History Of The Commutator Building
With work underway to revitalize the dilapidated Commutator Building and incorporate it into a fancy new hotel/retail project, it seemed like a good time to explore the history of this beloved structure at the corner of 1st Street North and 2nd Avenue North.
As we’ve noted earlier, the building opened in 1884 as a hotel: the American House, one of several boarding houses/hotels along 1st Street.
But from 1910 to at least 1970, it was used for industrial purposes. It was home to the Commutator Company which started out making brass and copper castings for, what else, commutators: devices inside motors and generators that keep the electric current moving in the proper direction.
Its method of production, though, eventually became obsolete and the company pivoted to other types of foundry work. Workers here melted down aluminum, brass, bronze and nickel to make castings for machinery used in various manufacturing plants throughout the Upper Midwest.
The foundry made news in 1959 when a late-night fire, set off by molten drippings, took more than two hours for firefighters to put out.
For the past few decades, the building has been mostly empty, although it had a brief run recently as a home goods store on the ground level. It’s also become a popular draw for portrait photographers, using the faded foundry signs as a classic backdrop.
When renovations are complete in 2023, the historic building will be part of a new project that includes a boutique hotel as well as dining and retail options.
Early work on the project included lifting up another historic building nearby and wheeling it around the block so crews could build underground parking.
You’ll find much more about our neighborhood’s history in our Historic North Loop section.
By Mike Binkley, North Loop volunteer