Residential Architecture of Minneapolis and Saint Paul

Architecture tours of Minneapolis & Saint Paul

Irvine Park house

Irvine Park home

Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer a vast array of styles, most designed and built before the invasion of the post-WWII cookie-cutter, so you will not see any two alike. 

For residential architecture,  which city has more to offer?  They both get a blue ribbon.   However, both cities are unique in their offerings. 

First, it is important to understand that, although both cities were born at the same time (the 1820s), Saint Paul quickly became a thriving hub of shipping and mercantilism.  Minneapolis, meanwhile, remained a military reservation to operate lumber and grist mills into the 1850s.  As a result, Saint Paul has a much older feel to it; Minneapolis, certainly a bit more modern…although not entirely so.

Saint Paul Residential Architecture

Saint Paul’s 4-1/2 mile long Summit Avenue presents the best preserved, Victorian, residential architecture remaining in the United States.  Summit, along with several adjacent neighborhoods of the “Hill District,” are on the National Register of Historic Sites.  The oldest home on Summit is 1858.

This is an astounding journey through a time machine bringing you back to life in the Gilded Age, an age described in 1899 by local economist, Thorstein Veblen, as one of “conspicuous consumption.” 

And that included one’s home.

It is a monumental parade of classical, revivalist styles: Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, Italian Villa, and Colonial to name a few.  The merchant princes and shipping magnates who had them built spared no expense.

Writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis and other local literati used to sit on this Queen Anne front porch on Saint Paul's Summit Avenue.

Not everyone was impressed.  The oft acerbic Frank Lloyd Wright,  who fought against revivalist pressures while introducing the uniquely American  Prairie School style, called Summit Avenue, “The worst collection of architecture in the world.”

For the record:  I do not agree with that statement.

Wright was likely less edgy in Minneapolis, where he designed a few homes and the Prairie School becomes a significant part of the architectural tapestry.


Minneapolis Residential Architecture

On the Minneapolis side, the impressive, endless parade continues, but these homes date back only to the 1890s.  The Prairie School influence is very evident, and around the city lakes there are also many beautifully-designed contemporary homes among more stately older mansions.

The Lowry Hill area is the “Summit Avenue” of Minneapolis.  This is where some of the lumbering and milling families built their palaces.

Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of early city planners, private ownership of waterfront was not allowed.  Lake and river shores became part of Minneapolis’ extensive park system.   There can be no city anywhere more suited to strolling, biking or rollerblading than Minneapolis.

It also means the parade of homes around the city lakes is spectacular, and we get to drive between views of the lakes on one side,  and the homes on the other.   Over the lakes we can see the downtown Minneapolis skyline. 

Off in surrounding secluded neighborhoods, we find, besides the Wright-designed home,  many others by his contemporaries, including George Washington Maher, William Purcell, and George Elmsie.


See also the following links for architecture in the twin Cities:





Architecture tours of Minneapolis & Saint Paul



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Thank you Doug for being our guide at Lakewood Chapel and six churches in the Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was time well spent – appreciated the history that accompanied each location. I was not familiar with the “St. Louis, King of France” church – the stained glass windows that echoed the history of the French Canadians was definitely “WOW.”

Linda F
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