Peering deep into our city’s early days can be visually transporting even if the color change gives away the time shift. These two wonderful cyanotypes, one recording the summer of 1887 as the brick Northern Pacific Headquarters building was going up and the other of the cyanotypers with their blueprintmaking equipment on the roof in 1894 with the University Club Building in the distance. Little else in the background has survived since the image was captured just as the city was transforming itself from wood and mud to stone and brick. The edge of City Hall frames the left side of the composition recalling the days when beerhall cynics down at the Theatre Comique quipped that you could toss a coin as to which side of the street ran the city, the politicians or the railroad. In those days it made little difference since many of the elected officials worked for the Northern Pacific.
The cyanotype process was used to reproduce architectural drawings which were first hand draw on linen with India ink and then contact copied onto light sensitive paper using sunlight when available. The rooftop shot with its Jules Verne meets the Lumiere Brothers look has a steam era special effects visual character that almost seems science fictional and in a way the rapid, zooming pace at which the city appeared around the NP headquarters building in the late 1880’s did have a fantastic quality. The metaphor of using a blueprint machine to record a city being built as fast as designers could create it on paper is just magical.