Loop Back: The “Western Container” Building
Even though painted signs for Western Container are still prominent on the exterior of 500 North Third Street, the building actually got its start as a grocery warehouse and coffee roasting facility.
In the early 1900s, wholesale grocers not only imported and distributed dried, canned and bottled goods. They also acted as processors and packers of goods.
The very first tenant of the building in 1908 was one of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the city, Green and DeLaittre. They took advantage of a Great Northern railroad spur on the north side of the building to get shipments of groceries and coffee in and out of the city.
The company roasted Princess Coffee at the site each day, according to its ads, which described Princess as “The ACME of all blends.” A 1921 ad for one of of its cereal brands, Purity Rolled Oats, declared that it was “So Sugary! The children eat and eat and eat!”
The company was co-founded in 1901 by the tenth mayor of Minneapolis, John DeLaittre and his son, Karl, who was a Harvard grad and served as a state representative, city alderman and council president. The other co-founders were Charles Green and his son, Thomas Homer Green.
Green and DeLaittre merged with Western Grocer in 1922 and both companies’ operations moved into 500 North Third, while both companies then used the Western Grocer name. They operated out of this building through at least 1948.
Western Container, which took over the building in the early 1970s, was not affiliated with Western Grocer. When it moved into this building, Western Container was in the business of acquiring used boxes, barrels, bags and other containers, cleaning them up and reselling them.
After doing well in this facility, Western Container expanded and bought space in two other North Loop buildings—618 Washington (now Harvester Lofts) around 1980 and 748 N 3rd St (now Herschel Lofts) in 1987. The company moved out of all three buildings in 2005 and is now located in New Hope.
Swervo Development put a two-story addition on the building in 2015. Arctic Cat leased the space from 2016 to 2017 and ad agency Fallon moved in in 2019.
In an email exchange, the granddaughter of Western Container’s founder, Wendy Trestman, said “I LOVE the fact the sign is still on the building!”
The building’s construction was historically significant in that it was one of the earliest examples in Minneapolis of concrete columns with mushroom tops being used as supports and reinforced concrete flat slab floors that didn’t require beams. That revolutionary design, which is still used today, came from renowned structural engineer C.A.P. Turner.
We have several more pages of neighborhood history in our Historic North Loop section.
By Mike Binkley, North Loop volunteer