October 15, 1889: The Grand Opening of the Pioneer Press Building

(Image courtesy of the MNHS Collections)
The Pioneer Press Building, more recently known as the Pioneer (one half of the Pioneer-Endicott duo) opened for occupancy on October 15, 1889. Considered by the paper at its opening to be the “most magnificent newspaper building in the world” (while recognizing that they were prone to what others would describe as “unwarranted superlatives”), the twelve floor - thirteen story structure was the tallest building located west of Chicago (and remained so until 1915), towering above the other buildings in downtown Saint Paul “like a giant among pygmies”. Located in the center of the city on the corner of Fourth and Robert streets, the owners of the building felt that “the business men of Saint Paul appreciate(d) a good thing” and they looked to provide it for them by offering amenities that couldn't be found in other buildings in the West. The Pioneer boasted a building that was “entirely and absolutely fire proof” with “elevators (that) run night and day the year round”. The “perfectly lighted and ventilated” building was said to be the “most perfectly equipped, elegant, and convenient building of its kind”.


Designed by architect Solon Spencer (S.S.) Beman, the Romanesque Revival style building was thought to be “simple in design, gigantic in proportion and elegant in execution”. Taking nearly two years to build, it was considered the preeminent structure of its class. Because of concerns over the size and weight of the proposed building, extra precautions were made well before the foundation was laid. The Pioneer Press building sits on six hundred pylons underneath a foundation of heavy concrete (up to ten feet in depth in some parts), in order to “prevent Mother Earth from yielding beneath the immense burden … placed upon her”. The foundation was then laid on this reinforced land. The first two stories of the building were built using massive blocks of granite from nearby Saint Cloud, with the rest of the structure being dark shaded pressed brick.


LIghting was provided by gigantic windows adorning the structure and bolstered by “two 100-horsepower engines, each running two dynamos with a capacity of 500 sixteen-candle power lights each”. The eleventh and twelfth floors were lit via switchboard while the first through ten floors offered separate lighting for each room. The woodwork of the building was antique oak, which at the opening of the building glistened from the substantial polishing and the inside boasted beautifully ornate marble corridors. Ventilation was provided by a thirty-six square foot shaft that furnished additional light and air for the entire building. The glass windowed elevators flashed up and down at a rate of three hundred feet per minute.


All of the offices on the first ten floors  (the building had twenty per floor) offered electric lamps, closets, access to lavatories, hot and cold water, fireplaces to brighten a cold and dreary day, and a mailing chute. The top two floors were the home of the Pioneer Press workforce. Located on the eleventh floor was the quarters of the editorial staff as well as the groups that cast the mold for the printing press.  Plates made in a separate stereotyping room with paved floors so that “no molten metal or stray cinder can cause an annoying, though ineffective blaze”. Along the Fourth street side of the building stood the offices of the various editors of the paper, connected so that someone could pass through each of them without having to enter the connecting corridor. The twelfth floor was home to the compositors, the people that arranged the type to be printed for new issues of the paper. It had a twenty five foot ceiling and a nearby lunch room. Breaks were made more enjoyable by adjoining reading and smoking rooms as well as an editorial club room that offered “books, pictures, and a billiards table”. The first issue of the paper composed and delivered from the new building was on October 31, 1889.


Those that had the opportunity to spend time in the Pioneer, boldly called “one of the greatest structures of modern times”, felt like they had been a visitor to a new world - a bustling indoor metropolis. The Pioneer Press professed their confidence in what they were sure was to be a growing city and built a beautiful building at its center as an act of that faith. People came from all corners  to see firsthand one of the largest buildings ever built to that point and to behold what could only have been considered to be a marvel. It was such an exciting time for the city that 40,000 people came out to take part in the grand opening of the building - nearly one-third of the population of Saint Paul. Throughout the years, many firsts would be recognized from inside the doors of the Pioneer building; first commercial broadcast station in MN, first glass walled elevators, and first commercial telephone service (for which the building is adorned with a plaque.


Four additional floors were added to the building in 1910, making the total structure a grand total of sixteen stories high. In 1941 the Pioneer Press building was connected to the Endicott Building (built next door in 1890) to become what is commonly known as the Pioneer-Endicott. Years later, on July 10, 1974 they were added to the National Register of Historic Places. More recently the building(s) has come under the ownership of Saint Paul based PAK Properties, who are renovating the historic structures and developing a mixed use building complete with restaurants, a bar, a health club, museum, wine store and two hundred and thirty four luxury apartments. The first tenants are anticipated to move in May 2014.


Works Cited:

Saint Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press Oct 1, 1889 - Oct 31, 1889
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