Thanksgiving Day Fire, 1982

The 25th anniversary of the Thanksgiving Day fire that destroyed Northwestern National Bank Click here to learn about third-party website links (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” Click here to learn about third-party website links, 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 melted telephoneThe 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 Click here to learn about third-party website links). Designed by Cesar Pelli Click here to learn about third-party website links, 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.

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7 Responses to Thanksgiving Day Fire, 1982

  1. Megan Schaack says:

    Thanks for sharing your memory. Share and read memories of the Fire at our website:

  2. ROB says:


  3. Chris says:

    Wow this blog is a couple years old! I was only 11 when the Weather Ball was ruined by the fire, but I do remember looking downtown from wherever and seeing the ball and the big “NW”. If I remember right, several of the other North Western banks had weather balls on their signs or buildings, albeit much smaller ones. It was always neat to see the different colors. Maybe sometime I can get down to the museum and see the scaled-down sign for fun.

  4. Ginny says:

    I wonder what caused the fire.

  5. Thomas Haneline says:

    For several years, before the 1982 fire, I was employed by Norwest Bancorp in the Office Services section, eventually becoming Office Services Mgr. Our department was responsible for office maintainance, as well as mail, supplies, temps, etc. Several secretaries mentioned to me, after a bad fire in a tall bldg, (I think it was Vegas) that they could not see any sprinklers on our floors (11th and 12th) I asked my boss, Peter Spokes (VP for Corporate Responsibility) about this. He told me he would look into it. I was informed that the bldg. was up to code for the year it was built, and that it was ‘grandfathered’ in – and needed NO ‘upgrades’ of any sort. It was impressed upon me to make no further inquiries into the matter, and to leave it alone. This was about a year before the fire. Make of it what you will.

  6. Mike says:

    I remember seeing this on the news while visiting my grandparents in Phoenix.

  7. Steve Dolce says:

    I remember watching this fire from the 3rd story of an apartment complext in New Brighton I was working security overnight at the time. I drove downtown at the end of my shift that morning and got about two blocks away on foot (near 1st Ave Nightclub) and could still see flames coming out of the old Donaldsons building. Things changed and so did my career. Today I work for Wells Fargo Insurance just one block away from the site of the fire at 8th and Marquette.

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