- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS | Hosting a Republican National Convention is old hat to Minnesota.

Really, really old hat.

Across the Mississippi River from present-day Minneapolis skyscrapers once stood the exhibition hall where Republicans nominated Benjamin Harrison for a second term as president in 1892. Harrison lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland, and the Industrial Exposition Building itself lost a match with the wrecking ball half a century later.

Not so much as a plaque marks the convention site, occupied today by town homes in a neighborhood of trendy restaurants and boutiques. That’s typical of prominent points of national political interest in the Twin Cities, the backdrop for next week’s Republican convention. History buffs need determination and imagination to uncover the past.

The hunt begins at a famed Minnesota meeting place: the state fairgrounds nestled between Minneapolis and St. Paul.



It was there in 1901 that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt first used a signature line summing up his vision for American foreign policy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

The assassination of President William McKinley days later vaulted Roosevelt to the White House. He returned to the Minnesota State Fair twice more - as an ex-president in 1910 and as a third-party Bull Moose candidate for the White House in 1912.

The fair is known for foods on a stick, more than five dozen at last count. But “Big Stick” Roosevelt doesn’t get credit for the craze, which dates to the Pronto Pup corn dog in 1947. “It’s coincidental, but it works out kind of nicely,” said fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette.

Through the years, the fair had irresistible pull for political giants: Sitting or future Presidents William Taft, Calvin Coolidge and Dwight D. Eisenhower all spoke there, as did White House-seekers William Jennings Bryan, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. But no markers point visitors to those oratorical spots.

Sen. John McCain, this year’s presumptive presidential nominee, headlined a fairgrounds rally in 2004.

Back in St. Paul, a stroll through the auspicious neighborhoods sprouting off Summit and Grand avenues offers a wealth of history.

The home of Frank B. Kellogg, the one-term Republican senator turned influential diplomat, still stands at 633 Fairmont Ave. Mr. Kellogg, secretary of state under President Coolidge, won the 1929 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a monumental peace treaty. The main entrance to Xcel Energy Center, where the convention will be held, is on Kellogg Boulevard.

The Minnesota governor’s mansion, at 1006 Summit Ave., played host to dignitaries such as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and King Harald of Norway. Jesse Ventura, the ex-wrestler-turned-governor, used the front lawn on a snowy February afternoon to break with Ross Perot’s Reform Party.

Stop for a drink at a landmark St. Paul restaurant, the Lexington, on the corner of Lexington and Grand avenues. It’s a prime place for a chance sighting of the state’s political heavy hitters, including former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Many of the neighborhood’s Victorian, Colonial and Tudor-style houses had prestigious inhabitants - from lumber and railroad barons to the author F. Scott Fitzgerald - or renowned architects, such as Cass Gilbert.

By far, Gilbert’s most famous Minnesota work is the state Capitol, now 103 years old. It’s the third Capitol in Minnesota’s 150 years of statehood.

The building’s grand dome covers an interior decked out with Italian marble columns, vaulted staircases and elaborate murals. Portraits of Minnesota governors line the walls. They range from the symbol-laden painting of Mr. Ventura to the no-frills look at Harold E. Stassen, Minnesota’s “boy governor” who matured into a serious contender for the 1948 Republican presidential nomination and a perennial also-ran in the elections thereafter.

A gilded exterior sculpture of four horses, a chariot and three human figures, known as the Quadriga, crowns the main entrance. Tours are offered daily.

Gilbert went on to design the U.S. Supreme Court building. A different Washington structure influenced one of Minneapolis’ best-known buildings, the Foshay Tower.

The 32-floor building (the city’s tallest for four decades) was designed to imitate the Washington Monument, with sides sloping toward a pointed crest. Conductor John Philip Sousa wrote a march for its 1929 dedication, the “Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March.”

Developer Wilbur Foshay, whose Marquette Avenue office tower is now a hip new hotel, had his own experience with politics. When his financial empire crashed with the stock market, a fraud conviction landed him in federal prison. His sentence was commuted by President Franklin Roosevelt, and he was later pardoned by President Truman.

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