Soo Line Building, 501 Marquette, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.9786302691505° N, 93.26923370317672° WLatitude: 44°58′43.069″N
The First National Soo Line Building held the corporate headquarters for two of Minneapolis’ most successful companies, The First National Bank and the Sault Ste. Marie Railway (the Soo Line).
“The Last Word in Modern Office Buildings”
Construction of the First National Soo Line Building began on May 1, 1914 and was completed March 1, 1915. At nineteen stories, it was Minnesota’s tallest building and remained Minneapolis’ tallest building until the construction of the 26 story Foshay Tower in 1929. New York architect Robert Gibson designed the Soo Line building in the classical Renaissance Revival and Beaux Arts style, featuring a prominent cornice, symmetrical facade and balconies. According to architecture critic Larry Millett, the building's white terra cotta facade was a departure from the darker, Victorian buildings that had dominated downtown Minneapolis ("Soo Line-First National Bank," p. 93). Robert Gibson’s other work includes the 1905 Vanderbilt family mansion in New York City, which is home to Cartier’s 5th Avenue Boutique today.
Great excitement surrounded the opening of the skyscraper; 5,000 people attended the Soo Line Building’s opening reception on March 1 and rode one of the building’s nine elevators to get a view of Minneapolis from the nineteenth floor. Originally 2,500 invitations were sent out for the reception, but when a crowd of 5,000 gathered to watch the president of Thompson & Starrett Company, the contractor, turn the keys over to the presidents of the Soo Line Company and First National Bank, anyone who wished to was allowed to enter the building.
A glowing Minneapolis Tribune
article on the building called it the “last word in modern office buildings” and praised its combination of “beauty and utility” (“Last Word in Skyscrapers Is Occupied by Tenants Today,” p. 1). The 268-foot-tall building featured 70,000 square feet of window glass, the largest glass contract of its time in the Northwest, and 4,500 cubic yards of Minnesota limestone. To protect against fires, the Soo Line Building was virtually wood free, constructed chiefly from cement, marble, tile, and metal. According to the article, the building was equipped with the latest modern conveniences such as mail chutes, fire alarms, vacuum cleaners, and temperature regulators (p. 1). The construction process of the Soo Line Building was modern as well; it was one of the first buildings in Minneapolis to use electric motors to raise materials instead of gasoline-powered hoisting engines. After construction was completed, the electric motors were used to power the elevators. Tragically, despite the use of the modern motors, an accident during the construction of the Soo Line Building caused the death of two workers when a steel girder in the process of being hoisted fell.
The first floor of the Soo Line Building housed the Soo Line ticket offices, while the Soo Line Company offices were located on the top floors. The stately First National Bank occupied the second floor, with twenty-foot-tall ceilings and large arched windows on three sides. The building also housed various private offices and contained a barbershop and manicure parlors when it first opened. In addition, the building featured an assembly hall, which was the site of public meetings such as a 1915 meeting of the City Congress, made up of different Minneapolis neighborhood associations and a 1916 public hearing about rising food prices called in response to complaints by the Housewives’ League. In 1917, a Red Cross office was opened in the Soo Line building, which was responsible for launching Minneapolis bond drives during World War I.
First National Bank, now known as U.S. Bancorp, and its offices remained in the First National Soo Line Building until 1960 when they moved into a new skyscraper on Nicollet Avenue. The Soo Line Company was purchased by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1992 and still has offices in the First National Soo Line Building, which is called 501 Marquette today. The lower floors of the building, which once housed the Soo Line ticket office and First National Bank, have been subdivided into offices and the tall arched windows of the bank have been replaced with smaller square windows. However, the upper portions of the exterior remain largely unchanged. The exterior clock at the corner of the building is original and still keeps time.
Memories and stories
Downtown, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1. "$24000 a Minute Needed to Make Red Cross Drive Success” Minneapolis Morning Tribune (1909-1922)
, June 9, 1917.
2. "Citizens' Congress" to handle Civic Problem." Minneapolis Morning Tribune (1909-1922)
, November 7, 1915.
3. City of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission. “Soo Line Building.” City of Minneapolis 
4. “Coroner’s Jury Begins Accident Inquiry Today.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune (1909-1922)
, August 21, 1914.
5. Emporis. “501 Marquette” Emporis Corporation 
6. “Housewives’ League Seeks Federal Aid in Food Price attack.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune (1909-1922)
, November 29,1916.
7. “Last Word in Skyscrapers Is Occupied by Tenants Today.” Minneapolis Morning Tribune (1909-1922)
, March 28, 1915.
8. Millett, Larry. “Soo Line-First National Bank.” Minnesota History
61 (2009): 93.
9. “Tallest Building in State is Opened With Reception.” Minneapolis Tribune (1909-1922), March 1, 1915.