Hotel Duluth (Greysolon Plaza)

This Month's Grand Old Building:

The Hotel Duluth depicted in a postcard c. 1925. (Image:X-Comm)

Hotel Duluth
Address: 219-231 East Superior Street
Architect: Martin Tullgren and Sons, Milwaukee, WI
Built: 1924 | Extant (Greysolon Plaza)

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It may be difficult for us in 2013 to think of Duluth as a community without a nice place for out-of-town guests to stay. Since tourism took off in the 1980s we’ve seen more and more quality hotels pop up in Canal Park and along London Road, where they replaced the motels that sprung up in the 1960s. But in the early 1920s, there weren’t too many hostelries the Zenith City could brag about. Duluth had other luxury hotels at the time, including the Spalding, but most of them were aging and located in what had become Duluth’s Bowery. Many of Duluth’s hotels were hardly hotels but boarding houses occupied mostly by the destitute. Duluth business leaders dreamed of a luxury hotel for local dignitaries to host out-of-town guests and other V.I.Ps. That dream would come true with the opening of the Hotel Duluth.

The Hotel Duluth was built through the efforts of the Citizen’s Hotel Committee, formed in 1923 by Whitney Wall to bring a first-class hotel to Duluth. At its helm was George H. Crosby, who had made a fortune in real estate and mining speculation and built himself a grand mansion at 21st Avenue East and Superior Street.

George Crosby c. 1925. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Crosby travelled to Milwaukee to meet with Walter Schroeder, owner of six hotels in Wisconsin, including Green Bay’s Hotel Northland, Wausau’s Hotel Wausau, Fond du Lac’s Hotel Retlaw, Madison’s Hotel Loraine, and two in Milwaukee, the Astor and the Hotel Milwaukee. Schroeder agreed to build his seventh hotel in Duluth, but first the committee would have to raise $350,000. Schroeder would fund the rest. Meanwhile, Schroeder had Milwaukee’s Martin Tullgren and Sons—the architects who had designed his previous hotels—to begin work on drawings for the Hotel Duluth.

Walter Schroeder, c. 1925. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Crosby returned to the Zenith City and began a fund-raising effort while the committee sought out a site for the building. The first choice was 12th Avenue East and Superior Street, but Schroeder didn’t like it and instead the Amphitheatre was constructed on that lot. Other possibilities included Fourth Avenue West and Second Street, 8th Avenue East and Superior Street, and Third Avenue East and Superior Street, part of which was owned by Cavour Hartley, head of the Hartley Family Trust (Guilford Hartley passed away in 1922). Four buildings stood on the lot, but they were hardly remarkable works of architecture: simple, timber framed buildings that held small retail businesses and a taxidermist, so there was no public outcry concerning their demolition. A deal was struck. All that was needed now was money.

Architect Martin Tullgren photographed in 1925. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Crosby raised the funds by selling stock by subscriptions beginning in November 1923. he worked tirelessly, and Duluth businesses donated goods and services toward the effort. But the morning of Schroeder’s deadline in February 1924 Crosby was still $40,000 short—over half a million dollars today. At ten a.m. that day Crosby began calling on his wealthy friends, including Hartley, Albert M. Marshall (owner of Marshall-Wells Hardware), and Albert Ordean. At 2 p.m. Crosby wired Schroeder: Duluthians had raised their $350,000 portion of the project.

While the investors would have to wait for their return, the project boosted the local economy almost immediately: the hotel’s construction was a feast for the local building trades, with 90% of the construction handled by local firms: General Contractor Jacobsen Brothers oversaw the entire project; Whitney Brothers provided the sand & gravel; Stack Brothers plumbed the project, heat came from Gogebic Steam boilers, Walker-Jamar furnished the insulation, sheet metal, and roofing materials, Thomson-Williams put in the marble floors while Sani-Stone Products provided the Terrazzo floors and stairs; the glass came from Paine & Nixon; Scott-Graff made the doors and other millwork, outfitted with hardware from Karon Hardware; George G. Thill performed the plastering, and his walls were covered in paint from Marshall-Wells. One man—Gustav Richardson—sanded the ballroom floor.

This sketch appeared in a special edition of the Duluth Herald in commemoration of the hotel’s grand opening. It depicts “King” Walter Schroeder and Architect Tullgren presenting the Hotel Duluth to “Queen Duluth”. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Jacobsen Brothers and their subcontractors finished the job three weeks before their deadline. Their work resulted in a 14-story Classical Revival hostelry with Italian Renaissance details, the largest building of its kind in all of the “Northwest” at the time. It is U-Shaped, made up of two connecting brick-and-stone towers. The building’s west end has an additional three-story section in anticipation of a third wing which was never built. The building’s exterior was faced with over 500,000 bricks provided by Duluth’s Standard Salt & Cement and decorated with rosettes, swags, Corinthian columns, bronze lamps along the roof and a terra cotta canopy for each tower. When it was complete, the building contained more than 500,00 board feet of lumber and 1,000 tons of reinforced concrete. The final cost of the project came to $2.4 Million, about $31 million in today’s dollars. (Read a more complete architectural description of the building here.)

Click on “2” for the rest of the story….

This Month's Grand Old Building:

15 Responses to Hotel Duluth (Greysolon Plaza)

  1. Is KDAL still on the air? My father the late Paul E Palmquist who was pastor of the First Covenant Church in 21st Ave W had a weekly half hour long radio program at the station. I used to sit on a stool in the control room and watch what it took to put the program on the air. This was in the 1936-1943
    Time period. My experience probably was partially responsible for my nearly 30 year career in broadcasti journalism.

  2. I’m new to this zenithcity.com. The articles ar e fun to read. I lived close to the hotel Duluth for a few years, my paper route brought me in there as well as the barber shop. I also remember when Bob Hope was there. Early. 50’s. Ted Roach……………

  3. As a teenager visiting Duluth and into my college years at UMD, I stayed there on occasion. I often thought how great it would be to live there if only the rooms/spaces were reconfigured. Much to my delight (…and surprise frankly) this grand building was re-purposed and saved as viable housing. Kudos to the Bowman Company and later to Sherman & Associates.

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  5. Most likely the photo was of Herbert W. Tullgren. His father Martin actually died in October 1922. The firm kept the name of Martin Tullgren and Sons until Herbert’s death in 1944.

    Very interesting article about Tullgren’s work!

  6. Alice, those photos come from the 1925 commemorative issue of the Duluth Herald, and the captions say it is Martin Tulgren—but that doesn’t mean the paper wasn’t wrong.

  7. My great great grandfather was Martin Tullgren. His youngest son was Herbert but his first son Minard was my grandfather. Sadly I never meet him because he died at 41 years old when my father (Harvey Tullgren) was only 8. We have found stories of many buildings they designed in I believe the Milwaukee School of Architecture and Engineering (not sure of the exact name)etc. but I had not seen this one with a picture. I am confused though because Martin would have been 67 in 1925 and the picture is of a much younger man. Are you sure the picture isn’t of Hebert who would have been 36 in 1925?
    Any information you might have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  8. The site of many “ordinary” events of life there were a just a little bit grander for being there. I remember in the 1960s going to the Rotary Club Christmas parties with my dad and our high school proms. Family dinners at the Black Bear (not many) and stories from my dad (a life long Duluthian) about people he had seen there. Now hopefully, back on its way to grandeur again.

  9. My mother’s uncle was an artist and photographer, One of his paintings hung, at one time, in the main lobby. His name was Axel Schar and lived in Duluth until the early to mid 1940’s when he divorced his wife and moved to Worthington. Does anyone remember any painting by Axel hanging in the lobby and/or where it could be now?

  10. Hotel Duluth was headquarters for every major event in Duluth for all of the years I worked for the Duluth newspapers, starting in 1963, until it closed. As a reporter some of the celebrities I interviewed there included Maurice Chevalier, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Rickenbacher, Jane Pauley, and, most memorably, the actor John Carradine, with whom I spent a couple of hours in the hotel’s Black Bear Lounge listening to his Shakespearian intonations describing old Hollywood. Drinks were consumed. Patrons recognized him for his role as Bob Ford in the Tyrone Power Jesse James movie, and kidded him about killing Jesse. Carradine took it in good spirits. Tyrone Power, by the say, stayed there after appearing at the Armory in “John Brown’s Body,” as did Bette Davis, just passing through, and Ingrid Bergman, who came to Duluth early in World War II to sell war bonds. I didn’t interview them, though. Before my time.

  11. I am Doug Hall’s older sister Virginia Hall (Green). Mom (Helen Hall) was was head cashier but also secretary to the Manager, Mr. Wolff, she could run the front desk and the switchboard as well. Some of the autographs she got for me were Eleanor Roosevelt (this one I dated Aug 1947), Nelson Eddie (movie star, singer), Wayne King (orchestra leader), Charles Boyer (actor), Adolph Menjou (actor), Roy Rodgers, Jeannie Torrell & Rise Stevens(opera singers) Frankie Yankovic. Probably years 1947-50. I also remember Bob Hope came in 1950 but I didn’t get his autograph. I am sure there were many more but those are the ones I have in my old autograph book. I worked in the office the summer I graduated from Denfeld June 1950 until November when business slowed down.

  12. Great memory’s Douglas! Do you remember the names of those celebrities? Any we didn’t mention in our story? Thanks for reading!

  13. Oh what a wonderful place. My Mother worked there as the head cashier for many years until 1951 when we moved to California. She got me many many autographed pictures from so many movie stars and famous people that stayed there over the years. I loved taking the bus form West Duluth to visit Mom and really enjoyed just wondering around the beautiful Hotel. At 12 years old I could still get into the North Shore movie for 12 cents and then go home with mom.

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