Roundup: Grist for the Mill


millThe recent opening of a casino at the old behemoth Bethlehem (PA) Steel mill —- part of a promised, much larger entertainment complex —- is bringing new life to what was once an urban centerpiece. Indeed, many mills, warehouses, and breweries once formed not only the “there” of the cities in which they were based, they were often the very “why” behind many of those cities. Today, they are a draw for architecture buffs, photography hounds, and history and art lovers. Here’s a look at some of the most successful conversions:

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis Set within picturesque ruins — the remains of a fire a few decades back — this fascinating museum details the history of the once-thriving flour mil industry, powered by the mighty Mississippi and an economic boon for the turn-of-the-century city. The Washburn A Mill, now home to the museum, was the largest and most technologically advanced in the world: at its peak, it produced enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread a day. The exhibit’s heart is a ride in a huge grain elevator that stops at each floor to reveal a segment —from the clang of an assembly line to the ka-ching of the back office — of the business through a masterful combination of video, audio, and set pieces. Information:


photos by Joann Greco

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin As the revered brand observes its 250th anniversary, this complex celebrates all things black and tan via a feast for the senses that appeals to even the most disinterested of beer quaffers. From an incredible display of the brew’s essential ingredients — heaping piles of barley, thundering falls of water — to an exahustive look at marketing and advertising through the years, the museum takes visitors on a journey higher and higher. Finally, you reach the top where a complimentary cold one (or two) and a magnificent view of the city awaits. Information:


MassMoCA, North Adams This sprawling, red brick complex— two dozen buildings on 13 acres — has served as a printed textile plant as well as an electronic parts factory. Now in its tenth year, MassMoCA acts as a gateway to the numerous arts attractions of the Berkshires and has rejuvenated the town of North Adams, MA, which fell upon hard times after industry left the region. Starting with an installation of upside down trees (ya have to be there . . .), Tree Logic, and moving into the football field-sized main gallery, visitors are treated to site specific pieces by masters of the genre like Sol LeWitt. Information:

Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh Before MassMoCA, there was this: a two-building Stearns and Foster factory, repurposed into a stunning little museum with a permanent collection of installations by landscape designer Winifred Lutz, lighting master James Turrell, and polka-dot maven Yayoi Kusama. Information:

3 comments for “Roundup: Grist for the Mill

  1. Paul Neuwirth
    November 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Nice piece, JoAnn!!

  2. November 9, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Very interesting post; I love putting history into context through architecture. We will be visiting Pittsburgh in January and will plan to take a tour of the Mattress Factory. Thanks!

  3. November 17, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Mills — what a great topic, JoAnn! Our town was also built around a mill and we live just up the street from it. It is a beautiful piece of history and will soon be featured on a Canada Post stamp. (Watson’s Mill, Manotick, Ontario, Canada)

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