Foshay Tower: Art & Travel – Minneapolis, MN USA

Cher’s Famous Art & Travel: Minnesota

06 August 2021

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The 1920s – the Roaring Twenties – was also the the Era of Skyscrapers. Cities like New York decided to build UP since they were running out of land to build horizontally. The lively “race to reach the top” between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building was a testimony to this phenomenon.

Minneapolis also experienced this excitement in 1929 with the building of the Foshay Tower, still one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Twin Cities. At 447 feet, housing 32 stories, it was the tallest building in the Midwest until the IDS Center came to town in 1973!

The Foshay Tower was included in Skip and my Travel Date to downtown Minneapolis. It is certainly one of the Top Ten Places to Visit in Minneapolis which I would include in Cher’s Twin Cities Travel Guide Book – if and when I ever write it!

Family Fondness for the Foshay

As a child, I fondly remember visiting the Foshay Tower Observation Deck. I’m sure I was greatly influenced by my mother’s lifelong fascination with the Foshay Tower and my father’s desire to provide a variety of extra-educational and cultural experiences for his daughters!

My mother’s fascination with the Foshay Tower began in the early 1930s when she worked and went to school in downtown Minneapolis, within blocks of the Foshay. How exciting it must have been for her as a young woman, fresh off of the farm with nothing taller than a tree, to walk past and experience this skyscraper which pierced high into the sky above her!

She also had a closer, personal connection with the Foshay! Her Uncle Manny (her dad’s younger brother) worked as a supervisor in charge of the iron workers who set up the skeleton for the Foshay Tower. He shared many interesting tales with her during her visits to their home. (The details of these stories, and how he got the job, have unfortunately been lost to history…but it still provides an intriguing bit of lore for family connection to the Foshay!)

For myself, I was excited to visit the new-to-me Art Deco “W” hotel as well as the time-honored Observation Deck. Along the way, I was thrilled to discover some fascinating new facts about its history!

  • Did you know that John Philips Sousa wrote a march specifically for its opening ceremonies? New to me!
  • And…I learned that one of my favorite marble sculptures of George Washington at the Minneapolis Institute of Art originally sat in the Foshay Tower atrium lobby? Also new to me!
  • Read more below!

The Foshay Tower

This iconic tower was built in 1929 by utilities magnate Wilbur Foshay in homage to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

We may forget the man – but we cannot forget the name, thanks to the 10′ tall FOSHAY letters emblazoned on all four sides near the top!

The Foshay Tower has had a variety owners and tenants over the years. Other downtown buildings were demolished, but the cherished Minneapolis icon and reminder of the golden age of the 1920’s remained.

In 1978, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in architectural design and engineering.

My blog discussion below digs deeper to uncover the remarkable story behind this unique skyscraper and its eccentric creator. You will experience an exciting part of Minneapolis history!

Foshay and its reflection on neighboring building. P.C. Cher B 06 2021

Foshay Observatory

This Minneapolis gem is a prefect spot to take friends and family when they come to visit, or just for yourself if you’re looking for a special day out. Allow about an hour, depending on the weather. The observation deck is perfectly positioned to give you breathtaking views of the city from multiple directions.

Traveler Tip: The concrete barrier provides safety; it’s also caged. However, when taking pictures through it, take care not to drop your camera!

Enjoying the view – and safety of the guard rails!
P.C. Skip B 06 August 2021

Trip to the Top

After you purchase your ticket at the “W” front desk, you get on a designated elevator. Once you exit the elevator, be sure to spend some time in the fascinating museum to give perspective on the building, its founder, and its history. Then, take the short flight of stairs up to the observation deck, use your entry key card, go through a small door and there you are – 31 stories above the street below! Enjoy the view!

Traveler Tip: We enjoyed a relatively calm day, but it can be very brisk if it is a windy day so plan and dress accordingly.

Looking west with Basilica of St Mary in the center.
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

The IDS Tower is its neighbor to the west. It unabashedly took over the Foshay’s position as Tallest Building in Minneapolis in 1973.

IDS building from Foshay Observatory.
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

Foshay – the Man

One cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the Foshay Tower without knowing a bit about the man whose name appears at its peak.

Reflection of the Foshay Tower (on left) in a neighboring skyscraper.
P.C. Cher B 06 2021

The Foshay Tower was built by powerful businessman Wilbur Foshay. He made his fortune off of utilities, and owned companies in 30 states, Canada and Central America. The Foshay Tower was built to be his headquarters, telling reporters at the time that the design was inspired by the Washington Monument.

Understanding the promotional power of a tower, he emblazoned his name on all four sides in ten-foot letters.

To this day, we may forget the man – but we cannot forget the name!

He spared no expense in its grandeur. One of the amenities built into the tower was the 31st floor observation deck – which we still enjoy today.

The opening of the tower was celebrated with a three-day lavish extravaganza (August 30-Sepember 1, 1929). It featured fireworks, dancing girls, religious services, parades and lots of dignitaries. John Philip Sousa wrote a march especially for the event (see below).

Three months later… the Stock Market crashed, and with it Foshay’s empire. Not only did it wipe him out professionally and personally, he ended up in the federal penitentiary. Eventually given a presidential pardon, his life and reputation had been ruined. He died in a Minneapolis nursing home on September 1, 1957, the 28th anniversary of the Foshay Tower’s debut.

But the Little Tower that still boasts his name Stood Tall!

Foshay sign from Google Images 10 August 2021
Wilber Forshay, 1929. P.C. mnopedia.org 10 August 2021.

The Foshay: Art Deco & the “W” Hotel

Historic Glamour: Foshay Tower is now the W Hotel

The Welcoming Sign.
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

Historic Glamour

A tribute to Art Deco design both inside and out, the “W” hotel honors the era with its classic design, but advertises that it is also full of modern twists. The newly modernized rooms, the Runway, and Observation Deck all stand out with classic art deco fixtures which is unique in a city swimming in a sea of glass buildings. The newly modernized rooms blend Art Deco decadence with modern urban chic. Guests can experience effortless relaxation in its original accommodations with vibrant décor, high-tech features and signature amenities.

marriott.com/hotels/travel/mspwh-w-minneapolis-the-foshay/

Art Deco Delight

Honoring the original architectural style, the lobby and lounges of the “W” are an interesting Art Deco experience in an of themselves. They include a 1920s Prohibition Bar and Living Room. I have not been in the hotel guest rooms, but personal accounts and website information promise a fun, colorful and one-of-a-kind experience!

Entrance to “W” lobby.
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

Once you get up to the 30th floor you walk right into the museum. On the inside, the quaint museum (opened in 1966), tells the story of the building’s remarkable history through photographs and multimedia presentations. Spend some time learning about how it became the first skyscraper built in the state of Minnesota – and the Midwest.

Art Deco Elevators: Your Entrance to the World Above!

Art Deco elevator doors off of the lobby.
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

The opulence of the art deco elevator doors alone provide a hunch that you are about to enter another time and place. Once at the top, you will enter the museum; the key card will grant you access to the observation deck.

Foshay Tower: Homage to Washington

Washington Monument & the Foshay Tower

The Foshay Tower was inspired by, and modeled after, the Washington Monument, an Egyptian Obelisk, in Washington D.C. USA.

Foshay Tower
P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

George Washington & the Foshay Tower

There are three busts of George Washington. The original marble sculpture, plus two bronze duplicates, were placed in the lobby arcade and unveiled at the grand dedication on 31 August 1929. These works of art were partially financed by the one-cent donation from each Minneapolis school child. Mr. Foshay personally absorbed the balance of the cost. (mnopedia.org)

One bronze bust, a copy of the original Mia marble, is now on display at the Foshay Museum.

Bronze bust of George Washington in the Foshay Museum. P.C. Cher B 06 August 2021

Art & the Foshay Tower

The busts were the work of Hiram Powers, distinguished American Sculptor of the 19th century, and owned by the late Joseph Drexel of Philadelphia until his death.

The original marble bust is at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). Hiram Powers portrayed a resolute Washington in the popular neoclassical style of the time, draped in a toga giving him the appearance of a noble sage and hero from ancient Greece or Rome.

Marble bust of George Washington at the Minneapolis Institute of Art,.
P.C. artsmia.org

Foshay Tower: It’s very own Sousa March!

I love the marches of John Philip Sousa! I acquired a fondness for them as a member of a high school marching band whose director adored Sousa marches! We played them a lot! (Really… how could a piccolo player ever forget the exhilarating experience of playing Sousa’s infamous “Stars and Stripes Forever?!”)

I was very excited when I recently learned that Sousa wrote a march just for the opening of the Foshay Tower! And that one of my favorite inspirational quotes is attributed to Sousa as well!

Sousa – the Music

Music for March at the Foshay Museum. P.C. Cher B 06 2021

Sousa – the March

When John Philip Sousa, the “march king,” brought his famous 75-member band to Minneapolis in August 1929 to help celebrate the grand opening of the Foshay Tower, it was his last of many performances in Minnesota.

Foshay hired Sousa to compose a new march for his band to play at the grand opening of his Foshay Tower. Rather than starting a fresh piece on short notice during a busy summer season, Sousa took a recently commissioned (but not yet delivered) march, “Daughters of Texas,” and changed the title to “Foshay Tower Washington Memorial March,” later writing a new march for the Texas commission.

The grand event turned out to be Foshay’s final hurrah. The stock market crashed soon after and took the businessman down with it. Foshay’s $20,000 check to Sousa bounced, and Sousa forbid anyone to play the piece until the finances were settled. Sousa didn’t want to be associated with Foshay’s name and stopped performing the march, hiding the music at his New York home. The piece was dubbed “Sousa’s Mystery March.” Decades later (1988), the account was finally settled. A group of Minneapolis citizens raised the money to pay off Foshay’s debit to Sousa’s heirs, and the music became public in time to be performed for the 60th anniversary of the tower. (windliterature.org)

I encourage you to listen to this wonderful march on the YouTube below. There is, of course, lots of brass – and piccolo runs!

If you can’t get it to play just request the march title and Sousa’s name on You Tube; it’s there!

Sousa – the Man

John Phillip Sousa, v. 1900. Image from YourClassical.org 10 August 2021

My Favorite Sousa Quote

This has always been my favorite inspirational quote. I just learned it was from Sousa!

mprnews.org/story/2016/08/31/foshay-tower-march-by-sousa-unveiled-on-this-date

The Foshay – its Restoration

Over the years, the aging building felt the toll of time and neglect. We can appreciate it today thanks to recent developers who have committed to its renovation. In 2006, a Twin Cities real estate developer (Burnet & Ryan Co.) hired local consultants (Hess Roise & Co.) to help restore some of the original Art Deco features. In 2008, the refurbished Foshay Tower reopened as the W Minneapolis-The Foshay, a 230 room hotel. In 2015, Ashbury Trust purchased the Foshay Tower for $86 million. (mnopedia.org/structure/foshay-tower)

Visit

  • Address: 821 South Marquette Avenue, (Just off of Nicollet Mall), Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  • Open: Year-Round, Thurs-Mon 11am-5pm. Observation Deck Winter hours are subject to the weather. Please call ahead.
  • Purchase Tickets: Front desk of “W” Hotel
  • Ticket Prices: $10 per adult, $6 Kids 4-14. Children 3 and under are free. Please call for group rates. (as of 06 August 2021)
  • Parking: Available in close by ramps or metered on street.
  • Website: marriott.com/hotels/travel/mspwh-w-minneapolis-the-foshay

Sources

  • Self-Guided Tour: Skip & Cher B 06 August 2021
  • Photo Credits: Skip B & Cher B 06 August 2021 (unless otherwise noted)
  • Explore Minnesota – exploreminnesota.com/profile/foshay-museum-observation-deck/3510-
  • Minnesota Historical Society – mnopedia.org/structure/foshay-tower
  • MPR News – mprnews.org/story/2016/08/31/foshay-tower-march-by-sousa-unveiled-on-this-date
  • W hotel – marriott.com/hotels/travel/mspwh-w-minneapolis-the-foshay/
  • Wind Band Literature – windliterature.org
  • Your Classical Radio – yourclassical.org/story/2018/06/20/john-philip-sousa-…

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