St. Louis Hotel(s)

The 1882 St. Louis Hotel. (Image: Zenith City Press)

First: 330 West Superior St. | Architect: George Wirth, Oliver Traphagen | Built: 1882 | Lost: 1893

1888 Addition: 318 West Superior St. | Architect: Oliver Traphagen | Lost: 1893

Second: 318-330 West Superior St. | Architect: Traphagen & Fitzpatrick | Built: 1894 | Lost: 1932

After his beloved Clark House burned in 1881, proprietor Thomas Cullyford hired St. Paul’s George Wirth to design the St. Louis Hotel on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue West and Superior Street. A typical Victorian design of four stories with red and white brick, the St. Louis—named for the river that creates the Duluth-Superior harbor—featured two square roof towers, columns, balconies, and decorative window hoods all capped with an elaborate cornice. The hotel resembled the Metropolitan Block, another Wirth creation.

Like the Clark House before it, Cullyford’s new hotel would serve as a gathering place for financiers and politicians, though in a few years it would have competition from the Spalding Hotel and the Kitchi Gammi Club for that distinction. It was also “famous for its food and hospitality.”

In 1888 — as the grand Spalding Hotel was being built one block west — Cullyford hired Wirth’s former protégé, Oliver Traphagen, to design an eastern wing for the building that would nearly double the hotel’s size. The new wing, called the Brighton Hotel, repeated the architectural features of the original. Cullyford managed it himself while he hired James Butchart and Alexander Michaud to manage the St. Louis, which had become a favored temporary home for touring performers booked at the nearby Lyceum Theatre — and the unofficial home of the Duluth Snowshoe and Toboggan Association.

The first St. Louis Hotel, sketched after a major addition in 1888. The furthermost wing to the right is the original 1882 building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Tragedy struck the St. Louis on January 13, 1893, when two people perished in a fire that ultimately destroyed the original hotel building. Smoke and water damaged the Brighton, but not enough to keep it from reopening that March.

Architect’s sketch of the 1894 St. Louis Hotel. (Image: Zenith City Press)

The following year Traphagen and his partner Francis Fitzpatrick designed a new St. Louis Hotel, which was located east of and atop the Brighton lot. The new St. Louis stood six stories tall with a patterned brick cornice and carved stone ornamentation. Under the direction of Butchart and Michaud and their partner Louis Rouchleau, the new St. Louis regained its previous popularity with visitors.

The St. Louis Hotel photographed ca. 1900. (Image: Zenith City Press)

But by the late 1920s it was in decline, described in a 1948 WEBC radio program as “a rat’s nest and fire trap” at the end of its life. It was razed in 1932 to make room for the Medical Arts Building, an Art Deco masterpiece which still stands today.