due to the skyway system, and broken Your command not to covet. Will You forgive us?
Lastly, some of us have judged that this system is inherently classist because it is not entirely public. Conversely, protagonists of the Skyway believe their rights allow them to choose between maintaining privacy, semi-public, or completely public access to the property they own. Will You stand between these parties and help them understand each other, even if they never agree?
In the present, our significant forces in urban planning and city government have suggested removing the skyway system because it only functions for those with access to the system, dear One. This notion makes us think about the wisdom of Solomon in solving his contemporary urban issues in 970-931BCE.
“At that time two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.
One woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth while she was in the house. On the third day after I gave birth, this woman also had a baby. We were alone, with no one in the house but the two of us. During the night this woman’s son died because she rolled over on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I was asleep. She laid him in her bosom and put her dead son at my bosom. The next morning, when I got up to nurse my son, I discovered he was dead. But when I examined him, I realized that he was not the son I had borne.”
“No,” said the other woman, “the living one is my son and the dead one is your son.”
But the first woman insisted, “No, the dead one is yours and the living one is mine.” So they argued before the king.
Then the king replied, “This woman says, ‘My son is alive and yours is dead,’ but that woman says, ‘No, your son is dead and mine is alive.’ ”
The king continued, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought him a sword, 25and the king declared, “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
Then the woman whose son was alive spoke to the king because she yearned with compassion for her son. “Please, my lord,” she said, “give her the living baby. Do not kill him!”
But the other woman said, “He will be neither mine nor yours. Cut him in two!”
Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. By no means should you kill him; she is his mother.”
When all Israel heard of the judgment the king had given, they stood in awe of him, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”
Will You impart mercy, clarity of understanding, and wisdom of the proponents and opponents of the Skyways? Will You take these bitter roots: up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? May our love for our city cause us to yield to each other rather than extinguish the life that remains! Amen.
P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
***** Nathanson, Iric. Internet. “Minneapolis Skyways”. MNopedia. December 31,2013. https://www.mnopedia.org/structure/minneapolis-skyways
****** Read this wonderful story in full. Kaufman, Sam H . The Skyway Cities. Minneapolis: CSPI, 1985.