By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 25, 2023 at 9:02 AM

Listen to the Urban Spelunking Audio Stories on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

MINNEAPOLIS – There was a time when a new downtown hotel in an American city meant new construction; likely a gigantic contemporary block of a building with a pool and mega ballrooms.

The exterior now (above) and then (below, in a postcard photo courtesy of Hennepin County Library)

That’s changed. Nowadays, all the best hotels, it seems, occupy repurposed vintage buildings in the heart of the city.

Minneapolis has no shortage of examples, including the Hotel Emery, an Autograph Collection property, at 215 4th St. S, not far from Target Field, U.S. Bank Stadium, the Riverfront and a short walk to the happening North Loop neighborhood.

Built in 1905-06 as a 10-story home to the Security Bank, this less ponderous example of Romanesque Revival architecture – especially since the cornice was removed and the exterior masonry altered – is a great adaptive reuse and a reminder that the greenest building is one that already exists.

Banking room
The original banking room. (PHOTO: Hennepin County Library)

The Hotel Emery opened here in 2019, after a massive renovation of the former Hotel Minnesota, which was also an Autograph Collection venue.

“It was an over $22 million renovation,” says General Manager Hugh Hedin. “We really touched all services; all public spaces, all the guest rooms, meeting spaces, food and beverage.

“There are definitely some elements that have been sitting out there (in the lobby) like that for 115 years, but (the rooms and upper floor corridors) all that's redone.”

What survives most upstairs from the office days are the high ceilings, which give the 229 modern and comfortable guest rooms the feel of being larger than they are.

Fortunately the two-year conversion leading up to the opening of the Hotel Minnesota in 2006 maintained much of the bank’s public-facing beauty in the lobby, allowing the Emery to continue to embrace the building’s history.

The building is U-shaped to allow better light penetration.

“The identity of the property has really changed a lot with its name,” says Hedin, who notes that the name is a reference to process of polishing the copious marble in the lobby.

“The ownership group that owns our property – they're a private trust based in San Francisco – really knows their way around restoring and preserving, updating but yet preserving historic boutique hotels in urban centers like this.

“This is kind of their thing.”

Franklin Long
Franklin Long (PHOTO: Hennepin County Library)

The U-shaped building was designed by local architects Franklin and Louis Long.

Franklin B. Long was born in upstate New York and moved with his family to Illinois as a teenager and soon found work as a carpenter and builder in Chicago. In 1868 he headed northwest to Minneapolis and partnered with a few others before settling in with the Maryland-born Frederick Kees.

Long and Kees designed numerous other buildings in downtown Minneapolis, including the gorgeous – and more traditionally weighty Richardsonian Romanesque style – City Hall around the corner from the hotel – the former Masonic Temple that is now the Hennepin Center for the Arts and the Flour Exchange, among others.

After their partnership dissolved in 1898, Long partnered with his son Louis (and with Lowell A. Lamoreaux), designing extant Minneapolis homes for Anne and Frank Semple and Theodore Wirth, as well as the Eitel Hospital.


The hotel building was first home to the Security Bank, though by the 1910s its sprawling lobby, lined with teller windows, served the Scandinavian-American National Bank.

Thanks to the 1918 “Hudson’s Dictionary of Minneapolis and Vicinity: A Handbook for Strangers and Residents,” we have this early description:

“It is one of the most striking buildings in the city. The exterior is of white enameled brick with white terra-cotta trimmings, the design simple and almost severely plain, but dignified and in excellent taste. There is a frontage of 152 feet on Second Avenue and 132 feet on Fourth Street, and on the longer front are the entrances, which admit to the main lobby, elevators and stairways.

“Immediately beyond is the lobby of the Scandinavian-American National Bank, which occupies most of the ground floor. This lobby is 50 by 70 feet and is surrounded by the bank offices and is lighted by 12 large skylights directly under the central court of the building. These banking rooms are perhaps the most beautiful in the northwest.

“Marble, bronze and delicately tinted and decorated panels and richly colored glass combined in the most refined taste give very rich effects. The tone is classical although much of the decoration is of modern type. Every detail of banking equipment is worked out in the most practical way.


“The remainder of the building is devoted to general office purposes. There are about 35 offices on each floor, all having outdoor light and finished in the most sumptuous manner. The building is constructed after the latest ideas in fireproof architecture, concrete, steel, brick and tile being almost the only materials used. There are five plunger elevators.”

Later, the building was purchased by Midland National Bank and it retained its original usage until 2006.

Nowadays, in the lobby – which has lost its open mezzanine level – the marble and brass is largely intact, thankfully, as is much of the classical decoration on the ceilings.

The space, with its soaring fluted columns that provide the air of security and strength that a bank would surely hope to project, is still illuminated with natural light but now via Minnesota-made Solatubes that refract sunlight down into the space instead of skylights.

Solatubes as seen on the roof.

This allows the Emery to maintain a leafy green vibe, with plants that provide color and life and help delineate different areas, like the great Spyhouse cafe, comfy seating areas (which I’m enjoying as I write this next to the gas fireplace) and Giulia bar and restaurant, which serves top-notch Northern Italian-inspired cuisine.

I had a seafood cavatelli at Giulia – helmed by James Beard Semifinalist Chef Steven Brown, who cooked in Modena – with lump crab, shrimp and bay scallops that was more cioppino than pasta and that was so good I had stop myself going back and ordering it over and over again. (Brown also leads a series of pasta making classes at the restaurant.)

Seafood cavatelli at Giulia.

There are other original details in the lobby, too, including a staircase behind the front desk with its original railing, a beautiful brass railing in the Giulia area, and a couple of hulking vaults, including one that can serve as seating area for the restaurant on special occasions.

The lower level is called the Vault Level and there are a couple more vaults of varying sizes down there, too. One of them serves as part of the 4,500 square feet of meeting space in the Emery.

Basement vault
Basement vaults.

They've saved an old burglar alarm box and bell from the building's exterior and are currently pondering ways to put it to use in a public area in the hotel.

“We really try to pay homage to the history of the building,” says Hedin.


More than just lovely historical elements, the Hotel Emery is a modern hotel with the amenities you’d expect, like valet parking, a fitness center, room service, etc.

The hotel also organizes a range of events, including those cooking classes and Banker's Hour local beer happy hours, skywalk tours, Bikes & Brews Tours, a spa experience and tableside mozzarella pulls at Giulia on Thursdays.

Speaking to a number of hotel staff here in the city, it seems Minneapolis’ hospitality industry is still working to get back on track post-COVID.

Two views of a lobby vault.

“Downtown Minneapolis in general is a little slower than it used to be,” Hedin says. “Some markets are better than they've ever been: Southern California or Florida. Us, along with San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, these markets are pretty depressed still.”

But, frankly, you wouldn’t know it from the lobby life.

All day long there are folks on their laptops in the various spaces, even after the coffee bar has closed, guests enjoying the free local beer happy hour during the week, couples chatting, groups enjoying cocktails, lunchtime and dinner diners at Giulia.


It feels alive.

Hedin estimates that the folks down here are probably 90 percent locals.

“Everyone out in the lobby right now is working from home, not from home,” he says. “What we find is that typically they don't just come in and have a cup of coffee. They come in and they hang out with us for a number of hours. There's some people out there that we see every single day.

“It feels good being out there. It's fun to hang out there. It's vibrant. There are people to talk to. The coffee's good.”

Read a Minneapolis travel story here.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.