Historic Structures

St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse, St. Paul Minnesota

Date added: June 23, 2010 Categories: Minnesota Courthouse Art Deco

The project to build a new city hall was initiated shortly before the 1929 stock market crash. In the years following the crash, construction projects were often changed in order to cut costs and appease the general public. The economic situation did not result in cost trimming changes on the proposed Saint Paul City Hall. Drops in labor and material costs, and the availability of master craftsmen more than compensated for most budget costs. In fact, the City Hall building, complete with furnishings and art work, cost only $3,800,000 - $200,000 less than the original bond.

The Saint Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse is a stunning example of innovative public architecture from the American Depression Era. Commissioned in 1930, and completed in 1931 by Holabird and Root of Chicago and Ellerbe and Company of Saint Paul, the City Hall design uses two Art Deco styles known as "American Perpendicular" and "Zigzag Moderne". The use of Art Deco styles and the incorporation of technologically advanced functional features in the new City Hall building make it a distinctively "modern" structure In the context of 1930's architecture. Art works which symbolically depict the progressive ideals of a modern industrial society add to the futuristic image of the architecture. Because it was constructed of the highest quality materials and is an excellent representative of a past style in the contemporary built environment, the City Hall is still considered an architectural masterpiece and a landmark in the city of Saint Paul.

By the mid-1920's, the old City Hall building at Fifth and Washington Streets could no longer accommodate the spatial needs of city and county offices. In 1928, a four million dollar public bond was approved for the erection of a new Courthouse and City Hall building. A nine member Advisory Courthouse and City Hall Commission was established in 1929 to direct the building project.

The first step toward 1931 completion of the new City Hall building was the purchase for $500,000 of the block bordered by Wabasha, Third (Kellogg Boulevard), St. Peter, and Fourth Streets in the downtown area along the river. In addition, the Commission conducted a survey of courthouses in major U.S. cities to identify "how other cities have gone about the securing of architectural services for their new buildings, what type of buildings are being constructed, and the various architectural details of these buildings."

The Commission resolved to appoint a Saint Paul architect to be associated with an architect of national reputation. All Saint Paul architects were sent a letter outlining the project, and a number of non-resident architects were invited to appear before the Commission. At its meeting of February 3, 1930, the Commission selected Holabird and Root of Chicago and Ellerbe and Company of Saint Paul to work jointly on the project. Holabird and Root was responsible for the basic design of the structure; Ellerbe and Company, working under the supervision of Holabird and Root, detailed the Holabird and Root design.

The contract for the construction of the Saint Paul City Hall was awarded to Foley Brothers of Saint Paul. After much disagreement between the architects and construction company over the quality and cut of the stone, Indiana limestone was used for the building.

The original appearance of the Saint Paul City Hall has not been altered. Double thermopane glass was installed on all outside windows to minimize heating and cooling losses. The new windows match the appearance of the original windows and were approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer.