Wedge History: Warren Barnes Dunnell
WARREN BARNES DUNNELL
(1851 to 1931)
Minnesota State Architect
by Kathy Kullberg
Although Lowry Hill East resident, and arguably its most famous resident architect, Warren B. Dunnell had family roots in Owatonna, he was most at home in Minneapolis. Having lived abroad after college and then working out East for the federal government, he returned home in 1880 and began his life’s work in Minnesota. He contributed many public buildings to our list of outstanding architecture.
While a biography from Minneapolis Architecture and Architects claims that “the Dunnell practice, which was extensive, appears to have been almost entirely devoted to church, public buildings, and institutions,” there are two known extant Dunnell residences in Lowry Hill East: two being his own residences and one built for William Webster at 2600 Colfax.
He built his first private residence in 1890 at the corner of Aldrich Avenue South and West 24th Street. Today this residence at 2406 Aldrich Avenue South has been remodeled into its current configuration as a three-unit building. If one looks closely, many of the significant details such as the arched window bay of the structure have been moved around and reused in other areas.
Dunnell at that time also owned the two adjacent lots to the north on the corner of Aldrich and West 24th which included a tennis court. According to the family history, Dunnell suffered financial loses about 1905 and built an 8-unit apartment building on the site of the tennis court. After selling the home at 2406, the family moved into two of the new apartments next door at 2400 Aldrich. The classic revival designed apartment building features a Roman style entrance with double columns.
The address is also significant to local history, as it was the residence of newlyweds, Delos and Maud Hart Lovelace in the 1920s. One of Maud’s last novels, Betsy’s Wedding, reimagines the residence into her Bow Street apartment for the main characters, Betsy and Joe Willard.
In the same neighborhood, another Dunnell designed residence is located just a few blocks away at 2600 Colfax, built in 1892 for William H. Webster, the general superintendent at the Minneapolis Journal newspaper. This residence was designed in a late Victorian Queen Anne style with turreted window bays on the north facade and multi columns on the front porch. Though originally a single-family home it has been subdivided several times into the present triplex configuration.
Warren Barnes Dunnell was born in Maine in 1851 but as a youngster, his parents Mark and Sarah Dunnell moved to Winona, Minnesota in 1863. His father served several times in the Minnesota state legislature between 1867 and 1891. After attending high school, Warren first started at the University of Minnesota and later transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. At the time, interest in architecture was very high but there were no American schools offering a curriculum. Most budding architects majored in engineering and became apprentice draftsmen. Subsequently, Dunnell went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After coming back to the U.S., he worked for the government working on various public buildings out East. He returned to St. Paul about 1880.
The following year he formed his own practice, focusing on public structures, including churches, hospitals and schools. His most notable contribution to Minnesota architecture is the design and construction of the administration building of the Fergus Falls State Hospital in Fergus Falls, 1895.
According to a Minnesota biography Dunnell was married to Ida Ogden in 1892 and had three children, Richard, Dorothy, and Alice. He died in 1931 and is buried in the Dunnell plot in Owatonna at Forest Hill Cemetery. Though he is mostly known for his outstanding public buildings throughout the U.S. and Minnesota, his legacy will be forever connected to the Fergus Falls historic state buildings.
Kathy Kullberg is a Historian and Wedge resident.
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