Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The St. Paul Athletic Club Has Two Things in Common with New York's Grand Central Station

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The St. Paul Athletic Club Has Two Things in Common with New York's Grand Central Station

Article excerpt

The St. Paul Athletic Club was designed in 1915 by architect Allen H. Stem, who with Charles A. Reed had recently completed Grand Central Station in New York City. Like Grand Central, the Athletic Club was threatened with demolition in the 1990s but survived because preservationists valued its sound construction, central location, and fine craftsmanship.

In 1884, the St. Paul Athletic Club organization started out in a gymnasium with a reading room nearby at Seven Corners. Thirty years later, in 1914, fundraisers promised that the new clubhouse would make club members and citizens of the prosperous young capital city proud.

Early fundraising success encouraged the club's board to add two more floors to the plan, increasing the total cost to $1 million-- an astounding figure that had only been exceeded by, respectively, the costs of the state capitol and the 1885 Ryan Hotel, which had seven stories and 335 rooms. (The Ryan Hotel was torn down in 1962, shortly before the modern historic preservation movement was born.)

Concerns about World War I slowed the fundraising effort after 1914. Construction didn't begin until 1916 and continued through wartime. The members of the St. Paul Athletic Club offered their new building as an emergency hospital for the returning wounded, but the war ended before it was needed.

The St. Paul Athletic Club was the last neoclassical building of more than a few stories (it had thirteen) to be built downtown. Following the standard set by the great cities of the Eastern United States, the architects selected a Renaissance Revival-influenced Beaux-Arts style. The variety of window sizes on the thirteen-story facade reflects the range of amenities available to members, including two-story gymnasiums, a pool, a ballroom, and a lobby. There were also locker rooms, restaurants, a barber shop, and small guest rooms. The two-story lobby featured a baronial fireplace, ornate plasterwork, and unusual terra-cotta railings on the balconies made by artisans at the Brioschi-Minuti Studio, originally located on University Avenue. …

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