Fourth Street Faces From Germania Life Insurance Building In Saint Paul

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The Germania Life Insurance Building was built in 1889 at Fourth Street and Minnesota in downtown Saint Paul. The company was founded in New York by a group of 21 prominent German American businessmen, led by civil rights lawyer Hugo Wesendonck, in 1860. It was the first building built by the insurance company in the Midwest. 

The eight-level building was built with a two-story base of rusticated red granite. Ten tall arched windows, each with a face carved into the keystone, faced the street. The upper levels of the building were faced in Lake Superior sandstone with two distinct patterns. Ionic columns, classical frieze and cornice, delicately carved florals between the fifth and sixth floors and around the arched entrance, and an abundance of arched windows on the sixth and seventh floors made it one of the most decorative buildings downtown. 

Above the third floor, a deep court split the building into two wings, providing a perfect place for the large signature bronze statue of Germania. This statue, a symbol of Germany and the Germans, was a significant part of the company’s advertising.

Inside, the street-level entrance, staircase, and second-story lobby were encased in cream-colored Italian marble. The grand staircase lifted visitors upwards through a skylit corridor and into the lobby. Brass fixtures finished off the lavishly appointed public areas.

Two levels were added to the building in 1902, which fit so well with the original part of the building that most never knew the building wasn’t always 10 stories tall. 

After World War I broke out and the United States joined the war, strong anti-German sentiment led to the Germania statue being removed from the building in 1918. Some have said that the statue was melted down for the war effort, while others claim it was put into storage and later lost. That same year, the company’s name was changed to the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

By 1970, a wave of urban renewal swept through Saint Paul and the old Germania Life Insurance building was not spared. It was demolished to make way for the Kellogg Square apartments. Before the building was reduced to rubble, the 10 red sandstone keystones with carved faces that watched over Fourth and Robert streets were removed and stored for future use. 

Today, eight faces remain virtually unnoticed by passersby on Fourth Street. They are the only known remnants of the building that was once called the most lavish of its time in the Twin Cities.

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