The 25th anniversary of the Thanksgiving Day fire that destroyed Northwestern National Bank (now Wells Fargo) in downtown Minneapolis is fast approaching. The fire was, at the time, the largest office fire in US history and caused an estimated $100 million in damages. The flames burned for four days and demanded the efforts of 180 firefighters. Amazingly, the first five floors of the bank building were untouched by fire. Charles Lindberg’s first plane, a “Jenny” , on display in the lobby was unscathed (Lucky Lindy lives on), as were the safe deposit boxes and vault.
A new emergency plan — quickly put into place along with computer backup files stored four blocks away (new technology in those days) — allowed the bank to continue business the next day. By the following Monday, 1,500 team members were working from new office spaces throughout town.
The empty shell of a building stood for two years until it was demolished in 1984. The city block stood empty for another four years until the construction of the Norwest Center (now called the Wells Fargo Center ). Designed by Cesar Pelli , the 57-story bank tower opened in 1989. Pelli salvaged and reused many architectural parts from the demolished 1930 bank building. “These elements,” Pelli declared, “help make the connection between past and present, old and new, to strengthen the continuity through time that is the hallmark of all great cities.”
Join us in remembering the fire. Contribute your stories online at our history website. And visit the museum on Tuesday, November 20, for a reception from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. CST. Objects on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Minneapolis include a melted telephone retrieved from the charred office remains.