Historic Structures

Building Description Berman Buckskin Building - Home Insurance Company Building, Minneapolis Minnesota

This is a five story red brick building with carved ornamental stone lintels and stone banding, 80' x 160'. Stylistically, it is a lighter interpretation of the Richardsonian Romanesque, which has also been characterized as Commercial Queen Anne. The building has a substantial amount of relief on the two principal facades and ornamental brickwork such as lentils topping the first floor display window openings.

The Hennepin Avenue facade is organized into five bays with a projecting central entry bay that is flanked with large brick pilasters. A brick base defines the street level. The next three stories are organized vertically with stacked window openings in arched recesses at the fourth floor. The North First Street elevation is a continuation of this theme with a symmetrical pattern of eleven bays. The original Hennepin Avenue storefronts have been destroyed and are infilled with newer materials. The North First Street side of the building has also been infilled at the storefronts on the southern bays. The six western bays along North First Street have original wood frames for storefront display windows and the westernmost bay has original window transoms on the first floor. The other bays have wood infill and an overhead loading dock door.

The building permits and notices of construction indicate that the building was originally designed as a four story building, but a fifth floor was added during construction. The original building permit issued on October 9, 1894, placed the estimated cost of this brick store and office building at $35,000, to which was added $13,000-15,000 for an additional floor and an area under sidewalk, according to a December 26, 1894 permit. However, all five stories were constructed together in late 1894 and 1895.

The building design shows a shift in window rhythm and size between the lower four floors and the top, or fifth floor. When the fifth floor was added, the character and size of the windows changed from double sets on the lower floor to triple sets on the top floor. Since construction, above the fifth floor, projecting non-continuous cornices have been removed, as well as the brick panelled parapet and projecting brick piers capped with stone coping. In their place is a flat unornamented brick parapet painted black with white "Berman Buckskin" lettering. The brick piers projecting above the parapet have also been removed.

The northwest wall on the alley is faced in yellow common brick laid in American Bond. The wall to the northeast is similar, except where it forms a party wall with Gluek Brewing Company Hotel and Saloon. This party wall is random ashlar and is visible between the two buildings on the northwest wall.

Contemporary newspapers, permits, and publications such as The Inland Architect, Western Architect, Northwestern Architect, and The Improvement Bulletin do not mention an architect for this building. Because the original contractors and subcontractors are mentioned in the written record, but not an architect, we believe that the building was designed in-house by the H. N. Leighton Company. Because the Leighton Company had designers and draughtsmen on staff, it is likely that they designed the building themselves.

The H. N. Leighton Company was a large-volume general contractor, builder, and decorator in Minnesota. The company was started by Horace N. Leighton (1852-1927) who moved from Maine to Minneapolis in 1876. The H. N. Leighton Company was incorporated in 1892 and grew to be one of the large general contractors in the state. A decorating department was added in 1881 to give the company the ability to complete buildings ready for occupancy. Horace Leighton was a member of the Minneapolis City Council from 1898-1902; the Minneapolis School Board, 1909-ca. 1921; the first president of the Minneapolis Builders Exchange, 1902; and president of the northwest branch of the Associated General Contractors of America, 1922. Associated with Horace Leighton was Fred A. Leighton, vice-president and manager J. LeRoy Leighton, who both joined the company around 1905. Eben E. Leighton joined his brother, Horace, in 1893.

The Leighton Company was the general contractor, but not the architect, for many large buildings in Minneapolis including the Farmers and Mechanics Building (1891), the Northwestern Bank Building, the Wyman-Partridge Building, the first two Minneapolis downtown post office buildings, the Dayton Building, the Metropolitan Life Building, the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company building, the Advance Thresher Company building, the Emerson-Brantingham warehouse, the Great Northern warehouse building, and Minneapolis churches among which were the Pro-Cathedral, the Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Wesley Methodist Church, and the fifth and sixth Christian Science churches.