Landmark Center & Rice Park
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Unable to travel abroad due to the pandemic restrictions, my husband and I continue to embark on a summer of Travel Dates to the world class cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, just out our back door. If we were visitors to these cities, these are places that would be on our must-see list! We’d like to share them with you!
Our last visits were to the Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul Cathedral and St. Paul Brewing. This date continued to explore St. Paul but we moved downtown. We first immersed ourselves in the Rice Park area: the historic Landmark Center and a culinary stop at Herbie’s in the Park.
We parked in a free public lot on Harriet Island, walked across the Mississippi River on the Wabasha Bridge, getting a wonderful view of Raspberry Island from the great lookout points. We also explored the art deco masterpieces and wonders of the Government Center of St. Paul and Ramsey County Courthouse and a culinary stop at the City House (on the Mississippi River). Posts on these coming soon!
St. Paul is a historic city that can boast a wealth of magnificent and historic architectural masterpieces. The Landmark Center is one such building. I think that some of its magical charm is that most of us love the enchanting feeling emitted by buildings with lots of turrets and cone shaped roofs. This was the first stop of our recent Travel Date to St. Paul
I toured the Landmark Center on a school field trip with our daughters many years ago – and was even more impressed with what if offers today! We spent about two hours on a self-guided tour and could have stayed longer. Descriptions of the guided tours enticed me to come back again and dig deeper into its culture, lore and history!
Completed in 1902, this historic building has had a full and colorful life! From its origins as a United States Post Office – to a historical Courthouse holding trials of notorious Prohibition Gangsters – to a Custom House for the state of Minnesota – to a near-fate of becoming a parking lot.
In the mid-twentieth century, its usefulness was deemed over. It faced the almost certain tragic fate of demolition. It was courageously saved in the 1970s by a group of relentless citizens and successfully restored to its original grandeur. It reopened in 1978.
Today it once again stands proudly as a historic landmark and prominent Twin Cities cultural center, achieving a well-deserved place on the National Register of Historic Places.
P.C. Cher B 09 July 2021
St. Paul is also known for its quaint and welcoming green spaces. One such place is Rice Park, the Landmark Center’s front yard.
This park was the base point of our latest Travel Date. A picturesque public park in downtown St. Paul, I was enthralled with its fountain and the lovely bronze statue covered with flowers – as noted in its inclusion in all my photos!
I have fond memories of visiting Rice Park during the winter months to view the ice sculptures during the St. Paul Winter Carnival and watching the skaters on its ice-rink.
Peanuts in the Park
Fun, playful sculptures of Peanuts cartoon characters are placed around Rice Park and neighboring Landmark Plaza. They make great photo ops! Their creator, Charles Schultz, is a native Minnesotan.
Herbie’s in the Park
Our culinary stop was at “Herbie’s in the Park,” a neighborhood tavern named after another native Minnesotan, Herb Brooks. He is the legendary “Miracle on Ice” hockey coach who led the US hockey team to an Olympic Gold over Russia in 1980.
The tavern has a colorful history as the prestigious Minnesota Club, a men’s private social club (1869). Legend has it that it was connected by underground tunnels to the brothel next door run by St. Paul’s most infamous madam, Nina Clifford.
Landmark Center: Building & Architecture
Pink granite ashlar stone. Hipped red tile roof steeply pitched to shed St. Paul’s winter snows. Turrets. Gables. Dormers and cylindrical corner towers. Two massive towers, one housing a clock. Add it all up and it a truly magical building!
Built in 1894-1902, it was designed by American architect Willoughby J. Edbrooke whose career had been boosted by his time as Supervising Architect of the U.S.Treasure Department.
The architectural style was Richardsonian Romanesque, similar to the Old Post Office Building in Washington D.C. (Simple definition of this style is a modernized version of 11th & 12th century French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque characteristics and named after Richardson, an architect.)
Travel Tip: For more information on this topic, I recommend checking out the Landmark Center Architectural Tour, available by request.
The Landmark Center: The Atrium
Aka: The Elizabeth Willett Musser Cortile
Upon entering the building, its enchantment continues! The space opens up to the grand, four story indoor courtyard which rises uninterrupted to a clear skylight. Ornate marble columns and wainscotting surround the tiled atrium. It is a perfect space for festivals, large parties, receptions, dinners, dances – and of course, the perfect spot for fairy-tale weddings!
For much of its life it was not fully appreciated nor was it so glamorous. . .
During the first half of the 20th century, the majestic atrium/Cortile (pronounced kor-teel) was occupied by the Post Office. They constructed a louver-paneled ceiling at the second-floor level to secure the area (see photos). Of special interest is that it was complete with cat-walks so the vigilant postal supervisors could observe their workers below!
Time and official government tenants were not kind to the building. The descriptions of their alterations made me weep: “The marble walls of the main entrance lobby were painted with #102A government green. They cut down marble wainscoting to install mailboxes. Brown linoleum covered the maple floors. Crude tile replaced marble mosaic. Fluorescent egg-crate ceiling fixtures replaced the handsome old metal lights that had been wired for both gas and electricity. Corrugated asbestos covered the Cortile skylight. The beautiful stained glass skylight in Courtroom 430 was roofed over on the outside and painted over on the inside.” How sad.
In 1967, the post office was moved to a new location; the old building was scheduled for demolition (see photo), reportedly to become a parking lot.
The public was outraged and a campaign was mounted to save the building. After several years – and miles of red tape – the Old Federal Courts Building was saved. Reconstruction began. It was so successful it received several awards including a top national award from the American Institution of Architects (1980) for its adaptive reuse.
Landmark Center Galleries
The Landmark Center is so much more than just beautiful architecture and lofty ceilings! It is alive with activity and a cultural center for many of St. Paul’s arts and cultural non-profit agencies. Owned and supported by Ramsey County, it opened to the public in 1978 and is fully accessible to those with impaired mobility. Public exhibition areas include a variety of galleries that were fascinating. We quickly learned that we should have allowed more time to enjoy them to the fullest!
I’ve highlighted the ones we were able to visit. The brochures at the Visitor Desk and placards along the way were critical to our self-guided tour.
Travel Tip: For more information, check out the Landmark Center’s “Uncle Sam Worked Here” tour, available by request.
The Landmark Center: The History
“Uncle Sam Worked Here”
This exhibit was the first one we came upon in our self-guided tour – and it is a great place to start your tour. It provides perspective on the Big Picture for the balance of this great exhibit which spills out into the rest of the building.
It highlights the building’s chronological timeline with photos and artifacts from history. A handy Exhibit Guide (see Visitor Desk) is a must to figure it all out. It tells the story of the people and their building, from its construction to its role today – and everybody in between!
Gangster Trials Held Here
One of the most intriguing stories told within its walls involves the Prohibition Era infamous gangster trials during its life as the Federal Courts Building. Some of the FBI’s most notorious criminals were tried in this building, including Ma Barker’s son “Doc,” Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, and John Dillinger’s gal Evelyn Frechette. FBI G-Men, armed with Thompson sub-machine guns, kept guard in the upper balconies to ward off any courtroom escape attempts or ambushes. (landmarkcenter.org/history/)
Travel Tip: For more information on this colorful piece of history, I suggest taking one of the Landmark Center’s Gangster Tours, available by request.
On the first floor of the Landmark Center are two interesting and rotating galleries.
RCHS: Ramsey County Historical Society
The Ramsey County Historical Society Exhibits and Research Center is housed here and presents, publishes and preserves the history of Ramsey County and Saint Paul.
In the same wing, the North Gallery includes changing exhibits featuring all types of work from local, regional, and national artists. The one currently on during our visit was “Following the Thread” with a diverse collection of textile art. This exhibit, by a group of artists (Truly Unruly Fiber Art Collective), incorporates traditional and modern quilting stitchery with unique fabric treatments. The inspiring results are stunning and meaningful images.
Travel Tip: This FREE fiber art exhibit is open through August 29, 2021 during building hours. For anyone interested in quilting or textile arts, it may prove inspirational and stretch your imagination! If you miss it, check the website for current exhibit.
We visited two fascinating, interactive museums on the second floor: the Schubert Club Museum and the Gallery of Wood Art.
The Schubert Club Museum
This exhibit was a highlight of our visit – and my SURPRISE of the day! I want to return here as a child – or maybe with a child!
The Schubert Club Museum has two distinct museums. One exhibit holds a world-class collection of historic keyboards, original letters and manuscripts of famous composers, and musical instruments from around the world. These are displayed and available for FREE public viewing, enhanced with interpretive information and frequent tours and special programs.
The other is designed to be more interactive. EXPLORE, DISCOVER and CREATE music in the Music Makers Zone! Here you will have opportunities to interact with instruments from across the globe. Be blown away by an instrument “tornado” – whirling with sounds from around the world. Get inside the beat as you clatter and clang along the Wall of Percussion. Try your hand at the keyboard instruments and learn to play! Come make music and learn how music is made!
Travel Tip: Great hands-on field trip for families, home school groups, and school groups. Contact Kate Cooper, Director of Education and Museum email@example.com (schubert.org)
Gallery of Wood Art
The AAW Gallery of Wood Art offers a surprising and engaging view of contemporary works created in wood. It features educational exhibits, a display of vintage lathes, and a gift store offering lovely woodturned items by local and regional artists, books and DVDs. The gallery is sponsored by the American Association of Woodturners.
Ongoing: Touch This! A family-friendly exhibition introduces how woodturning works, and offers samples of wood to heft, sniff, and admire. See a history of turning, and vintage and reproduction lathes from the Viking era to the late 1700s. (galleryofwoodart.org)
Travel Tip: School and Group Tours are welcome. Custom presentations can be created based on your group’s interest. They also can connect you with turners for demonstrations or workshops at your site. Call Tib at 651-484-9094
Map of Travel Date Sites in St. Paul
- Minnesota State Capitol (top left)
- Cathedral of St. Paul (center left)
- Swede Hollow & St. Paul Brewing (off the map on top right)
- Rice Park, Landmark Center, Herbies on the Park and Government buildings (center)
- St. Paul City Hall & Ramsey County Courthouse (center)
- Raspberry Island, Harriet Island and City House on the Mississippi River (bottom right)
Landmark Center: Visit
With ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, I advise checking the website of any location before you visit for days and hours a place is open. Ones included in this post are listed in the Sources below.
- Admission is FREE to the building and most exhibits. Cost for events and concerts will vary per event. See website for contact for venue rental. landmarkcenter.org
- Tours available include: FREE scheduled building tours. No reservations necessary; just show up at the allocated time. Special Topic Tours by request (fees may apply) include: “Uncle Sam Worked Here,” Architectural and Gangster Tours, Seasonal City Walking Tours, and School and Group Tours. landmarkcenter.org
- Directions and Parking information is available at saintpaulparking.com.
- Bike Racks are nearby.
- Metro Transit Bus information is available at metrotransit.org
Sources & Credits
- All photography by Cher B, 09 July 2021 unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.
- Self-guided tour by Cher B, 09 July 2021
- Gallery of Wood Art – galleryofwoodart.org
- Herbie’s on the Park – herbiesonthepark.com
- Landmark Center – landmarkcenter.org
- Schubert Club – schubert.org