CNH history: 1980s: Designing ‘corporate homes’ on the prairie, CNH moves south

CNH history: 1980s: Designing ‘corporate homes’ on the prairie, CNH moves south
With six stories of brick and glass, the new office structure was Apple Valley’s tallest at that time, and it was the most urban design for the then small-town suburb.
Quinn Hutson, firm principal

The mid-1980s brought significant changes to CNH Architects. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, there was a building involved, and another aspiring architect with a last name beginning with H, who would join the firm.

A young man named Quinn Hutson was hired by Cording-Natwick Architects. “I remember we told Quinn, ‘We don’t know if we’ll have enough work to keep you busy. You can work part-time and if it gets to be full-time . . .’ He worked full-time from the moment he started and from then on,” said retired Architect John Natwick, a former firm principal.

Hutson labored with Architect Wayne Hilbert and Natwick for a short time on the 10th floor of the nearly 60-year-old Wesley Temple office building in Minneapolis. That structure was set to be reduced from 12 stories to rubble in 1986, making way for the new Minneapolis Convention Center three years later.

For Natwick, who then lived in Burnsville, the prairie and his south metro roots began to call. He had gotten more involved in the Apple Valley community and the firm was getting some jobs there.

The retired architect had grown up in the area. Natwick is a graduate of Rosemount High School and his father was a supervisor on the planning commission for Lebanon Township, the former designation for Apple Valley, before it became a village in 1969.

A section of prairie on 147th Street, east of Cedar Avenue was chosen for Apple Valley Commons 1 and 2. The first of the two was a six-story, 75-foot low-rise office building which would rise to serve as the 33-year headquarters for CNH Architects.

“Actually, it was one of the first bigger buildings that we did,” said Natwick. “We designed both of those buildings and we were in the building (1) right when it opened.” CNH is the longest-term tenant.

Firm Principal Quinn Hutson said that with six stories of brick and glass, the new office structure was Apple Valley’s tallest at that time, and it was the most urban design for the then small-town suburb.

The two new structures were a boon for him, having just six months with the firm, to design about three dozen space buildouts for other tenants. “Because we were such a small office at the time, it was a great opportunity to do everything and get a lot of responsibility very quickly,” said Hutson.

He said there were times in the 80s when Natwick and Principal Wayne Hilbert were both out at meetings, and he had to hold down the fort. Clients and contractors would call with questions, and, though he couldn’t answer them all, Hutson would prep and be ready to help out.

1964 Section map showing County 42 and Cedar location of Southport Airport, current site of Target and other stores. “Society Happenings,” Dakota County Historical Society, November 1997.

1964 Section map showing County 42 and Cedar location of Southport Airport, current site of Target and other stores. “Society Happenings,” Dakota County Historical Society, November 1997.

CNH offices overlooked Southport Airport, a long forgotten landmark at Cedar Avenue and County Road 42 (see 1964 map). The space is now occupied by Target, Best Buy and strip malls. “We looked out onto a field, a former airstrip and would see model airplanes being flown,” said Hutson.

In 1986, the firm name was changed to Cording-Natwick-Hilbert Architects, Inc., paving the way for the initials that would define it starting at the end of the century.

“We did a lot of one- and two-story office, rental office space and we did a lot of churches at that time, too,” said Hutson. The size, scope and complexity of the firm’s projects would grow as the firm entered its third decade of service.

From the earliest days, CNH has prided itself on attention to detail with its designs and drawings, Natwick explained. Always modest, Hutson also acknowledged this strength, admitting that the firm has been “at least above average.”

Natwick said it was nice to walk away from completed projects and hear clients say, “If we ever do a new project, you’re the ones we want to work with.” There was an effort to “do our darndest” to make sure each client would want to come back, he explained.

The former architect has fond memories and is glad for the firm’s success. “On the same token, I am so proud of them. They’re doing a phenomenal job. It makes me feel good.”