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Pillsbury Hall, University of Minnesota

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Minnesota Historical Society Press
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Pillsbury Hall

Pillsbury Hall, University of Minnesota campus, c.1900. Photographer: James Methven.

Since opening its doors in 1889, Pillsbury Hall has been home to a variety of University of Minnesota departments. It seems fitting that mineralogy and geology were among those disciplines, because the hall resembles a large, multifaceted specimen of rock wrested from the earth and awaiting scientific study.

The building was, in fact, constructed from locally quarried Minnesota stone, much of which retains a rough-hewn character. But the facades also reveal the artistry of the craftsmen who skillfully transformed the hard material into delicate carvings, gargoyles, and polychromatic patterns.

Designed by Leroy Buffington and Harvey Ellis in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Pillsbury Hall also offers lessons in the forces of nature. The large rusticated stones on the lower portion of the building are undeniably anchored by the earth's gravitational pull, and the squat columns of the arcade appear to have narrowly escaped being drawn by that force into the ground. The massive arches of the entrance compress and narrow as they recede, exerting a visual magnetic pull on anyone who ascends the stairways.

The structure, one of the university's oldest extant buildings, stands in the heart of the National Register-listed Old Campus Historic District, once the heart of the land-grant school. In the early twenty first century, the district is only a small sector of the sprawling campus, which boasts stunning newer buildings by many of the stars of the architectural firmament. Although they may be newer and shinier, this crop of turn-of-the-twenty-first-century buildings has done little to diminish the aesthetic and textural charm of the historic hall; in fact, they only serve to counterpoint its beauty.

More than 100 years old, Pillsbury Hall remains a head-turner of a building and an expressive reminder that they certainly don't build them like they used to.

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Turning Point

Named in honor of John S. Pillsbury and designed by Leroy Buffington and Harvey Ellis in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Pillsbury Hall on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis opens its doors in 1889.

Chronology

1889

Pillsbury Hall opens as a science building, part of the first major expansion of the University of Minnesota.

1984

Pillsbury Hall is placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the University of Minnesota's Old Campus Historic District.