History Detectives

Today we had the opportunity to do some exploratory demolition that uncovered some of the original structure of the Pioneer & Endicott Buildings. The discovery allowed us to take measurements and do some more precise engineering; this will help us be sure that we are taking all aspects into consideration when we design and build the 2 new stair towers that will be used for emergency/egress.

It’s hard not to imagine yourself in the shoes of the men who built these buildings just 10 years after the long Depression of 1873–79; Saint Paul, MN was a much different city then. The times were filled with ambition, excitement, opportunity for growth and steel, lots of steel; it must have been back breaking work. I carried a half a dozen 10′ shoring posts from my truck up to one of the locations we identified on the 14th floor. I’m a runner, an active triathlete and a pretty healthy guy but by the third trip up, my arms felt about 2″ longer and those 80lb shoring posts started getting real heavy real fast. I couldn’t imagine hauling materials up and down all day long like the laborers did when this building was first built.

To get this project started, Pope Architects and Braun Intertec helped us with some non-invasive testing using ground penetrating radar (GPR) that helped us identify and confirm the location of the steel beams.  The report from Braun was helpful but just does not compare to removing (by hand) the layers and exposing the original concrete, clay tile and steel structure. The next step was to drill a couple of cores.  We then moved on to cutting larger openings to expose the steel beams and connections. There is a big part of me that loves this type of work, I find myself imagining that I’m in the shoes of the builders; I think about the knowledge they had and how they applied that to construct these great buildings over 120 years ago.

Look for more information to come as we begin the process of transforming thePioneer & Endicott, 3 unique historic buildings, from empty office space into high-end apartments.

The Pioneer Building itself was the first 12-story skyscraper in Saint Paul and the tallest building west of Chicago. Not long after the Endicott Buildings were added, designed by the notable architect Cass Gilbert. Over the years the buildings have had many uses and modifications; the Pioneer Building and its’ enormous atrium now stand 16 stories tall and the Endicott Arcade connects these magnificent buildings.

Alexa McCullum