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Sellwood Building

Architect William Hunt’s Sketch of the Sellwood Building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Outside of the labor strife, the construction of the Sellwood went relatively smoothly. A few workers had been hurt on the job, but none sustained life-threatening injuries. The worst accident involved Adolph Hendrickson, who lost four fingers after they were crushed on the job.

In the end the Sellwood building cost $225,000—$75,000 more than the original estimate. Duluth Cut Stone used 6,000 feet of Portage Lake stone and the granite steps. Scott-Graff supplied the quarter-sawn white oak used to trim most of the building and the mahogany used in the bank. Dunlop & Moore not only handled the hollow tile used for fireproofing between floors, but also the Italian marble used for the floor and wainscoting. Paine & Nixon brought the brick: 700,000 common bricks and 75,000 Columbus pressed brick for the facing.

The building’s anchor tenant on the Superior Street level was Sellwood’s own City National Bank, which he formed in 1902 along with some of the biggest names in Duluth: Whaleback shipbuilder Alexander McDougall, iron-mining executive A. M. Chisholm, Michael Kelley of Duluth’s Kelley-Howe-Thompson, John Panton of the Panton & White Store (which later became Glass Block), among others. The bank’s cashier was William Prince, who would become mayor of the Zenith City.

On May 2, 1908, the bank moved from the first Alworth Building on the lower 300 block of West Superior Street (not the same Alworth Building that stands in the same location today). The Duluth News Tribune described its interior:

The new banking room is large and very handsome. The entire size of the room is 50 x 115 feet. The lobby is 20 x 60 feet. The counters are Pazzanova marble and the trimmings are Greek verde antique. The ceiling is done in ivory and gold and the floors are white marble tile. The whole effect is pleasant to the eye, and the massive marble pillars down the center of the lobby add impressiveness to the general effect of the interior of the banking rooms.

On May 3, the day after its anchor tenant moved in, the Sellwood Building finally received a building permit. The Duluth News Tribune joked that “It’s nice that a permit has been issued for the erection of the Sellwood building, into which the City National Bank has already been moved. It would have been an awful thing for an inexistent building to occupy that corner.”

Besides the bank, the Sellwood contained 113 offices when it first opened. Its initial tenants included Charles P. Craig Real Estate; the Lakeside Land Co. (operated by Craig); P. M. Olson Architect; M. Douglas Attorney; A. E. McManus, Attorney; McMahon & Rock, Attorneys; West Duluth and Duluth Transfer Co.; Calumet & Señora Mining Co.; Shattuck Arizona Copper Co.; Norton Lumber Co.; Equitable Life Assurance Society; Prudential Insurance; Hartford Life Insurance; Harper-Shields Insurance (Travelers); Edward C. Liedel & Co.; Insurance; Henford Investment Co.; Drs. Magie, Patton, Sukeforth & Kuth; Dr. Horace S. Davis.

The next year John Shea received a permit to operate a saloon in the Sellwood’s basement, bringing the building project full circle: Shea had operated a saloon at the Merchant’s Hotel before it was demolished to make way for the Sellwood.

On July 30, 1908, tragedy struck the Sellwood. John Berquist, a 29-year-old painter from Rush City, Minnesota, was at work in the basement painting the ironwork within the elevator shaft. He had asked the elevator operator to bring the car to the top floor and stay there until he was done. The car operator forgot the request, and minutes after Berquist entered the shaft “the car came swooping down upon him and before he could jump to safety its weight struck him and crushed him to the floor.” Dr. W. H. Magie, whose office was in the Sellwood, saw that Berquist’s head had been “split open” and declared he had been killed instantaneously.

In 1910 Joseph Sellwood married Martha Tiggs, the widow of Jeremiah Tiggs, a Civil War veteran who had come to Duluth on the advice of Jay Cooke and became a wealthy real estate man. The Duluth News Tribune called the Sellwood-Tiggs nuptials a “surprise wedding.” The marriage was brief—Joseph Sellwood died in 1914. According to Zenith City’s Heidi Bakk-Hanson, the widow Sellwood became embroiled in a months-long fight over her inheritance with his children. Eventually, all was resolved to Mrs. Sellwood’s satisfaction, and she enjoyed many years of wealth and tropical vacations—and solitude—until her death in Beverly Hills, California, in 1945.

One thing has been consistent throughout the building’s life: Its Superior Street-level anchor tenant has always been a bank. First Federal Savings & Loan purchased the building and moved in in 1958. The new owners gave the Sellwood a modern makeover that removed most of the elements that once made it a grand building. Prior to 1963 its Superior Street and 2nd Avenue West façades of the building’s Superior and Michigan-Street levels were dramatically altered. The orange brownstone (which was either removed or covered) was replaced by large panels of highly polished purplish-pink granite. The alteration was likely part of an attempt to make the building look more modern (the same thing happened to many other Duluth buildings during the same time).

Today Western Bank occupies the Superior Street level. Other current tenants include Mercury Investment Brokers, Raymone Kral & Associates, psychological services; Dryer Storaasli Knutson & Pommerville, LTD., attorneys; Steven Reyelts Law; Mercury Investment; Young & Associates Insurance; the Local Initiatives Support Corporation; and the Northland Foundation. It is managed by Onieda Realty and continues to be a most-able building, even if has lost its much of its character and the most-able man who built it is long gone.

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Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.