Kitchi Gammi Club

This postcard of the Kitchi Gammi Club was made between 1915 an 1925. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Hartley and the committee selected Bertram Goodhue as the building’s architect. Goodhue, a musician, writer, and architectural lecturer, had established solid architectural credentials, in part designing buildings for West Point in New York, including its famous chapel. The Kitchi Gammi Club was one of four buildings he was commissioned to design in Duluth that year, and the other three also had strong Hartley connections: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where the family worshiped, the Hartley Building at 740 East Superior Street, where the Hartley men conducted business, and Cavour Hartley’s home at 3800 Superior Street, across from Northland Country Club, which Cavour and Guilford helped establish.

Impressed by his friend Chester Congdon’s Glensheen estate, Hartley had Goodhue design a Jacobean Revival building with an Arts & Crafts interior, much like Congdon’s mansion on London Road and similar in style to other clubs he had visited. Jacobean architecture reflects buildings constructed in England during the era of King James I, 1603–1625. Common exterior elements include brick and stone, large rectangular windows, bay windows, triangular gables, and steeply pitched roofs. These elements in the Kitchi Gammi Club are accented by the stone carvings of Duluth’s O. George Thrana.

Inside, Arts & Crafts elements can be seen in the woodwork, tiled fireplaces, and all sorts of built in cabinetry. The wood used throughout the interior is chestnut. At the time, a blight was wiping out chestnut trees throughout the American southwest, and the wood was inexpensive and plentiful.

Local architect Harold Starin oversaw the building’s construction, which was not without its problems. A Minneapolis firm won the plumbing and heating contract through a competitive bid process. This apparently displeased at least one local pipe fitter. A test of the plumbing system left the basement and first floor flooded. Investigators found a pick axe—its tip covered in lead—and holes in several of the lead pipes. The system had been sabotaged during the night.

Later club president Edward Congdon, son of Chester, received an anonymous letter claiming that not enough lead was used in the joints of some cast iron pipes. After an expensive inspection, all pipes were found to be safe—indeed, the amount of lead exceeded the requirements.

Despite the costly delays, building construction actually came in well under budget. The committee spent just $270,000 for the four-story building that takes up over half of a city block, just over $6.5 million in today’s dollars. That included not only construction, but furnishings for the more than 80 rooms that are housed within the building’s walls.

When it opened in 1913, the club’s first floor held a grand hall, the club’s office, a large lounge, two small card rooms, a newspaper room, a library, and a ladies’ waiting room and ladies’ reception room. Much of the club was off limits to women. In fact, membership in the club was limited to men until 1986, and prior to then women were expected to enter not through the front door but from a side entrance located between the ladies’ reception room and ladies’ waiting room.

Half of the second floor was focused on food. It included a kitchen, butcher shop, and separate pastry kitchen. There were two private dining rooms, a ladies dining room, a ladies’ private dining room, and the building’s grandest room of them all, the main dining room, which doubled as a ballroom. The room is two-stories tall and includes a musicians’ gallery accessible from the third floor. The floor also included 12 private bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.

More bedrooms were found on the third floor—twenty of them. Not all had their own baths—some had to share—and the valet and housekeeper also lived on the third floor. The fourth floor—significantly smaller than the first three due to the pitch of the roof, held six more bedrooms. The bedrooms were used most often by non-resident members who were in town to conduct business or attend an important event. Often young, unmarried members of the club lived in these rooms until they married and built grand homes for their new brides. It was convenient to live at the club for not only sleeping and taking meals, but also because the Kitch served as the backdrop for many business deals made between members.

The basement was used pretty much for play. It contained a large billiard room, two squash courts, a gymnasium, and a locker room. Once refreshed and clean from their exercise, members could relax in the bar and tap room or play cards in the large room adjacent to the bar. The basement also held a wine closet, a servant’s locker room, the caretaker’s quarters, a laundry facility, and the boilers that heated the building.

As the times changed, so did the members’ needs, and as a result of this many of the rooms have been adapted from their original use. During Prohibition, small personal lockers were installed behind the bar itself. Here members could store their personal stash of liquor and have a drink at the club without the club technically being in possession of illegal hooch. Current members have often told the tale of another Prohibition-era secret: when construction began on the I-35 expansion through Duluth in the 1980s, some say workers uncovered a tunnel that ran from the lake shore to the basement of the Kitchi Gammi Club and worked as a conduit for bootlegging booze. More recently, the kitchen was completely remodeled, new copper gutters were installed, and the building was upgraded for safety with a sprinkler system and fire alarms.

Today few of the rooms that were once private bedrooms still serve that purpose, but an out-of-town member can still find housing at the Kitch when visiting the Zenith City. And the building is no longer restricted to use by its members. A variety of rooms can be rented for a variety of purposes—most often meetings and presentations—as long as one member takes responsibility and signs up for the space. Over the years the Kitchi Gammi Club has hosted all sorts of social events and is a popular site for wedding receptions of members’ children, often the next generation of members themselves.

In 1975 the Kitchi Gammi Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Guilford Hartley to create a building that made a statement about the organization it housed. The club meant a lot to Hartley, as it has with many of its members throughout its 130 years. In 1913, the year the building was first opened,  Hartley wrote about his feelings for the club:

“I have belonged to this club for about thirty years. It is nearer to me than anything else except my home, and its members have been my nearest associates in both a social and business way during the best part of my life, and I value their confidence and good wishes and good fellowship more than anything else outside of my own family.”

Read more of this story: 1 2 3