Anson S. Brooks Mansion, 2445 Park Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Anson S. Brooks Mansion
|Address:||2445 Park Avenue|
|Neighborhood/s:||Phillips, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|Hennepin County, Minnesota|
|Primary Style:||Gothic Revival|
|Historic Function:||House/single dwelling or duplex|
|Architect or source of design:||Long & Long|
|Material of Exterior Wall Covering:||Limestone|
|First Owner:||Anson S. Brooks|
Construction of the Anson S. Brooks Mansion began July 30, 1907, and was completed at a cost of $46,000 + $12,335 for utilities (gas/plumbing and electrical) for a total construction cost of $58,335. (Note: the average working class home in Minneapolis in 1907 cost between $2,500 and $3,000 to build.)
Architects: Long & Long (for more information, see “About the Architects” below)
Architectural Style: Venetian Gothic
2445 Park Avenue’s exterior is an exercise in what celebrated architectural historian Larry Millett, in his well-known book AIA Guide to the Twin Cities (2007, Minnesota Historical Society Press), calls a “rare example of the Venetian Gothic style in the Twin Cities” and like “a little piece of Venice on Park Ave.”
The Anson S. Brooks Mansion is a highly unusual—and unusually striking—piece of architecture in the Twin Cities. Constructed almost entirely of limestone, the imposing structure boasts accents of sandstone quoins, window casings, and other details, including elaborate interlaced arched gothic parapets and large rows of lancet windows along the west, north, and south stretches of the 3rd floor.
Interior features: The interior is a showplace for a lumber baron with an 18’ x 43’ barrel-vaulted foyer trimmed in solid mahogany. The first-floor library is finished entirely in Circassian walnut with a massive fireplace and gothic-inspired bookshelves. The dining room and grand stairway are finished in mahogany—each panel carefully selected for its uniform grain. And the stairway features an impressive two-story Art Nouveau-style stained glass window at the landing. Even the ceiling in the porte cochere connecting the mansion to the carriage house features an impressive coffered ceiling.Aside from being exceedingly elegant, the Brooks Mansion was also state-of-the-art when built. Among other features, the 15,000+ square foot mansion boasted 5 bathrooms on just the 2nd floor alone (which explains the then princely sum of $12,000+ for utilities). The second floor also contains an impressive billiard room trimmed in white oak and complete with beamed ceiling and then newly fashionable Arts & Crafts-style fireplace. The mansion even boasted a dark room on the third floor, adjacent to the grand ballroom, which was incorporated in the design to satisfy the Brooks family’s passion for photography.
About the Original Owner: Anson Strong Brooks
Lumber baron Anson Strong Brooks was born September 6, 1852, in Redfield, NY, the son of Sheldon and Jeanette (Ramney) Brooks. Anson married Georgiana Lillian Andros (1858 – 1934) on July 24, 1876. They had two children: Paul Andros Brooks (1881 – 1941) and Stanley Brooks (1886 – 1907).
Anson Brooks was the President of the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Co, and acquired great wealth during the booming Minnesota lumber industry of the late 1800s. Anson and Georgiana selected Minneapolis’s most prestigious residential street—Park Avenue (Minneapolis’s “Golden Mile”)—as the location upon which to build their new mansion and showcase their wealth (see “Minneapolis’s Park Avenue” below). Upon completion of the mansion in 1907, Anson, Georgiana, and their son, Paul, who by this time worked as an attorney for his father’s successful lumber company, moved into 2445 Park Avenue where they lived with a staff of four, including two servants, a housekeeper, and a chauffeur.
Anson and Georgiana continued to live at 2445 Park Avenue until 1920 when the couple (now 66 and 60, respectively), “downsized” to a 12,000 square foot mansion Anson commissioned to be built at 2535 Park Avenue (the current home of Thomson-Dougherty Funeral Home). Anson left his Venetian Gothic palace to his only surviving son, Paul.
Paul Brooks, his wife Hazel, and their four children (Pauline, Anson, Barbara, and Sheldon) continued to live at 2445 Park Avenue—along with 10 live-in staff, including a gardener, nurse, cooks, maids, and chauffeurs—well into the 1930s, marking nearly 30 years that 2445 Park Avenue remained in the Brooks family. Following the death of Georgiana just a few years earlier, Anson Strong Brooks died August 3, 1937, just one month shy of his 85th birthday.
About the Architects:
Franklin B. Long (1842–1912) was a prolific Minneapolis architect perhaps most notable for his association with the firm Long and Kees (1884-1898), a partnership that resulted in some of Minneapolis's most important historical buildings, including the Richardsonian Romanesque-style Minneapolis City Hall, First Baptist Church (1883-85), the former Minneapolis Public Library building (built 1884, razed 1961), the Minneapolis Masonic Temple (now the Hennepin Center for the Arts) (1888), the Lumber Exchange Building (1885), and the Flour Exchange Building (1892), just to name a few.
After the partnership of Long and Kees disbanded in 1898, Franklin Long partnered with his son, Louis, and then later Lowell Lamoreaux. Franklin Long died in Minneapolis on August 21, 1912, but the Long, Lamoreaux, and Long firm continued under that name until the mid-1920s. By 1926 no Longs were involved in the firm, but Olaf Thorshov, who became a partner in 1920, kept the firm under the name of Long and Thorshov due to the prominence of the Long name.  Lathrop, Alan K. (2010). Minnesota Architects: A Biographical Dictionary. University of Minnesota Press
About Minneapolis’s Park Avenue:
Beginning in the late 1800s, as aggressive commercial development was swallowing up Minneapolis’s original downtown mansion districts (namely around 5th Ave south and 7th St. and in and around the Loring Park neighborhood), the city’s earliest, most influential, and wealthiest founding residents and business elite (magnates in the then booming lumber, grain, real estate, and newspaper industries) sought refuge in outer-lying areas where they could build more tranquil “urban estates”—far enough outside of the commercial core to offer desired peace and quiet and a “guarantee” against further commercial encroachment, yet close enough to downtown for an easy commute to and from their businesses, shopping, and entertainment. Park Avenue quickly became the migration destination of choice, and the city’s most fashionable street for building large, opulent, architect-designed estates.
Desirable By Unique Design and Unusual Efforts
By sheer design, the stretch of Park Avenue from Franklin Avenue south to 28th Street was, from the beginning, platted and planned in an entirely unique way so as to attract the most prominent of Minneapolitans (see excerpt below from Saturday Evening Spectator, Minneapolis, Minn. January 15, 1887). As a result of its careful planning, it was destined to become the most sought after and prestigious residential street in the city; in short, it was Minneapolis’s answer to St. Paul’s Summit Avenue. Its original design included:
o A impressive, wide expanse quite unlike any other in the City, bisected by a narrow, 36 foot-wide, 2-way roadway flanked by 10 extra feet of boulevard on each side [20 feet more than what is seen today] o 100 foot building set backs o 230+ feet deep lots that take up the entire east-west length of the Mansion District’s 8-block stretch
Rise in Status: The “Golden Mile”
Park Avenue’s rise in status happened very quickly, and by 1887 the Minneapolis Saturday Evening Spectator boasted that Park Avenue was “the leading residence street in the city.” Park Avenue quickly became known as Minneapolis’s “Golden Mile.”
By the early part of the 1900s, the City’s business elite had built 35 of Minne¬apolis’s largest and most opulent mansions along the “Golden Mile” north of 28th Street to Franklin Avenue. Among these early residents were prominent grain men Frank Peavey, James Bell, Franklin Crosby, Ed¬mund Phelps, Frank Heffelfinger, and Charles Harrington; lumber barons Sumner McKnight and Anson Brooks; and Swedish newspaper mogul Swan Turnblad. By contrast, upper-mid¬dle-class professionals settled into elegant, architect-designed wood-frame residences along the 10 blocks south between 28th Street and what was then the city limit at 38th Street.
Maintaining the Status: Park Avenue Improvement Association
To ensure the Park Avenue’s first-class status, in 1890 these early homeowners formed the Park Ave¬nue Improvement Association to protect the interests of Park Avenue home owners and therefore to “perpetuate the fame of Park Avenue as a fine residence district.” The association levied taxes of 10 cents per lineal foot upon themselves for the purpose of managing plantings and boulevard maintenance, tree trimming and insect spraying, street sweeping, traffic regulation, and the strict enforcement of the 100-foot building setback rules. In 1889, the enterprising group even went so far as to privately finance a two-mile project that made their street the first in Minneapolis to be paved with as¬phalt.
From “Horseless Carriages”….to Decline
Because of their wealth, Park Avenue homeowners were among the very first Minneapolis residents to own automobiles, or “horseless carriages” as they were known. Automobile ownership quickly became a great source of pride and symbol of prestige for Park Avenue’s early residents, and every year on June 21—the longest day of the year—they hosted a “Parade of Autos” where they drove their “horseless carriages” up and down the avenue all day.
Ironically, these very symbols of wealth and pride would eventually become a source of great stress and anxiety for these early Park Avenue homeowners, and a key factor in yet another mass migration: away from Park Avenue.
By the 1920s, wide-spread automobile ownership had increased the conveniently paved avenue’s traffic, dust, and noise levels considerably. Aside from its smooth paved surface, Park Avenue’s close proximity to downtown, and straight north-south route, also made it an ideal choice for downtown commuters from the ever-expanding city limits to the south. And so as early as 1920, the next phase of migration for the City’s wealthiest founding residents began. Just as commercial encroachment 20-30 years earlier drove them from the early downtown mansion districts, so, too, had the automobile sent Park Avenue residents clamoring for new, increasingly fashionable, more tranquil, and less traveled residential areas such as Lake of the Isles and Lake Minnetonka.
Despite strong, decades-long advocacy efforts from Park Avenue’s hold-out residents to try and curb the traffic, in 1946 the City of Minneapolis con¬verted Park Avenue’s original 36-foot wide, two-way roadway into a one-way, northbound artery. In 1955, the City widened the roadway to 56 feet, and added a third lane, thus eliminating a full 20 feet of boulevard green space in order to further accommodate the then growing suburban commuters into downtown. In 1967, Interstate 35W opened just a few blocks west of Park Avenue, but Park’s three-lane, one-way configuration remained the same. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, “urban renewal” took the form of demolition and left only eight Park Avenue mansions between Franklin Avenue and 28th Street in its wake (by contrast, the far more modest—albeit architect-designed—wood-frame residences south of 28th Street remained largely intact.)
Excerpt from the Saturday Evening Spectator , Minneapolis, Minn. January 15, 1887 - Park Avenue. The Leading Residence Street in the City.
Park Avenue has become noted for the large number of beautiful homes which adorn it, and easily ranks as the finest residence section of Minneapolis. Its present desirable condition is partially the result of natural advantages, it being one of the broadest thoroughfares in the city, but is largely due to the intelligent cooperation of an unusually enterprising class of citizens.
The Park Avenue Improvement Association, formed several years since, has accomplished much for the general benefit of the avenue, causing the planting of about 300 trees, the laying of good stone walks, and a uniformity and harmony of improvements in other respects. The curbing of the avenue is an improvement in prospect of next season, with street paving to shortly follow. Water and sewer pipes have already been laid. In the winter season a portion of the avenue forms a race course for the fast “flyers” of the city, and in the summer it is a favorite drive for elegant equipages. Of the Improvement Association, Judge M. B. Koon is president, and L. J. C. Drennen is secretary.
It is a notable fact that many of the finest residences have been built by preference on the east side of the avenue giving a west front. From Twentieth street, or Franklin avenue to Twenty eight street, all of the houses set back not less than 100 feet from the street and all have very large lots, being usually about 230 feet in depth. The property owners are so thoroughly earnest in this idea of symmetrical improvement that one house, which formerly stood too near to the street, has been purchased for the purpose of moving it back in line with the others.