Abe Lincoln with his stovepipe hat. Carmen Miranda with her head piled high with fruit. CenturyLink building with its dark crown.
Hard to imagine any of these characters doffing their lid, but CenturyLink is about to make you try. The metal pineapple-looking structure on top of the old phone company (actually a microwave antenna) is being dismantled.
The building didn’t always wear what’s come to be called its crown, and it wasn’t always CenturyLink. When finished in 1932, it was the Northwestern Bell Telephone Building. At the time, Minneapolis hadn’t seen a building that combined bulk, height and the stark modernism of the Moderne style. It was an all-Minnesota project: the stone is from Kasota and Morton, the cement was from Duluth, and the steel was sourced from the Mesabi Range.
Northwestern Bell was eventually replaced by Qwest, which was replaced by CenturyLink. Aside from Minneapolis City Hall, no other tower downtown has been devoted to a single use since its construction.
For decades the top was flat. But over the years, the roofline started to bristle with dishes and antennas, an ugly jumble that made the tower’s top look cluttered. In 1967, Northwestern Bell announced plans for a new communications array atop their headquarters that would handle phone, TV and radio signals.
The $600,000 crown was likened to a cornucopia, called “modernistic” and praised for improving “the over-all appearance of the rooftop, the silhouette of the building and the skyline of the city,” according to a Minneapolis Star from the time.
The building has worn its flamboyant headgear for more than 50 years. When the antenna is gone, the building will likely look a little more solemn and serious. For a while. And then we’ll likely forget that the telephone building ever wore a headpiece.
©2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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