Bill Ames of Dallas, Texas, recently sent us a kind email thanking us for the work we do on Zenith City Online. He also had this question: “Are there any historical items about a 1930s-1940s downtown restaurant named Casa del Norte Tea Room? It was owned and operated by my father, William H. Ames.”
Bill, the Casa del Norte Tea Room was housed on the second floor of the 1883 Williamson Block at 125 W Superior Street from 1929 to 1947, home of the Duluth Clothing House. As you mentioned, your father William H. Ames—along with his sister, Florence Ames Adams—operated the tea room, described in Roland Hill’s 1948 book I Recommend: Good Places to Go, Eat, Play and Shop as “a very nice tea room upstairs right in the heart of the business district. Quiet and refined atmosphere with lunches from 45 cents and dinners from 75 cents.” Unfortunately, the tea room closed in 1947—before the book was published—when the Clothing House moved. The building itself was destroyed by fire in 1953.
Duluth had many tea rooms beginning in the early part of the twentieth century. They were a popular fad throughout the country, many of them housed in major department stores, and the scene of many society lunches, bridge parties, and other events and were particularly popular among “society women.” They were nearly all operated by women and became a fashionable place for women to socialize with friends, particularly during the 1920s.
Duluth’s Atlas Tea Room at 124 East First Street opened December 20, 1922, offering a “full line of homemade candy, pastry, ice cream, and lunches.” Christ Karas and Thomas Logan opened the Diana Tea Rooms at 228 West First Street in 1936, but it had closed by 1940, when another restaurant took its place.
The Lake View Tea and Dining Room operated out of a building at 730 East Superior Street first built as a confectionary. Frank O. and Theolinda A. (Magnuson) Wallin founded and operated Lakeview Tea in 1914 and operated it until 1957. The building is now home to Coppola Artistica.
Burgetta Moe’s Tea Room operated as part of her Coolshanagh Inn at 742 1/2 East Superior Street—the eastern portion of the Hartley Building—beginning in 1921. The food was prepared “as only Miss Moe knows,” and was famous for its roast chicken dinner. The tea house only opened for daily lunches and Sunday meals, served from noon to 2:30 pm. Today Patrick D. Francisco & Associates, a financial advising firm, operates from Miss Moe’s former location.
Known as “a popular place for women, especially, to have lunch and see and be seen,” the Greysolon Tea Room in the Glass Block department store at 128 West Superior Street was the most celebrated tea room to ever grace the Zenith City.
The store itself began as Panton & White and was unofficially called the Glass Block, a Minneapolis term for a dry goods and department store. When the F. A. Patrick Company purchased Panton & White in 1911, the store’s name officially changed to The Glass Block Store.
The new owners installed the Greysolon Tea Rooms on the fourth floor so they looked out over Lake Superior. The rooms were divided into three separate facilities: one for ladies and children only, one for gentlemen only (outfitted in part for private meetings), and a third in which the genders were allowed to mix—and where the men could smoke a selection of the Greysolon’s “choicest line of cigars.”
The trim and furniture was made of silvery toned birch in the “old English style,” and the dining room entrance was graced with a plaster statue of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth. Two hundred people had lunch at the Greysolon the day it opened, May 24, 1910, under the direction of their host and the tea rooms’ manager, a Mrs. Van Ham. LaBrosse’s orchestra entertained diners, who were charged $1 for the meal.
At the Greysolon—the “handsomest and best equipped Tea Rooms in the entire Northwest”—society ladies held luncheons, often in honor of out-of-town visitors, or entertained guests at bridge. These events were almost always reported on in local newspapers’ society pages.
In 1919 the tea rooms were moved to Glass Block’s fifth floor, as the fourth floor space was then considered “old and less interesting.” This time, opening day lunch served 600 guests, and the facility was renamed the Greysolon Du Luth Tea Rooms.
The new facility featured two portraits of Duluth’s namesake, Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Luht. The lobby was graced by the 1919 work of temporary Duluth resident Clarence C. Rosenkranz, “Daniel Greysolon Dulhut at Little Portage,” which shows Du Luht landing on Minnesota Point in 1679 at Onigamiinsing, a portage used by Ojibwe for hundred of years until it was dug up and became the Duluth Ship Canal.
Over the dining room’s “skillfully chiseled” fireplace hung artist and Duluth native David Ericson’s portrait of du Luht on horseback in the town square of his birthplace, Saint-Germain-Laval, France, when he served as a member of Louis IV’s Royal Guard.
(By the way, the Duluth News Tribune article about the tea rooms refers to Duluth’s namesake as “Jean Du Luth.” Read about how Daniel Greysolon became known as “Jean” here.)
When the 1919 tea room opened, an article in the American Cloak & Suit Review mentioned how “Duluth Society” was delighted to entertain at the Greysolon as it helped the affluent to “[rise] above the servant problem.” This suggests that the use of domestic help within wealthy households in Duluth and throughout the country was on the decline.
The popularity of the tea room in America itself had declined by the 1940s. Twenty-one years after the 1919 tea room opened, it was closed by the department store so more space could be dedicated to retail sales. The Greysolon Tea Rooms later opened in the Plaza Shopping Center and became known as the Dinner Belle.
Both paintings were given to the St. Louis County Historical Society, where they are currently in storage, last seen by the public during a Fall 2011 fundraiser for the Saint Louis County Heritage and Arts Center.