Newspaper Row Part 1: The Origins of Newspaper Row and the Tribune Building

PVN recently completed documentation of the Star Tribune Building at 425 Portland Avenue South in Minneapolis. During the course of writing the history of the Star Tribune building, we researched a fascinating bit of Twin Cities’ history: Newspaper Row.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Newspaper Row” occupied the stretch of Fourth Street from First Avenue North to First Avenue South (now Marquette Avenue). According to the late Minneapolis Tribune columnist William J. McNally, Newspaper Row was “filled with glamour and romance.”[1]  In addition to housing the offices and print shops of a half dozen newspapers, the street hosted book binders, printers, a tailor, Regan’s Lunch Room, and a rich cast of characters that populated not only the newspaper offices, but also the neighborhood music halls and taverns.

"Newspaper Row at Nicollet and Fourth," Photograph, ca. 1890, The Minneapolis Photo Collection, Hennepin County Library.

"Newspaper Row at Nicollet and Fourth," Photograph, ca. 1890, The Minneapolis Photo Collection, Hennepin County Library.

As home to the Saturday Evening Spectator, the Minneapolis Journal, the Minneapolis Tribune, the Penny Press, the Minneapolis Times, and the Minneapolis offices of the St. Paul Globe and The Pioneer Press, Newspaper Row was driven by competition.[2] Reporters from the various papers may have gathered together for a meal at Regan’s or for drinks and debate at Shiek’s Café (45-47 South Third Street), but their livelihoods, and the success of the newspapers for which they worked, depended on a writer’s ability to be the first to break a story. The camaraderie and rivalries motivated writers and editors from the 1880s until the 1940s, when the Tribune staff moved to the Star Journal building (the site of the former Star Tribune building) on Portland Avenue South, leaving the Times as the last paper on Newspaper Row.

The Origins of Newspaper Row and the Tribune Building

Minneapolis City Hall circa 1870. The second sign above the awning reads "Daily Tribune." ("City Hall on Bridge Square," Photograph, Negative No. 84434, ca. 1870, Minnesota Historical Society).

Minneapolis City Hall circa 1870. The second sign above the awning reads "Daily Tribune." ("City Hall on Bridge Square," Photograph, Negative No. 84434, ca. 1870, Minnesota Historical Society).

During the 1860s and 1870s, the section of Fourth Street that would become Newspaper Row was a residential area housing Minneapolis notables, such as Samuel C. Gale, while many of the local newspapers had offices on nearby streets.[3]  In the early 1870s the Tribune and the Pioneer Press, which served both cities from 1876 to 1890, had offices on nearby Washington Avenue.[4] By 1873, the Tribune began renting offices in the new Minneapolis City Hall building, at First and Second streets between Hennepin and Nicollet.[5]  The Journal had offices at Brackett Block, a large limestone office building at the corner of First Avenue South (Marquette) and Second Street, and the Saturday Evening Spectator and the St. Paul Globe were both housed on South Second Street.[6] 

Minneapolis Tribune Building, 1886. ("Tribune Building - later Phoenix Building - Fourth Street and First Avenue South, Minneapolis," Photograph, 1886, Negative Number 62513, Minnesota Historical Society.

Minneapolis Tribune Building, 1886. ("Tribune Building - later Phoenix Building - Fourth Street and First Avenue South, Minneapolis," Photograph, 1886, Negative Number 62513, Minnesota Historical Society.

After renting office space from the city for a few years, the Minneapolis Tribune hired well-known local architect LeRoy Buffington to design a new office building that was completed in 1884. The seven-story building combined elements of Queen Anne and Renaissance Revival styles and featured a marble-clad six arch arcade on the ground floor. The upper stories featured gables and arches clad in red brick and terra cotta. The building, with its brick cladding and iron frame, was considered fireproof.[7] The Tribune celebrated its new building as, “…the most complete and best arranged building for newspaper purposes west of Philadelphia.”[8]  

Minneapolis Tribune Advertisement. (Minneapolis City Directory, 1888-1889, 141 Minneapolis City Directory Collection, 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmvault.com/Hennepin2/)

The Tribune’s printing presses operated in the building’s basement. The upper floors housed the Tribune offices, while attorneys, architects, insurance agents and real estate brokers rented office space on the lower floors. Other newspapers, including the Minneapolis Journal, which quickly followed the Tribune’s lead and began construction on its own office building on Fourth Street, and the Pioneer Press, also rented office space in the building.[10] In addition to using the building as a source of rental income, the Tribune employed images of the building in its advertisements, such as the paper’s full-page ad in the 1888-1889 Minneapolis City Directory, and anticipated that the building’s commanding street presence would also act as a marketing tool.

Ruins of the Tribune Building, Fourth Street and First Avenue South, Minneapolis. (Photograph, 1889, Negative Number 62507, Minnesota Historical Society.)

Ruins of the Tribune Building, Fourth Street and First Avenue South, Minneapolis. (Photograph, 1889, Negative Number 62507, Minnesota Historical Society.)

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the four-year old building on November 30, 1889. At approximately 10:15pm that evening a fire began on the building’s third floor, presumably in two rooms filled with waste paper, and devoured the wooden staircase that surrounded the building’s elevator shaft. As the fire grew and consumed the wood and paper essential to newspaper printing, it left “reporters, editors, and compositors” trapped on the upper floors of the building, unable to escape because the stairs were ablaze and the elevator shaft was filled with smoke and fire. It took fifteen minutes for the fire department to arrive, by which time the entire building was engulfed in flames.  The fire escape ladders were too hot to use and men hung out the windows waiting for the ladders on the fire trucks to reach them.  The fire left seven dead, thirty injured, and led to the first fire investigation in a Minneapolis high-rise. A.J. Blethen, the paper’s general manager, rushed to the St. Paul offices of the St. Paul Globe to ensure the printing of a special December 1, 1889 issue of the Tribune that chronicled the fire and commemorated the lives lost.[11] After the fire, the Tribune was temporarily housed in the Rochester Block while construction began on a new building.[12]   

Next up: Within months of the devastating Tribune fire, the St. Paul Globe and the Minneapolis Journal move to their new buildings on Fourth Street and a consolidated newspaper district is established.

Citations:

  1. Bradley L. Morrison, Sunlight on Your Doorstep: The Minneapolis Tribune’s First Hundred Years, 1867-1967 (Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, Inc., 1996), 47.
  2. Ibid, 51.
  3. A.J. Russell, Fourth Street (Minneapolis: The Torch Printing Press, 1917), 9; Minneapolis City Directory, 1876, 109, Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/; Larry Millett, Lost Twin Cities (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992), 40.
  4. Minneapolis City Directory, 1871-1872, 117, Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/.
  5. Minneapolis City Directory, 1873, 36, Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/; Millett, Lost Twin Cities, 90.
  6. Minneapolis City Directory, 1879-1880, 396, Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/; Millett, 54.
  7. Millett, 176-77.
  8. Christison, 226.
  9. Minneapolis City Directory, 1888-1889, 124, Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/; Ben Welter, “Dec. 1, 1889: Fire guts Tribune Building,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), Dec. 1, 2012, http://www.startribune.com/local/blogs/78385782.html.  Millett, 177.
  10. Minneapolis Tribune advertisement, Minneapolis City Directory, 1888-1889, 141 Minneapolis City Directory Collection 1859-1922, Hennepin County Library, http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2/; Millett, 176.  For more on newspaper buildings as marketing tools, see Katherine M. Solomonson, The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition: Skyscraper Design and Cultural Change in the 1920s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001): 99-107.
  11. Welter, “Fire guts Tribune Building;” Millett, 177.
  12. Rev. Marian D. Sutter, History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, Volume I (Minneapolis: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923), 441.