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Cass Gilbert's Vision

Gilbert finished the Capitol Building in 1905, but he hadn’t stopped there. In addition to hand picking many of the world noted painters and artisans for the work in adorning the Capitol, Gilbert also designed many pieces of furniture, and today, the MN State Capitol holds over 800 pieces of original furniture, the largest collection of such furniture of any of the state capitol buildings.

Beyond that, Gilbert, in 1902, laid out a symmetrical slightly expanded front yard for his Capitol Building with a mall flanked by some buildings and ceremonial spaces stretching to the old Capitol site in downtown (a plan later affectionately termed ‘the Mall of Nations’, which, fast forward to the 80's, would span a short segment of the Interstate Commons Sections). In the following year, his plan would go on to lay out and design special approach, view corridors and open spaces around and reaching out in various key directions, including a broad green avenue stretching west into the very special neighborhood surrounding Summit Avenue, past the future site of the Cathedral, another stretching down Cedar Street into the heart of downtown Saint Paul and a more ambiguous central axis/view shed past a future war memorial (at the site of today’s Veterans Services Building) through what was then seven corners (Kellogg and West Seventh) on across the river bluffs and beyond into Dakota County via Smith Avenue.

These latter ideas would stretch even further and become more legitimate in ensuing years as Gilbert continued with planning of the area, even to 1931, when he added buildings to flank his expanded front yard,  not only at the new Historical Society site but also the mirror to the west for the State Office Building and site plans that would eventually foreshadow the Transportation and Centennial Buildings.

Despite all the plans, little actually changed until the 1940's, and by that time the ‘front yard’ had taken on more of a fan shape with future buildings splaying outward to frame the eventual Capitol Mall framed by state buildings.

In 1967, the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Joint Commission (later renamed the Planning Board with zoning responsibilities added), embracing the concepts of Gilbert’s planning, with design competitions in the ‘70's and ‘80's for the Mall reinforcing and putting flesh to organizing principles and an actual design framework to the development of a Mall grown now to roughly thirty-six acres with a number of street vacations and removal in favor of a consolidated pedestrian space.

More Information:

The Cass Gilbert Society
Cass Gilbert - Standing the Test of Time

"We built the State Capitol on the theory that nothing was too good for Minnesota. Let us develop the city on the theory that nothing is too good for Saint Paul."

- Cass Gilbert, in remarks to the Saint Paul Municipal Art Association, Saint Paul Dispatch (January 11, 1909)

Feature image for Capitol Construction
Capitol Construction
Cass Gilbert during the construction of the Capitol; May 9, 1901. (Image Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)
Feature image for Gilbert's 1903 Vision
Gilbert's 1903 Vision
The 1903 plan with buildings along the Cedar Street mall, the war memorial approach extending to Seven Corners and an axis up to the yet to be built Cathedral. (Image from CAAPB's archives).
Feature image for Gilbert's 1931 Plan
Gilbert's 1931 Plan
A rendering of Gilbert's grand plan of 1931 with the Seven Corners approach continuing across the river to St. Paul's West Side. State buildings surround a plaza in front of the capitol. (Image from CAAPB's archives).
Feature image for Capitol Area 1940
Capitol Area 1940
A view above Seven Corners, lower right, to the capitol, around 1940. (Image from CAAPB's archives).
Feature image for Capitol Area Today
Capitol Area Today
May 25, 2017 Direct Link
The Capitol Mall has grown to roughly thirty-six acres today with a number of street vacations in favor of consolidated pedestrian space. (Image from Google Earth, 2017).
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