A few years ago I listed a mid-century home in St. Louis Park that was designed by architect Ed Baker. One of my favorite things about specializing in modern properties is the exposure I get to different architects and designers of these cool houses. As I was delving into the background and history of Mr. Baker, I discovered that he not only designed this particular home but that he also lived in it with his family. Another significant discovery was that he is also credited with designing the original sections of the Skyway system for one of the areas largest real estate developers, Leslie Parker, in downtown Minneapolis.
In the mid fifties, in an effort to revitalize the cities retail core, Parker began promoting his idea of covered walkways. Park was able to test his plan in 1959, when his Baker Properties began designing the Northstar Center at Seventh Street and Marquette Avenue. As part of the design, Park included a pedestrian bridge spanning Marquette Avenue. The bridge linked his new development to the Northwestern National Bank building across the street. By 1972, seven skyways were in use in the downtown core, but not all seven were interconnected. In the next year, the IDS Center on Nicollet Avenue was completed. It was the first major downtown development designed to accommodate skyway connections on all four of its sides. The building’s strategic location enabled it to connect the skyways in the Marquette office district with those serving the retail stores along Nicollet.
Which leads me to the other interesting piece of history that I discovered about Ed Baker. Because he specialized in commercial architecture and was very active in downtown real estate, Phillip Johnson (the architect of the IDS) hired him to be on staff for completing the IDS Center.
Over the last 60 years the skyway has become the world’s largest indoor system with over 10 miles of walkways connecting various buildings over a 69 block area. The history varies a bit on what the exact date the skyway system officially started but 1962 seems to be repeated most times.
As coincidence would have it, I am now involved with another fabulous mid-century home with a very similar history regarding its architect. My new listing at 6417 Mendelssohn Lane in Edina was also designed by a commercial architect from the fifties for himself and his family. David Griswold had more in common with Ed Baker than just the style of home they preferred to live in and the profession they shared. Griswold is credited with designing the first skyway in St. Paul, MN in 1956.
It was a simply designed, convenient way to get to the Golden Rule shopping store on (then) Eighth Street (now Seventh Place) and Minnesota street from their parking lot across the street. It was a very basic, crude structure, measuring roughly 8 feet wide with a concrete floor over a metal deck. It also didn’t have heating or air conditioning. It was however a very convenient way to get to and from the store without having to navigate through (at the time) one of the busiest intersections of both trolley lines and pedestrians in the city. Though not as extensive as the Minneapolis skyway, the St. Paul version consists of 5 miles of protection from the elements and links some 47 blocks.
6417 Mendelssohn Lane Edina, MN
Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: the Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007.
Nathanson, Iric. Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: The Growth of an American City. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.
Podolske, Richard C. “Skyways in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Prototypes for the Nation?” Submitted for presentation at Planning 75: Innovation and Action, October 25–29, 1975.