Medical Arts Building

The Medical Arts Building c. 1950. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

Like the first floor, the third was dedicated to services, both for the tenants and their patients. It held two hair salons (the Medical Arts Beauty Salon and Beauty Nook “permanent wave shop”), masseur Herman Haugland, the Medical & Dental Business Bureau, Employers’ Mutual insurance, a dental lab, the Medical Arts Clinical Laboratory, and Twin Ports Optical (which later moved to the fourth floor). And like the first floor, the third had an investment broker, Paine & Webber.

The fifth floor held a chiropodist’s office, Benson Optical, Patterson Dental Supply, and S. S. White Dental Manufacturing. In addition one physician and one dentist also had offices on the fifth floor. Except for an x-ray lab on the eighth, floors six through 12 were home to the remaining 84 physicians and dentists.

While not as opulent as the main lobby, the building’s upper floors were still impressively outfitted. Elevator lobbies were lined with Fosagraynell marble, a tan-colored mottled stone from France. The metal elevator doors were maroon. Recessed ceiling lights shone down on tan terrazzo floors. Even the hallways were lined with marble wainscoting. Quarter-inch rubber tile covered the floors within the medical offices, and metallic wallpaper lined each reception room. The doors and trim were made of American walnut.

Floors two and 14 were set aside for specific purposes. The 14th, except for the office of a sugar broker, was given over entirely to the Meridian Club, a “social organization of prominent Duluth business and professional men.” The group was first organized in 1916 by eight young men frustrated that Duluth didn’t have a university club like those found in large cities. The club would meet at noon for luncheons and “social and recreational features.” They first rented rooms above Southwick’s Soda Fountain at 315 West Superior Street (home of Bagley Jewelers today); Southwick’s provided the food. Three of the club’s members, including founder Nathaniel Davis, died in World War I, and the club disbanded. It reorganized in 1925 and set up shop on the Spalding Hotel’s Sun parlor.

The club’s new quarters within the Medical Arts Building were splendidly adorned in a rustic style. The 14th floor lobby, corridor, and the club’s rooms were paneled full-height in knotty pine. More importantly, the space afforded members with a spectacular view of both the harbor and Lake Superior. The Meridians outfitted their space with a pool table, a billiard table, a well-stocked magazine and newspaper library, and plenty of comfortable chairs. The luncheons were prepared by Miller’s Café. World War II apparently had the same effect on the club as had the first world war, as the club disbanded in 1945. The St. Louis County Medical Library took its place in the Medical Arts Building.

The Duluth Chamber of Commerce moved out of their quarters in the Hotel Duluth and took over nearly the entire second floor of the new Medical Arts Building, likely because Royal D. Alworth was a very active member of the Chamber.

A grand staircase of Roman Travertine marble lined with Loredo Chiaro walls led from the lobby to the Chamber’s offices on the second floor. To the front of the building were the organization’s executive and administrative offices, which looked out across Superior Street. In the back, members could relax and enjoy themselves. In 1933, the Duluth Herald listed the recreational amenities: pool and billiards tables, card and game rooms, periodical library and reading room, a lounge, private dining rooms, and a dining room that doubled as an auditorium. Most of the public spaces were paneled in teak from Rangoon, Burma, but there were notable exceptions. The main lounge—which featured a black-and-gold Italian marble fireplace—was paneled in a wood called “prima vera,” a white mahogany from the west coat of Central America. The combination auditorium-dining room—which could hold up to 300 people—was decked out in French walnut.

The only other occupant on floor two was W. F. Hatley’s Billiard Hall, but of course the Chamber had its own tables. In 1933, when the building first opened, no occupant was listed for the fourth floor. Within a few years, however, its space began to fill, first with the St. Louis County Medical library. The medical library moved to various floors over the years.

Beneath it all on the Michigan Street level was the entrance to the Medical Arts Garage, a three-floor parking facility that reached down three levels below Superior Street. It could hold up to 150 cars and included a filling station, washing and greasing racks, and a service department. The Duluth Herald wrote that “the floors are warped and ramped in a manner that makes it possible to drive safely at a speed of thirty to thirty-five miles per hour.”

In March of 1953 Jack and Shirley Garber purchased Miller’s Cafeteria. They kept the Miller’s brand until 1959, when a remodel with a buffet and a nautical theme inspired the name Captain’s Table Café. The remodel essentially cut the restaurant in half, and Allenfall’s clothing moved into the vacated half. The Captain’s Table remained open until 1972. From 1973 to 1976 Wing Yung Huie operated Wing’s restaurant in the former Captain’s Table location. Wing’s was replaced by the Bread Board, which lasted until 1994. Coco’s to Geaux operated in the space from 2002 to 2006. The Medical Arts Building no longer has a restaurant.

In 1977, 44 years after it moved in, the Chamber of Commerce left the Medical Arts Building and relocated at Pioneer Hall within the Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center. The next year the building received a remodeling. According to  architectural historian Michael Koop, in 1978, except for one original bronze-framed storefront, “All other doors and storefronts were replaced…with new aluminum frame doors and windows and sections of grey and pink granite infill…. All of the original windows were replaced with aluminum frame units.” Most dramatically, a skywalk was inserted into the second floor directly above the main entry, which very likely prompted the Chamber to relocate. Inside, the grand staircase to the Chamber’s rooms on the second floor was removed. The floor now accommodates Skywalk passage.

Generations of Duluthians have visited the Medical Arts Building for countless appointments and procedures for the past 82 years. They’ve had eyeglasses fitted, picked up prescriptions, enjoyed a meal, or perhaps even procured some nylon stockings (at least in the early years). And while the names have changed over the years, and offices have seen countless remodels as medical equipment continues to evolve, today the building remains the home of physicians, dentists, opticians, and the Medical Arts Pharmacy—and will continue to serve the medical community for years to come, a credit to the forethought of Royal D. Alworth and Duluth’s Oneida Realty.

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