By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 15, 2023 at 9:02 AM

(NOTE: Apologies for the poor quality of some of the 1916 photos of the hotel. Despite their imperfections, I believe they offer a peek into the original interior, making it worth their inclusion.)

MINNEAPOLIS – Wherever you had clusters of well-to-do folks in the earliest decades of the 20th century, so-called “athletic clubs” sprung up.

The meatpacking and railroad barons of Chicago built one that resembled a Venetian palazzo. In Milwaukee, the beer and manufacturing mavens poured money into an impressive one.

lobby SIX15
Two views of the lobby today.

And this was the case around country – from New Orleans to Cleveland and beyond – as these facilities, which were as much social clubs as fitness ones – maybe more so – appeared all over.

The 14-story Minneapolis Athletic Club, 615 2nd Ave. S, which was begun in 1913 – and is now home to a Hyatt Centric Hotel – fit this mold perfectly, with a gym and a pool, but also with guest rooms, dining and grill rooms, bowling alleys, a shooting range and more.

The building survives today, and although most of the floors were long ago converted to hotel rooms, there are some features that still survive in the Hyatt Centric from the Minnesota Athletic Club days.

First, let’s look at the history.

The Minnesota Athletic Club was founded around 1912 and soon set to work on a lavish home. To accomplish this, it hired the hometown architectural firm of Bertrand & Chamberlin.

Arthur B. Chamberlin.

George E. Bertrand and Arthur Bishop Chamberlin partnered in in 1896 and their firm endured for more than three decades, until Bertrand’s death in 1931.

Among their many works in the Twin Cities area were the Grain Exchange and Physicians and Surgeons Buildings, the Lyceum Theater, the Minneapolis Auditorium and the Church of the Incarnation rectory, along with numerous residences, small commercial and other buildings.

The duo also designed the Builders Exchange tower, which was constructed in 1918 adjacent to the site of the new clubhouse, on a stretch of 2nd Avenue South that became known as Club Row, as it also was home to the Minneapolis Club and the Elk’s Club.

Chamberlin was born in Solon, Ohio in 1865 and grew up in Milwaukee before moving to Minneapolis in 1882 to attend the University of Minnesota. He got his start as a draftsman in the office of Long and Kees before heading out west in 1890, where he remained in Seattle for six years, working first as a draftsman and ultimately was a partner in Chamberlin and Siebrand.

For some reason, Chamberlin was apparently expelled from the American Institute of Architects in 1895, which may explain why he returned to Minneapolis the following year.

Once back, he worked for a short time with Orff & Joralemon before connecting with Bertrand – who had been in partnership with Walter A. Keith during Chamberlin’s years in Seattle – and they opened a practice together.

George Emile Bertrand – who was especially fond of Classical architecture, a subject upon which he published a number of articles – was born in Superior, Wisconsin in 1859 and had studied in Boston and in Minneapolis before entering practice in 1881.

Despite the fact that it’s engraved with the date 1912 (which likely refers to the organization’s founding), the cornerstone for the building was laid in 1913 by a rather unique dignitary.

According to this great article by Andy Sturdevant, 75-year-old Edward Payson Weston, who had, over the previous two months, walked 1,546 miles from New York City at a rate of about 25 miles a day, was the star of the groundbreaking event.

Weston was a promoter of pedestrianism – walking pretty much any distance for pretty much any reason – and in the 1910s, this was ample reason for celebrity status.

“The Minneapolis Athletic Club had been founded a few months earlier, and was beginning construction on a 14-story clubhouse in downtown Minneapolis,” Sturdevant writes.

“Over the years, many noteworthy athletes would appear at the club – there’s a letter of gratitude from Babe Ruth framed in the lobby today, over the coffee bar – but when the time came for the backers to have a noteworthy athlete on hand to lay the cornerstone, Weston was their pick.

“The coverage reached fever pitch a few days before his arrival. ... On July 29, he crossed the state line at Stillwater, where Gov. Adolph Eberhart met him, along with members of the Minneapolis Athletic Club, the mayor of Stillwater, and a large number of other well-wishers.”

When it was completed in 1915, the new Athletic Club building turned a few heads.

Life Time
Two views of the former fitness center in the lower level.

“Within three years from its inception a 14-story building was financed, constructed and occupied with a full membership,” wrote “The Western Architect” in spring of 1916.

“Learning that in Minneapolis there is an athletic club building that has successfully solved the entire problem, from structure to the most complete system of gymnasium equipment, from plan to wall decoration, members of the profession from many cities have visited the Minneapolis Athletic Club and given it minute inspection.”

The journal credited the choice of architects for the resulting success, averring, “One member of the firm, Mr. A.B. Chamberlin, from the day of his firm’s appointment gave to the design, construction, equipment and decoration not only the attention professionally called for, but his personal interest and indefatigable labors as well.”

The new tower, which had cost $900,631.44 to complete, including the real estate, was 157 feet tall. The Classical Revival structure had a granite base, atop which sat three floors veneered in buff brick and with two tall arched window openings on either side of the main entrance, similarly arched, and with a decorative awning.

Above a decorated cornice, the facing in the main section of the tower was in gray pressed brick.

The top two floors, beneath another cornice and above a projecting stone course, was also veneered in buff brick and the windows on the top floor repeated the arched motif.

The exterior remains much the same today, except at the top where the cornice and the arched window tops were altered when an additional story was put on top.

Inside, much is different.

The lobby is located in the same position – though the entrance was moved one bay to the left – and still has the exposed beam ceiling, but the decor has, of course, been altered, likely numerous times over the years.

Thanks to the Western Architect, we have a detailed description of the interior as it was in 1916, at which time the club had 3,000 members, which for a city with a population of 356,000 seems pretty impressive.

An early postcard view.

Here are some excerpts of that lengthy description:

“The entrance is faced with buff Kasota stone highly polished. The same stone is used in the offices to the right of the entrance which are trimmed in mahogany. To the right is a ladies reception room, the walls covered with light brown Japanese-grass cloth, the ceiling in ivory tint and the draperies brown silk velour. The furniture is gilded with brocade upholstery.

“The main lobby upon which the main entrance opens is 50 feet square. This is wainscotted to a height of 9 feet in mahogany, the walls finished in olive green, the ceiling divided by recessed panels outlined with a Greek border of antique bronze and black against a general tone of light ivory.

Main lobby
The main lobby in 1916.

“The plunge (pool) is one story below street level but a gallery around three sides opens directly from the lobby. The tanks, 30 by 60 feet with a depth from 4.5 to 9 feet is faced with tile.

"The water is admitted over a cascade 13 feet in height, a scenic attraction in appearance, but part of the circulatory purifying system which changes 50,000 gallons of water every 24 hours. A most complete bathing department is located on the basement floor.

The pool
The pool in 1916.

“The gymnasium occupies the third and fourth floors. It is 24 feet in height, 88 by 96 feet floor dimensions. Planned to form the center of the club’s activities it is floored with one-inch maple which gives it a perfectly smooth surface for dancing and auditorium purposes.

“On the fifth floor are located the bowling alleys, rifle range and squash courts. Here is also a handball court which carries up through the sixth floor where there is a spectators gallery overlooking the courts. This floor also accommodates five sleeping rooms and managers offices.

The loggia in 1916.
Grill room
The grill room.

“A loggia three stories in height is located on the seventh floor. It has a southern exposure and screens are used instead of glass in the windows. The remainder of these floors and also the 10 and 11th are devoted to sleeping apartments. The 12th floor is a space devoted to lounge and reading purposes with a men’s grill adjoining and a women’s dining room.

Dining room
The main dining room in 1916.
Main dining room
The main dining room in a 1930s postcard image.

“The main dining room, seating 400, is on the 13th floor. Here is also the kitchen, which is floored in red Dutch tile. The trim is oak and there is a gallery for spectators. Refrigerating rooms, help’s dining room, steward’s office, locker rooms and shower baths also occupy this floor.”

The journal noted a number of technical specs, too, including that there were four passenger elevators, a freight elevator and dumb waiters. The cooling systems used CO2 instead of ammonia and there was a water sterilization and purification system.

The "Russian bath" in 1916.

“In the bath department there are many little provisions for comfort and safety. On top of the (massage) rubbing slabs are pneumatic mattresses and pillows. Four telephone booths are located in the bathing department. The steam room is provided with marble platforms arranged as steps, each having a different temperature.

“Here is also a special plunge (pool). The ceiling is so shaped that condensations will run down the sides instead of dripping from the roof. A special floor tile is used to prevent slipping. Wherever there is a difference in floor levels a colored tile marks the step.”

Top of the Mac
A postcard view of the Top of the MAC.

Later, the members-only main dining/club room at the top was called The New Century Dining Room and, for a time, the Top of the MAC.

By and large, everything described here has been altered.

The pool survives in the basement, though it’s off-limits to the public for now, and it doesn’t look much like the 1916 photo anymore.

The pool
The pool when it was open as part of Life Time Fitness (above), and closed, today (below).

Back then, there were two balconies behind the lobby for viewing the pool. Now, a dropped ceiling appears to delineate the underside of the balconies and the opening in the center was replaced with a domed ceiling painted with sky and clouds. The cascade appears gone.

The upper floors are now almost entirely guest rooms, with the dual height stories filled in, with the exception of that two-story gym, which remains, in a redecorated state.

The fitness center now, with a view of the underside of the running track (below).
running trackX

At 7,000 square feet it feels huge, and it still has its running track mezzanine, too. Step beneath it in the corners and you can admire the original construction.

Off to one side are multiple racquetball courts.


The hotel’s staircase has what appear to be original tile floors and iron railings and wood handrails.

A modern ballroom and meeting rooms are also on the upper floors, perhaps in what might’ve been the bowling alley area.

Former loggia
The atrium in which the loggia had been located.

The guest floors have windows that look into an open space in what appears to be a light court, but comparing the space to a 1916 photo, it’s clear this is where the loggia had been located.

Most of these changes may date back to the $50 million conversion of the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 2020 into the Grand Hotel Minneapolis, which itself was replaced by a Kimpton and in 2020, the Hyatt Centric.

At the same time as the conversion, the basement was renovated into the Life Time Fitness Club, using space in an annex building, as well. That club closed in 2019 at the end of its 20-year lease, but much of that facility can also still be seen in the basement, including a more modern gym that one hotel employee said he believed the Timberwolves had used for practice.

Basement gym
The basement Life Time Fitness gym (above) and now, closed (below).
gym closedX

This seems plausible as the Grand Hotel, with its pool and other impressive fitness facilities, was a popular hotel for visiting sports teams.

Nowadays, the Hyatt Centric has a lobby with modern, welcoming lounge areas and the SIX15 bar and restaurant just off the reception area, the latter of which is where the fireplace original was located.

A lobby lounge.
guest room
One of the guest rooms.

The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, some with both tubs and walk-in showers.

That this beautiful building still holds its place in the Minneapolis skyline is joy and a stay there, with its modern conveniences, is a pleasure, especially if you enjoy wandering around and teasing out its bits of history.

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.