By Coco Mault
Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul has been the center of attention since it was built in 1902. At that time, St. Paul was growing quickly; and the federal courthouse and post office were no exception. They were in need of a bigger home than what could be provided in their original building at Fifth and Wabasha.
It’s an easily recognizable building — definitely one that demands to be looked at. It is not crowded by other buildings and the height of its facade surely was more than a little intimidating to anyone who was put on trial inside. It is castle-like with a steep rooftop and several turrets — the pitch of the roof was functional as well. According to Landmark Center’s website, the angle of the rooftop helped to shed the city’s heavy snows.
Inside visitors are met with an equally grand view of a five-story courtyard topped with an entire ceiling of windows. The area is lined with marble columns and the woodwork is carved mahogany. Their website describes the building as “Richardsonian Romanesque is similar to the Old Post Office Building in Washington D.C.”
Today, no more trials take place in Landmark Center — except for the occasional trial re-enactment, mail is no longer sorted here, and there are certainly no prisoners waiting in cells. Being the center of a city demands a certain amount of responsibility, though, and even after 105 years, Landmark Center does its part to keep St. Paul interesting and exciting.
For those looking for just a quick history of the building, check out the post office mock up inside the main hall. Don’t be shy — push the button for “3 Cent Stamp,” a two-and-a-half minute video of Landmark Center’s history. It’s a pretty cute display; After pushing the button a video begins, and it looks as though an old post office worker is walking up to a post office window. There are even actual old p.o. boxes next to the screen. Once the man arrives at the window he shares a few interesting and historical facts about the building.
Just behind this video installation is “Uncle Sam Worked Here,” an exhibit with a more comprehensive timeline of the Landmark Building and St. Paul’s history, featuring large placards of famous faces the Landmark Center has seen, such as gangster Alvin “Creepy” Carpus (he was tried in a courtroom just upstairs), but the main focus of the exhibit is about the city’s workers. To help keep visitors in the mindset of a time gone by, large shades covering the windows are printed with old sepia-toned street scenes. The Ramsey County Historical Society has exhibits on display on this floor as well.
This lobby exhibit is a nice display on its own, but it also serves as an introduction to the building’s history and encourages visitors to venture throughout the building to even more exhibits. The lower level houses the Landmark Gallery where visitors can view a permanent exhibition about the building’s history as well as find out more about the people who contributed to its success.
Visitors will find the Schubert Club Museum on the second floor. This club promotes the art of music. Be sure to view their massive music-themed sculpture at the museum’s entrance. There is a cyclone of instruments bursting upward through a grand piano. Landmark Center is also home to the American Association of Woodturners Gallerie.
The fifth floor is where Minnesota congressman Andrew Volstead lead the local office of the Prohibition Bureau. If his name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that — he’s the fellow who wrote the prohibition act.
During the week, Landmark Center has many events that cater to the lunchtime crowd. Who could argue with getting out of the office to see a live performance over lunch? Free programs include Ballet Tuesdays, an hour-long performance during the lunch hour beginning at noon. Guests are allowed to bring a bag lunch or purchase lunch at Anita’s Cafe inside Landmark Center. There are so many nooks to explore and facts to ooh and ahh over that hopefully visitors will be able to swing by for more than lunch from time to time.
For more information call 651.690.1588, or check out more of their public programs on their calendar. Information about gallery hours within the Landmark Center can be found here.
75 West 5th Street
Saint Paul, MN
Hours: Mon. – Fri. 8 am to 5 pm; Thurs. 8 am to 8 pm; Sun. 12 pm to 5 pm