Located at the heart of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus, Northrop Mall has a significant and distinguishable landscape that embodies the distinctive characteristics of a national period in campus planning, the Beaux-Arts or “City Beautiful” period.
Architect Cass Gilbert, who came to prominence with his design of the Minnesota State Capitol, won a competition in 1908 to produce a master plan for the university campus. The use of Beaux-Arts principles in university planning came at a time when universities and colleges were expanding the number of departments and types of buildings that needed to be accommodated by campuses. This formal design framework organized academically diverse elements into a grand, orderly, physical form. The University of California at Berkeley was the first to adopt Beaux-Arts planning in 1899 and other schools soon followed.
Gilbert’s plan for the Minneapolis campus began to be realized in 1910 with the construction of Smith Hall. The building was designed by Saint Paul architect Clarence Johnston Sr., who would be responsible for planning most of the other buildings on the mall. To address the landscape, the university hired local landscape architects Morell and Nichols in 1920, the beginning of a long and effective collaboration that continued through 1951. It was not until 1971 that construction of the plan’s final building occurred, stretching the historic district’s period of significance to that year.