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.
Its classic Art Deco architecture – and terrific back story – made it an icon, helping it survive decades of surrounding development and growth, and in 2008 it became the posh W. Hotel (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.
Today, the building that was once the only “skyscraper” in town is a bit hemmed in by younger neighbors – but it still stands tall.