Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Part 1: Significant Midcentury Design

Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Building 345 Cedar Street St. Paul

Prior to PVN’s involvement with the building, the Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company Building in Saint Paul was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as part of a potential historic district of buildings in downtown Saint Paul. It was believed that the building was not individually eligible because it lacked integrity—the lobby had been altered from its original appearance and an art piece had been removed.

PVN’s research team argued that the Ellerbee-designed flagship office building was individually eligible for the NRHP and significant for its association with the local Minnesota Mutual Insurance Life Company and for its representation of Midcentury office building design. Midcentury office buildings express corporate identity through their exterior design rather than through their interior configuration.

The Minnesota State Review Board recommended the building for listing in the NRHP in March of 2017. The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Building is currently being rehabilitated as housing. The $32 million project has access to nearly $10 million in historic tax credits as a result of PVN’s understanding of Midcentury corporate architecture and our ability to achieve individual designation for a building that had been dismissed by others. PVN is proud to be part of a team that is leading the way in the preservation and rehabilitation of Midcentury buildings in Saint Paul.

This month's blog series will feature the history and future of the Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company Building.

The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company Building

The Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company Building, located at 345 Cedar Street, in Saint Paul was dedicated on August 6, 1955 – the first new office building to be constructed in downtown Saint Paul since the Great Depression. The building itself is an eight level International Style office building, designed by local architecture firm Ellerbe and Company for local insurance company Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance. During the period of significance for this building, Minnesota Mutual had branch offices located in every state of the Union and enjoyed recognition as the largest insurance agency in Saint Paul and as one of the 25 largest agencies in the country.

The building exhibits a simple rectangular massing, made distinctive by its unique exterior material palate. The building is clad in stacked square panels of yellow Kasota stone at the upper levels and black granite at the water table. At the primary façade, ribbon windows at each level emphasize the building’s distinct horizontal orientation, while a large projecting cornice with an angled soffit reveals a set of square, bright yellow, porcelain-enamel panels. A projecting entry block with storefront-style windows provides visual access between the building’s public lobby and Cedar Street. The building's distinctive modern design helped usher in a new image and marketing strategy for Minnesota Mutual, and played an instrumental part in the company's prosperity over the following decades.