Is St. Paul Macy’s building historic?

St. Paul city officials are relieved preservationists haven’t yet rushed to the rescue of the downtown Macy’s building. But internal city emails also reveal there’s a case to be made for saving the structure from the wrecking ball.

“There are folks who may push to have the building designated historic,” Planning and Economic Development Director Cecile Bedor wrote in a draft email to Macy’s in July. “I haven’t heard much about this from anyone since we met, which is good news.”

Built in 1963, the six-story tan brick building is hardly flashy. It doesn’t even have windows above the first floor.

(MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

“It looks like a giant warehouse in the middle of downtown St. Paul,” said Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

But perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“The patterning of the brick is subtle, but attractive, creating a formal play of light and shadow. And the granite base of the building, at street level, does acknowledge the pedestrian with a richer material experience, even if it does so with few windows.” -University of Minnesota Architecture professor Nancy Miller.

Miller was quoted in a three-page memo written by St. Paul historic preservation specialist Amy Spong in January, just two weeks after Macy’s announced the closure was coming.

Spong argues the building is significant because its architect, Victor Gruen, invented the modern shopping mall and “American consumerism as you and I know it today.”

Gruen’s seminal work was Southdale Mall in Edina, the first building of its kind in the country. He also designed the St. Paul Sears building.

Spong argues it would be a mistake to tear down Macy’s, and she urges the city to pursue ways to re-use the building.

Mayor Chris Coleman has made it clear he’d prefer to see the old building bulldozed.

If the investors who plan to buy the property want to tear it down, they’ll probably need to go through the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

So it’s possible there will yet be a fight over whether the Macy’s building is worth saving.