The Lonsdale Building

This Month's Grand Old Building

Duluth’s Lonsdale Building photographed between 1894 and 1905. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

When first constructed in 1895, the Lonsdale was a five-story Renaissance Revival office building—four stories along Superior Street; five along Michigan Street—faced with orange brick and granite quarried in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and trimmed in terra cotta, included including floral and garland panels, with an ornately detailed top floor.

One of the building’s first tenants was W. M. Prindle and Company, a property management concern operated by prominent Duluthian William M. Prindle. Brown Real Estate likely became acquainted with Prindle & Co. when it purchased the site: William Prindle brokered the sale on behalf of the Board of Trade. The property went for $1,300 a foot based on its 50 feet of Superior Street real estate or $65,000 (about $1.75 million today). In 1885 the Board of Trade had paid just $10,000 for the site. The Duluth News Tribune said it was the highest price per foot anyone had paid for Duluth real estate since it first became a city in 1870.

Architect William Hunt’s sketch of the Lonsdale Building with a five-story addition. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Brown Real Estate then hired Prindle to manage its Duluth investment, and he lined up some top-notch tenants, including the Duluth Savings Bank and the Duluth News Tribune, which contractor Lounsberry had helped establish in the 1880s. In fact, the News Tribune committed to moving in even before construction began. The newspaper’s offices took up part of the Superior Street level, the Michigan Street level, and even the basement. The news tribune took the opportunity to retool and promised its readers it was “the best equipped newspaper at the Head of the Lakes.”

The building proved so popular that Brown Realty chose to add another three stories in 1906. Newspapers reported that the firm again hired Palmer, Hall & Hunt to design the addition, but both Palmer and Hall had moved out of Duluth by 1905. Hunt alone drew up plans for the addition, which involved raising the original top floor so that, when complete, the building looked as if it had always been eight stories high along Superior Street. When the addition was finished, Hunt moved his offices to the Lonsdale.

The addition also lured attorney Herschel Fryberger, who moved his legal practice into the Lonsdale that year. The taller building attracted other law firms as well as real estate outfits and mining companies. For years the Congdon family’s offices occupied the top floor.

This lithographic postcard of the Lonsdale Building was made between 1906 and 1915. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

In 1944 Brown Real Estate sold their Duluth holdings—the Lonsdale and Stone-Ordean-Wells (by then the Twin Ports Wholesale Grocery & Fruit Co.)—to a group called Lonsdale Corp., comprised of “a group of Duluth and eastern investors” led by J. W. Lund of Boston. Both facilities sold for a combined $250,000. A newspaper report of the sale mentioned that the Brown family was liquidating its western assets “in connection with changed tax laws.”

In 1958 Northern National City Bank, whose offices were next door in the Alworth Building, purchased the Lonsdale. Prindle-Lachmund, descendant of Prindle & Co., handled the transaction. Shortly thereafter First Federal Savings & Loan took up residence in the Lonsdale. In the 1960s the exterior of the building’s first two floors were modified when grey and pink granite panels were applied to visually tie the building to the Alworth Building next door, which had undergone a similar change in the 1940s.

Today’s tenants include insurance companies, attorneys, and accounting firms, anchored by the National Bank of Commerce. Herschel Fryberger’s law offices never left, and have grown into the firm of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, PA. And fittingly enough, the Lonsdale also contains the offices of Onieta Realty, a direct descendant of original tenant W. M. Prindle & Co.

Tony Dierckins is the publisher of Zenith City Online and writes monthly about Duluth’s historic architecture. Catch up on past installments of Duluth’s Grand Old Buildings here.

This Month's Grand Old Building

3 Responses to The Lonsdale Building

  1. I would have to do some digging on the years, but the sign sure would indicate that they had offices there.

  2. I notice in the top photo that it says Northwestern Lines. Were they located there as well and until when?

  3. Looking at that photo when the building is on fire, smoke is pouring out the lower floors, the upper wall on the street side is coming down and the crowd is partially
    not willing to stop watching while many others are running the other direction as fast as they can. You can make out a little boy running and someone has fallen. The photo may be deceiving the eye into thinking that the crowd is closer than they actually were, but it sure does look that they are way too close for their own good.

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