The Kitchi Gammi Club

This Month's Grand Old Building

The Kitchi Gammi Club, photographed by Duluth’s Percy Gallagher shortly after it opened in 1913. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

When it opened in 1913, the club’s first floor held a grand hall, the club’s office, a large lounge, two small card rooms, a newspaper room, a library, and a ladies’ waiting room and ladies’ reception room. Much of the club was off limits to women. In fact, membership in the club was limited to men until 1986, and prior to then women were expected to enter not through the front door but from a side entrance located between the ladies’ reception room and ladies’ waiting room.

Half of the second floor was focused on food. It included a kitchen, butcher shop, and separate pastry kitchen. There were two private dining rooms, a ladies dining room, a ladies’ private dining room, and the building’s grandest room of them all, the main dining room, which doubled as a ballroom. The room is two-stories tall and includes a musicians’ gallery accessible from the third floor. The floor also included 12 private bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.

More bedrooms were found on the third floor—twenty of them. Not all had their own baths—some had to share—and the valet and housekeeper also lived on the third floor. The fourth floor—significantly smaller than the first three due to the pitch of the roof, held six more bedrooms. The bedrooms were used most often by non-resident members who were in town to conduct business or attend an important event. Often young, unmarried members of the club lived in these rooms until they married and built grand homes for their new brides. It was convenient to live at the club for not only sleeping and taking meals, but also because the Kitch served as the backdrop for many business deals made between members.

This postcard of the Kitchi Gammi Club was made between 1915 an 1925. (Image: Zenith City Press)

The basement was used pretty much for play. It contained a large billiard room, two squash courts, a gymnasium, and a locker room. Once refreshed and clean from their exercise, members could relax in the bar and tap room or play cards in the large room adjacent to the bar. The basement also held a wine closet, a servant’s locker room, the caretaker’s quarters, a laundry facility, and the boilers that heated the building.

As the times changed, so did the members’ needs, and as a result of this many of the rooms have been adapted from their original use. During Prohibition, small personal lockers were installed behind the bar itself. Here members could store their personal stash of liquor and have a drink at the club without the club technically being in possession of illegal hooch. Current members have often told the tale of another Prohibition-era secret: when construction began on the I-35 expansion through Duluth in the 1980s, some say workers uncovered a tunnel that ran from the lake shore to the basement of the Kitchi Gammi Club and worked as a conduit for bootlegging booze. More recently, the kitchen was completely remodeled, new copper gutters were installed, and the building was upgraded for safety with a sprinkler system and fire alarms.

One of the Kitchi Gammi Club’s limestone American Indian lantern-holding gargoyles that O. George Thrana carved on the exterior of the Ktichi Gammi Club 100 years ago. (Image: Dennis O’Hara, Northern Images.)

Today few of the rooms that were once private bedrooms still serve that purpose, but an out-of-town member can still find housing at the Kitch when visiting the Zenith City. And the building is no longer restricted to use by its members. A variety of rooms can be rented for a variety of purposes—most often meetings and presentations—as long as one member takes responsibility and signs up for the space. Over the years the Kitchi Gammi Club has hosted all sorts of social events and is a popular site for wedding receptions of members’ children, often the next generation of members themselves.

In 1975 the Kitchi Gammi Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Guilford Hartley to create a building that made a statement about the organization it housed. The club meant a lot to Hartley, as it has with many of its members throughout its 130 years. In 1913, the year the building was first opened,  Hartley wrote about his feelings for the club:

“I have belonged to this club for about thirty years. It is nearer to me than anything else except my home, and its members have been my nearest associates in both a social and business way during the best part of my life, and I value their confidence and good wishes and good fellowship more than anything else outside of my own family.”

This Month's Grand Old Building

9 Responses to The Kitchi Gammi Club

  1. What a wonderful history to cherish. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with us!

  2. My father’s sister, Jeannette Reinhart Crawford, in her school days,
    was an organizer of a club of school girls, “the Black Kats@.

    They decided to have a party at the Kitchie club. The published ads & it became a city-wide party or ball.

    Wearing black was required, which Jeannette preferred for the rest of her life. Invitations were printed & black was prominent. I think a silhouette of a black cat eas included.

    She (Jeannette) was born in Duluth about 1908, so this party happened about 1924-1928 (?).

    Do you have any history about this.

  3. Like many clubs started by rich whites for themselves, KGC had other membership prohibitions, beyond women. I understand that blacks, Indians, and Jews were not exactly encouraged to member up. Slowly, membership requirements

    This is a small(?) stain current KGC members, board and management could choose to speak up about. Or they could keep that history under rugs, down in the kitchens, or on the thresholds of back and side entrances.

    I would discourage tax-supported public city county or state entities from renting their space.

  4. My grandfather was Bellboy there in the late teens according to his WW1 draft registration papers. Good story Zenith City

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  6. Reading this story reminds me of the storyline of books and movies that I’ve read/seen, when a couple has a fight and the man says “I’m going to my club” or “I’ll move into the club.” Sleeping rooms obviously were used for such events.

  7. My grandmother (Mina Abrahamson and Grandfather Paul Grin) met while working there. My grandmother was a Pastry Chef and grandfather was a Chef). I would love to know if any employment records are in the archives.

  8. In the 1960’s I worked as a secretary in Duluth and I went to a meeting at the Kitchi Gammi where I was to take notes for my boss. Being a woman, I was not allowed to enter the building via the front door; I had to be escorted in and out through the side entry. Thankfully, things have changed.

  9. The current Kitchi Gammi is such a beautiful building. In UMD’s fledgling days as a “branch” of the University of Minnesota in the late 1940s and early ’50s, all it had was Old Main and a couple of square buildings in the windblown field that eventually became today’s campus. For several years, in the early days, when students organized a homecoming parade downtown, it ran past the Kitchi Gammi. The school’s photographer, Ken Moran, would position himself across the street and photograph the parade with the Kitchi in the background, looking for all the world like one of the Ivy League schools.

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