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.
Social Welfare History Archive, University of Minnesota Libraries
Mary Hale, A History of Pillsbury House, 1934
Ann Beeson Kistler, “A Building for Change, Pillsbury Settlement House,” Hennepin History 50:5 (1992): 4-12.
Ruth Hammond, "Old Pals recall Pill House way back when, new Currie Center," Minneapolis Tribune, January 26, 1980, 1B.
Elizabeth Venditto and Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Pillsbury United Communities: A History,” 2010
Liv Pierotti, "When it was Seven Corners," Many Corners, 1973 and 1974