Pillsbury House

Bringing the Community Together

If you were a kid in Cedar-Riverside in the 1920s, Pillsbury House was the place to go.

Do you play football or basketball? Have you ever been on stage? Do you like to hang out with your friends in the neighborhood? Pillsbury House offered youth and adult clubs, concerts, theater performances, choirs, festivals, dances, and a large gym for sports and recreational activities. Popular on Saturday nights were neighborhood socials where families came to listen to music and play games from Norway, Sweden, and Germany. There was even a vaudeville show starring local kids: Peter Pan nights.

Pillsbury House, known affectionately as "Pill House," was part of an international settlement house movement that began in the late 19th century. Settlement houses were set up across the United States to deal with problems of overcrowding and poverty faced by urban immigrant communities. Their guiding philosophy was to help residents help themselves by helping their neighborhoods. They offered social and recreational activities as well as provided food, shelter, childcare facilities, education and employment training.

Pillsbury began in 1879 as Plymouth Mission which was organized by women of Plymouth Congregational Church to help children and mothers from working class immigrant families. It was originally located in downtown Minneapolis and moved to Seven Corners when the Milwaukee railroad expanded in 1883. The group was inspired by the Settlement House Movement and its mission became more secular. In 1905, Charles and John Pillsbury donated funds to build a permanent home for the center at 320 Sixteenth Avenue South. Renamed Pillsbury House, it became one of the most important community institutions in the area. In 1933, more than 200,000 people passed through its doors with more than 160 groups meeting each week.

Pillsbury House also was a center for civic activities. This is where politicians came to give speeches and residents took classes in English and American citizenship. This was where they registered as aliens during WWI, and where they registered for the draft for both WWI and WWII. Along with the public schools, settlement houses were one of the primary drivers of Americanization. They were known as "the house of the interpreter"-both literally because people who came there spoke a wide range of languages, and figuratively because the settlement houses saw themselves as interpreting the values of a democratic society.

In 1968, Pillsbury House, slated to be demolished for a highway, was destroyed by a mysterious fire and torn down.

Residents of the newly constructed Cedar Square West (now Riverside Plaza) petitioned Pillsbury-Waite Neighborhood Services (the successor to Pillsbury and other settlement houses) to offer youth programs in their neighborhood. A one-story cement building just west of the Plaza was designated the Currie Center, after Ed Currie, the long-time head resident of the Pillsbury House. The Currie Center quickly became a gathering place in the neighborhood and addressed the particular needs of residents living in a high-rise apartment complex. Like its predecessors, it offered social and recreational activities and support services for youth and families. They now included communities of whites, African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants from Japan, Korea, Iran, India, Vietnam and Africa.

In 1992, civic leaders spearheaded a multi-million dollar campaign to build the Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar-Riverside.

Images

Pillsbury House, 320 Sixteenth Avenue South, Minneapolis, ca. 1910

Pillsbury House, 320 Sixteenth Avenue South, Minneapolis, ca. 1910

In 1905, Charles and John Pillsbury, in memoriam to their parents, donated $40,000 for the construction of a permanent settlement house in Cedar-Riverside. The location was selected because it was in the center of the neighborhood. (Currently this is a parking lot behind the Red Sea Restaurant). When Pill House opened in 1906 it included an auditorium, a large gym (with showers), classrooms, a kindergarten, nursery, club rooms, and offices. An expansion in 1925 added more club rooms, classes and gym space. Pill House residents had sitting and dining rooms on the second floor and sleeping rooms on the third. A key part of the settlement house philosophy was that staff should live in the settlement house or in the neighborhood so that they could better understand the problems facing the communities they served. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Providing Childcare in Cedar-Riverside

Providing Childcare in Cedar-Riverside

Since its beginnings, the Pillsbury House has provided a free kindergarten and nursery. Staff saw this as a critical need for mothers who worked outside of the home. It took time for staff to earn the mothers' trust so they felt comfortable leaving their babies with settlement workers. Many mothers were Scandinavian, German, or Bohemian and struggled with English. Staff relied on their kids to act as interpreters. From 1913 to 1915, the kindergarten had 160 kids, the nursery had an average of 29 babies, and dozens of mothers brought in their children for check-ups and immunizations as part of the infant welfare program. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Children and baby buggies outside Pillsbury Settlement House, 320 Sixteenth Avenue South, Minneapolis," ca. 1925 View File Details Page

Sewing School, 1925

Sewing School, 1925

One of longest-running programs at Pillsbury House were classes in sewing and embroidery. Girls and women learned how to create their own clothes and refurbish donated items which they sometimes sold to raise money for social and recreational events at the house. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Three girls sewing at Pillsbury House, Minneapolis," 1925 View File Details Page

May Festival, 1912

May Festival, 1912

One of the most popular events hosted by Pillsbury House was the annual May festival. The event was put on by neighborhood residents and showcased their musical, dramatic, and athletic talents. In 1912, performances by Swedish singers and folk dancers were followed by Norwegian musicians and Russian folk dancers. Pill House sewing clubs created the dresses and costumes. Other performances included girls and boys choirs, the May Pole dance and various athletic demonstrations by the Norwegian Turners and other groups. The May festivals got to be so large that they were held at nearby South High School on Franklin and 24th Avenues. | Source: "Settlement Young People Hold MayDay Revel," Minneapolis Tribune, May 5, 1912 View File Details Page

Pillsbury House Football Team, 1920s

Pillsbury House Football Team, 1920s

The "Regals," Pillsbury House's first football team. Former player and Italian American, Lib Pierotti, recalled that it took a while to convince Pillsbury House director, Ed Currie, to support the team as he was worried about injuries and a lack of funds to pay for any hospital bills. The players asked local merchants for sponsorships of $5.00. "We raised enough money that way to buy our own jerseys, socks, pay our park board entry fee and also buy a football group insurance to protect our players in case of emergency." However, they forgot to buy a football! That was soon remedied and the Regals went on to win many city titles. Image courtesy of Social Welfare History Archives | Source: Lib Pierotti, "When it was Seven Corners," Many Corners, September 1974 View File Details Page

Immigration and Americanization

Immigration and Americanization

One of the goals of Pillsbury Settlement House was to help young immigrants and their families become American citizens. English and citizenship classes, alien registration, naturalization ceremonies and draft sign-ups for WWI and WWII were held here. A culture of Americanization emerged at the Pill House through a number of programs and activities, such as the Flag Day celebration pictured here. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Children and flags at Pillsbury House, Minneapolis," 6.14.1926 | Creator: Norton & Peel View File Details Page

Christmas Party, Pillsbury House, 1925

Christmas Party, Pillsbury House, 1925

Although Settlement Houses were not supposed to hold religious activities many of them did, including the Pill House. There were Sunday School services and every December there were Christmas parties. Most of these were hosted by Pill House boys' and girls' clubs, and women's clubs. There would be one big celebration for families in the neighborhood-and Santa was always invited. A 1934 survey of neighborhood residents revealed religious affiliations: Protestant (70%), 'No Preference' (15%), Catholic (14%), and Jewish (1%). Most of the Jewish community lived south and west of Cedar-Riverside, near Franklin and 17th Avenues. Pillsbury House's Board of Directors meeting minutes in 1911 noted that Jewish attendance had declined in December and staff wanted to discuss how to deal with this. No resolution was seen in the following months, but staff reported that they continued to serve the Jewish community. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society | Source: "Pillsbury House Christmas party for poor children," 1925 View File Details Page

All-Nations Tournament, 1932

All-Nations Tournament, 1932

One of the most popular activities at the Pillsbury House was basketball and one of the biggest events of the season was the All-Nations city-wide basketball tournament. Ed Currie started the tournament in 1921 as a way to resolve an argument among young guys over which nationality had the best players. He hoped they would resolve their difference on the basketball court rather than with fists. The games were "hard-fought but cleanly played," according to a former player. For three cold nights in February, 1932, young first and second generation Germans, Poles, Jews, Scots, Swedes and Norwegians battled for dominance on the basketball court. The Swedes won that year. | Source: "Germans and Jews Meet In First Go," Minneapolis Journal, February 26, 1932; Lib Pierotti, "Remembering Ed Currie," Many Corners, April 1975 View File Details Page

Pillsbury House Boys, 1960s

Pillsbury House Boys, 1960s

By the 1960s, the Pillsbury House spanned half a block and had been one of the most important institutions in the neighborhood for over 50 years. But it faced declining funding sources and merged with other community centers. Many neighborhood residents left the area as educational and medical institutions expanded and as they sought new opportunities in other parts of Minneapolis. City planners and real estate developers envisioned a new future for Cedar-Riverside that included the destruction of many of its historical buildings. The Pillsbury House was purchased by the State Highway Department and, after a mysterious fire, was torn down in April, 1968. Many of the friendships formed at the Pill House lasted far beyond the demolition of its building. For decades there were "Pill House" reunions hosted by former residents who attended programs at the center. Image courtesy of Social Welfare History Archives View File Details Page

Helping Neighbors at the Currie Center, 1980s

Helping Neighbors at the Currie Center, 1980s

In 1979, the Currie Center opened at 1507 S. 5th St., a small building tucked beneath the towers of the newly constructed Cedar Square West apartment complex. The Currie Center carried on the activities of its predecessor including a nursery and social and recreational activities. It also provided services specific to residents of a large residential complex including community dinners and apartment floor crime watches. The food shelf was an important resource for many residents. Linda Bryant (left), a young resident from Cedar Square West, is shown helping at the food shelf. Bryant went on to become Director of the Coyle Center in the late 1990s. Image courtesy of Social Welfare History Archives | Source: "Linda Bryant, Currie Center Teen Pantry/Food Shelf" 1980s View File Details Page

Gathering at the Currie Center, 1980

Gathering at the Currie Center, 1980

Kids gather around the foosball table for fun and socializing at the Currie Center. Similar to the Pillsbury House, the center provided social, educational and employment training for young people in the neighborhood. When the center opened in 1979, kids from African American, white, Native American, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese and Iranian communities came to the center for fun, for homework help and to escape the boredom of sitting at home. | Source: Ruth Hammond, "Old Pals Recall Pill House Way Back When," Minneapolis Tribune, January 26, 1980 | Creator: Richard Olsenius View File Details Page

English class at Currie Center, ca. 1980

English class at Currie Center, ca. 1980

In the 1980s, new immigrants and refugees from Asia, the Middle East and Africa were arriving in Cedar-Riverside. The Currie Center continued to provide a variety of resources for these newcomers including resettlement services, English language training and citizenship classes. Image courtesy of Social Welfare History Archives View File Details Page

Street Address:

320 16th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55454 [map]

Cite this Page:

Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Pillsbury House,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed July 23, 2017, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/7.
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