The Landmark Mystery

One of downtown St. Paul, Minnesota’s most visible landmarks is the aptly named Landmark Center. I’m no architecture geek, but the 106-year-old building’s granite exterior is plenty striking – especially in a downtown which has undergone heavy “modernization” in the stainless-steel-and-glass skyscraper era.

While the building today is mostly an art and history center, it used to be, for the first half of the 20th century, the federal government building in St. Paul. That, if anything, makes the building’s decorative mysteries even more of a puzzle. Granted, unusual decoration on government buildings is hardly uncommon – City Hall here has some 1930s carved murals on the walls, courtesy of the WPA, which would have been right at home in the Soviet Union of the 1950s – but, usually, the symbolism is of a fairly predictably patriotic or idealistic nature. And, where there is simply decoration for decoration’s sake, it’s usually at least relatively symmetrical.

The decorations on the Landmark Center are neither. I’ve long joked that the carvings on the exterior were done as an afterthought, and are actually samples sourced – cheaply – from a supplier; I’ve also joked that the building was designed by a committee who were both highly non-confrontational and aesthetically challenged. “Should we flank the door with celtic-style strapwork carvings, or vines and flowers? Ah, screw it, let’s just the one on one side, and the other on the opposite side.”

I wonder, though, if there wasn’t a more conscious effort behind the design – and whether anyone knows what it was. Were freemasons involved? Some strange religious sect? Or is there some other explanation? If you’ve got it, don’t keep it to yourself…

Here’s a great example of what I’m taking about – the main, 5th Street entrance:

…is surmounted by carvings of, of all things, an owl:

…and a bat:

Weird, non?

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on April 21st, 2008| Comments Off on The Landmark Mystery

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