The area west of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge where Hennepin and Nicollet avenues converge has always been a historic cornerstone of the City of Minneapolis and the gateway to the Hennepin Theatre District. Today, it is home to one of the newest contemporary skyscrapers in downtown, named the RBC Gateway in recognition of the legacy it continues. The 37-story building houses the city’s only five-star hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis.
From the construction of the first Hennepin Avenue Bridge in 1855 to the turn of the twentieth century, the area was known as Bridge Square. It was a hub of cultural milestones, housing a number of cosmopolitan entertainment centers including the Pence Opera House, the Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Opera House. It was home to the city’s first sophisticated hotel, the Nicollet House; the old Minneapolis City Hall and Court House, as well as the city’s first electric streetlight and farmer’s market. This vibrant hub of banking, retail, restaurants and libation halls expanded rapidly, and by the turn of the century, this city center would outgrow its boarders as Minneapolis developed in all directions.
The early twentieth century saw Bridge Square reinvented as Gateway Park in 1915, with the first wave of urban renewal projects sweeping the city with a Beaux-Arts remodel, new city park and welcoming center. Across the avenue, the Great Norther Railroad Depot created a sense of a grand entrance to welcome new arrivals to the city. The Nicollet House hotel was rebuilt as the New Nicollet Hotel with modern amenities.
The prospering area grew to immense proportions until it could no longer support itself. The Great Depression of the 1930s witnessed this thriving area turn for the worst, and by the end of WWII, the beautiful Beaux-Arts buildings of the past had fallen into disrepair. In the 1950s, a new wave of urban renewal projects demolished over 200 of the dilapidated buildings replacing them with new, modern structures. The River Towers Apartments and the Minoru Yamasaki-designed Northwest National Life Insurance building transformed the area with a Midcentury Modern aesthetic.
Through restoration efforts led by Hennepin Theatre Trust in the 1990s, today’s Theatre District is a campus of theatres, restaurants, public art installations, education and commerce. The opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis at RBC Gateway and the newly renovated Hennepin Avenue once again create a grand entrance to the cultural epicenter of our city. We hope you enjoy this exhibit that takes you from the days before settlement, through the ups and downs of nearly two centuries of progress, to the new visions of the twenty-first century.
All organizations listed have partnered with us on this exhibit.
- The James K. Hosmer Special Collection at the Hennepin County Library Central Branch has a wealth of information on the history of The Gateway and Native American history.
- The Minneapolis Athenaeum, also held at the Hennepin County Library Central Branch, has a large collection of works on Native American history.
- Professor Eric Buffalohead at Augsburg University heads a department on American Indian, First Nations and Indigenous Studies for further learning.
- Visit our additional partners for more on The Gateway, Native American history and the downtown Theater District:
- Special thanks to our neighborhood partner and exciting new addition to the downtown Theater District, Four Seasons Hotel.