Dinky Dome, 1501-1509 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Dinky Dome

Southwest View of Building in November 2008
Southwest View of Building Shortly After Construction
Address: 1501 University Avenue SE
Neighborhood/s: Dinkytown, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1915
Primary Style: Classical Revival
Additions: 1986: Small retail store was constructed on the back of the building adding a 2-story 27’x42’ addition
Major Alterations: Intact
Historic Function: College/university
Current Function: Restaurant
Current Function: Bookstore, Offices
Other Current Function: Bookstore, Offices
Architect or source of design: John V. Koester
Builder: C.G. Ericson
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
Material of Roof: Concrete
Material of Foundation: Concrete
First Owner: International Christian Bible College Association

Dinkytown Minneapolis Hennepin County

Dinky Dome, 1501-1509 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.978969° N, 93.2351509° WLatitude: 44°58′44.288″N
Longitude: 93°14′6.543″W


Now a Dinkytown landmark, the Dinky Dome as it is known today is named so both because of its adjacency to the neighboring commercial district and due to one of its most distinctive features, a glass dome. The building is square in dimension at 99’-8” by 99’-8”standing three stories tall with the third level open to the space below the dome. The roof is flat slab construction with a glass dome centered over the building made of steel double structure truss-framing creating two domes of glass. Designed by Architect John V. Koester, the building harks back to the classical revival styles of the early colonial buildings of America in its grandiose classic quality and in the details of the doors, windows, cornice, and capitals. In the AIA Guide to the Twin Cities, Larry Millett describes the façade along University Avenue as having “an Ionic portico of the type you’d associate with a public building or bank.” [1] A decade before the Dinky Dome building was constructed, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago brought a renewed interest in the classical revival style of architecture, which could have influenced the style that the architect chose to follow.

Profile of the Architect

John V. Koester, Architect
Home Address-3201 Grand Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN
Office Address-600 Lumber Exchange and after 1914, 207 Iron Exchange
Major Works:
1914: Apartment Building at 1623 West Lake St, Minneapolis for owner J.H. Coloton
1915: Scandinavian Christian Unity Bible College at 1501-1517 University Ave SE
1916-1917: Residence at 2304 Lake Place for Isadore Weisman
1916: 8-story store and office building for LaSalle Holding Co. at 700-712 Marquette

History of Building

After Folwell Hall was built in 1907 as part of the University of Minnesota, which was then a school of 9,000 students according to Dean Emeritus Dr. Earl Grice, the corner became a prominent location for another building of similar grandeur. Using the location’s prominence to attract students from the University of Minnesota, the Bible College set out to “train ministers for the work of evangelism, church planting and missions,” according to Dr. Grice.[1] The lot where the Dinky Dome now sits was still vacant in the early 1900’s and the story goes that David Eugene Olson, the founder and first president of the original building occupant, the Minnesota Bible College, stood on that corner in 1913 “praying for the means to establish the college he had envisioned in that vicinity [when] he was approached by the owner of the property who indicated he had been keeping the land for that very purpose,” according to Robert Damon, the current Director of Adult Studies for the college. [1] The story continues, “with the only dollar he had, Olson entered into an agreement to buy a 99-year option on the property.” Dr. Grice recalls, “the cornerstone was laid in 1915, and the three-story building started to take shape. Using reinforced concrete, faced with Bedford stone and halls of marble, the basement was completed and occupied first, finishing the rest of the building in the following years.” The building was completed in 1918 and was financially made possible “through the donations of individuals and congregations both local and nationwide, as Dr. Grice notes. [1]

The first years of the building are recounted in the following story that Dr. Grice narrates:

“In 1914, there were two teachers (Stone and Olson) and one student, but soon there were 20 regular college students and 50 others taking night classes. It was not uncommon for some students to have spent eight years studying at the college, first in finishing high school then four years of college, all as part of the scope and training through the International Christian Missionary Bible College, as it was now called.” [1]

Mr. Damon, whose family has long been involved with the college, most notably his grandfather, who was a minister for the college in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and his uncle, who was president in the 1960’s, made a note of the value that lies in the quality of the structure and the fixtures within. Mr. Damon observed that the building “retains much of the original fixtures, including three Tiffany lights in the center dome area and the two entrances. Original woodwork throughout and the architectural details…of the marble work, woodwork, ironwork and tile work,” all attribute to the “priceless” nature of the building. [1]

Historical Value

As one of the two founders of the society for which the building was built, it is important to note the degree of influence that the Rev. Dr. David Eugene Olson had on the city of Minneapolis at the time of the buildings inception. Noted by Marshall J. Gauvin in 1921 as being a sincere religious enthusiast, it seems the Rev. Dr. Olson was a very prominent figure in the Minneapolis area, going so far as to hold public debates on the topic of Christianity. One account of such a debate began with the reverend approaching Marshall J. Gauvin, who was at that time the President of the American Secular Union, “with three of the clerical gentlemen who compose[d] the Board in control of his Bible College to consider the question of holding several debates.” [1] Two of the debates were held with Professor Frank M. Rarig of the University of Minnesota as chairman and were noted to have been attended by large audiences at the Auditorium Building in Minneapolis in May of 1921. [1] The Rev. Dr. Olson carried his missionary vision forward to the establishment of the Bible College. As Mr. Damon recalls, “together with Julius Stone, Olson founded the Scandinavian Christian Unity Missionary Society, which soon expanded into the International Christian Bible College Association, with a dream to educate American immigrants to return to their homelands as missionaries.” [1] According to Dr. Grice, Rev. Dr. Olson met Julius Stone, a Norwegian immigrant, and together “saw the potential of reaching out to immigrants and foreigners.” Stone was “a quiet and devout man with a small voice, and Olson was a large and energetic man, standing over six feet tall with bright red hair” but both men were linked with many other leaders in the Minnesota area, which made Stone and Olson very influential in their day, proving so in the manifestation of the International Christian Missionary Bible in College. [1]

Cultural Value

The building also holds value in its cultural significance due in part to its identity as a notable landmark of the Scandinavian community at the time in which it was built. According to Rhonda Gilman and June Holmquist of the Minnesota Historical Society, “in 1870 Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes comprised thirteen and one-half per cent of the population and had already begun to impress upon the state an indelible mark”. [1] The large Scandinavian migration at this time to Minnesota can be owed in part to the leadership of Hans Mattson, who, according to Gilman and Holmquist, “held the position of land agent” for a railroad running through coveted land in Minnesota, “hence he was able to give definite directions as to favorable points for settlement.” [1] At the time that the Dinky Dome was built in 1913, Dr. Grice notes, “there were 40 million aliens in America; six million of these were Scandinavian and one million of them in Minnesota alone. Ninety-four percent of those immigrants could not speak English.” [1]

The Scandinavian community also had strong ties to the University of Minnesota, which is evident in a U of M news service publication called “Letter to Weeklies.” In September of 1926, it was written, “more Scandinavians are in attendance annually at the University of Minnesota than at any other institution in the world.” [1] In this publication, it was also noted, “the University of Minnesota is located in the very heart of the Scandinavian population of the United States,” which attributes to the strategic positioning of the Scandinavian Christian Unity Missionary Society in such close proximity to the University of Minnesota. In fact, because of the influx of Scandinavians in Minnesota, “a chair in Scandinavian languages was created at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1884,” according to Joseph Stipanovich, who also noted that “the descendants of the first immigrants were drawn to the university in great numbers form the beginning, and members of the second generation made substantial contributions to its development”. [1] So while there is no clear evidence that the Minnesota Bible College, established in adjacency to the University of Minnesota, had direct relations with the university, there were definitely strong ties among the shared Scandinavian community.

Building Alterations

Since its inception as the Scandinavian Christian Unity Bible College or International Christian Missionary Bible College, “the college has undergone four name changes,” according to Crossroads College, which is the name under which the original college now goes by. “In 1924 it became Minneapolis Bible College, in 1932 Minnesota Bible University, in 1942 Minnesota Bible College, and in 2002 Crossroads College. In 1971 the college moved from Minneapolis to its present location in Rochester, MN.” At one time, according to Mr. Damon, “the college owned half the block but sold the building in 1972 to the Scallens” who then sold the building to Doran Construction. [1] Because the building has been altered so much since the relocation of the Minnesota Bible College, Elness Swenson Graham Architects, a Minneapolis based firm, has been working with Doran Construction out of Bloomington, Minnesota to maintain the integrity of the building. In attempting to restore the building back to the state it was in when the builder C.G. Ericson first built it, their intention is to maintain the building so that it will last for years to come.[1]

After the Bible College moved to Rochester in 1972 to establish themselves as Crossroads College, the building has since created more direct ties with the University of Minnesota in the form of services offered to the student community. Over time, these services have changed but have almost always catered to the student community of the University of Minnesota. As of now, the interior on the second level acts as a central food court for adjoining restaurants and cafes. There are also shops, restaurants, and a bank that utilize the ground floor of the building at the street level. In 1950, the building housed the prominent Varsity Café and the Co-op Book Store, which is still a bookstore under the name Student Book Store.

According to Mr. Damon, at one time, “there were dorm buildings located next door along 15th, but have since been torn down.” [1] A new project that Doran Construction is undergoing will house “approximately 200 dwelling units having the capability of serving between 450 to 480 students and 9500 sq ft of commercial retail space,” according to their website as of November 2008. Like the role of the Dinky Dome as of now, the new 14-story building will cater to the daily needs of the residents and community. As part of the new Sydney Hall Student Residence project that is just now beginning construction, Doran Construction plans to restore the exterior façade through masonry restoration where it is needed as well as restore some of the stone on the base and the stone cap fortification. The main entrances to the building are also being restored to their original state along with the cornice, which is being repainted to match the old dark color that was interpreted from old photos of the building. [1]



Timeline of Building Alterations as per Plan File Index Cards Filed for Building Inspections:

  • 1915: Owned by the Scandinavian Christian Unity Bible College, occupancy was established for college purposes
  • 1933: Architects Doerr & Doerr added stores and classrooms, still occupied by the Scandinavian Bible Institute
  • 1950: Owned by the Minnesota Coop, the storefront was altered by Builder, Olaf Pearson
  • 1968: 1509 University Ave SE was owned by Sandy’s Varsity (D.E. Jones), who made alterations to the restaurant, putting a new front on the building
  • 1971: Owned by Smolick & Sons Inc., Conrad Construction made alterations for stores
  • 1971: 1507 University Ave SE was owned by Interfund Services who installed partitions for classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors for classrooms
  • 1982: Owned by Silver Ball Too, internal part at court level was designed for Silver Ball Too Amusement Center
  • 1986: Small retail store was constructed on the back, 2-story 27’x42’ addition

Aside from these alterations, there were also 25 minor alterations recorded in the 1980’s.

Memories and stories


64px}px This place is part of
the ARCH5670 Class Project

Photo Gallery

Related Links


    • Architects Research File, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis.
    • Gauvin, Marshall J. The Gauvin-Olson debates on God and the Bible,: At the Auditorium building, Minneapolis, Minn. on Sunday afternoons, May 1 and May 8, 1921; speeches revised by both disputants. New York: Peter Eckler Pub. Co, 1921.
    • Grice, Earl E. A History of Minnesota Bible College. Rochester, MN: Minnesota Bible College, 2001.
    • Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007.
    • Minneapolis Plan Vault Collections (N115). Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis.
    • R., Rhoda, Holmquist, and June Drenning Gilman. Selections from "Minnesota History": A Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society, 1965.
    • Stipanovich, Joseph. City of Lakes: An Illustrated History of Minneapolis. Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1982.
    • University Of Minnesota. "Scandinavians at the U of M." Letter to Weeklies University of Minnesota 1925-1928 (1928): 1-2.
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