by Joseph A. Taylor
Tile Heritage Foundation
With all of the hoopla surrounding the renovation and reopening of the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis--now a 230-room luxury W hotel--there are still a few old-timers who recall the building’s original celebration 80 years ago, when on August 30, 1929, at the very height of the Roaring ’20s, 25,000 invitees partied for seven days straight!
Fountain in the garden court of the Foshay Tower, Minneapolis.
Photo courtesy Tile Heritage Foundation Library.
The Foshay Tower was the lifelong dream of Wilbur Foshay, a successful businessman who amassed a fortune trading utilities in the years prior to the Great Depression. The building, patterned after the Washington Monument, was designed by Léon Eugène Arnal, the chief designer for architects Magney & Tusler. A splendid example of Art Deco architecture, the structure stands 607-feet high, including antenna, making it the tallest building in the Upper Midwest at that time. While the exterior was clad in Indiana limestone, the interior featured lavish accouterments including African mahogany, Italian marble, a silver and gold plated ceiling and, of special interest to us, custom-designed tiles on a fountain in the garden courtyard created by Enfield Pottery and Tile Works.
Enfield was founded in 1906 by J.H. Dulles Allen in a rural area just north of Philadelphia. In addition to making a wide assortment of molded tiles, the pottery was commissioned to produce custom tile work for prestigious installations like the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C.; the Detroit Institute of Arts; Bok Tower in Lake Wales, Florida; and the fountains at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
In Foshay’s garden courtyaerd, special tiles were designed by Enfield to cover the circular fountain and the raised pedestal in its center, all in keeping with the Art Deco styling of the surrounding architecture. The polychrome tile and terra cotta decorations enhanced the cascades and the lining of the pool. Predominating colors were blues and greens with incidental yellow and bright red. The focal point was a fanciful, bronze sculpture by Harriet Frishmuth, titled “Scherzo,” which features a young female figure in a dance-like movement, moving as if the waters were tickling her toes. Tragically the fountain was destroyed in 1974, during construction of the Twin City Federal parking garage, four years before the Foshay was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Special thanks to Marcia Anderson at the Minnesota Historical Society, and to Britta Bloomberg, Mark Buechel, and Susan Roth at the Minnesota State Preservation Office.
Handmade Tile Association
34 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413