The Foshay Tower, in Minneapolis Minnesota, officially opened in September of 1929, with a blowout party that included Hollywood stars and national political figures, each of whom reportedly received a gold watch just for showing up. John Philip Sousa had been commissioned to write a march; his fee was $20,000.
At 446 feet this towering obelisk was the tallest building in the city – and a monument to the ego of Wilbur Foshay, a local wheeler-dealer who was by then on his 3rd round of debt-financed takeovers of regional utilities. He’d sold another $4 million in stock to put up the building, which featured his name in illuminated 10-foot letters on every side. In another era, he might have gone on to have a reality TV show and be elected President.
But Wilbur Foshay’s luck was running out. A few weeks after the gala, the stock market crashed, taking his entire pyramid scheme down with it. His company folded, his check to Sousa bounced. Within a couple of years he faced federal charges of fraud, and eventually had another big opening event – at Leavenworth Penitentiary.
Today the tower stands in the shade of much taller buildings, but its classic Art Deco architecture – and terrific back story – made it an icon, helping it survive decades of surrounding and growth, and in 2008 it became the posh W. Hotel (and I assume the “W” is for “Wilbur”). You can still go up to the observation deck on the 30th floor and get a great view. There’s supposed to be a very retro-cool little bar on the 27th floor; I haven’t been there. Maybe someday.