Wirth Building

13 West Superior Street | Architect: George Wirth | Built: 1886 | Extant (Lizzard’s Gallery)

Constructed by George Wirth in 1886 for his brother Max’s pharmacy, Wirth Drugs, the three-story red sandstone and limestone Wirth Building was one of a series of elaborate brick and red sandstone Victorian commercial facades that lined the 100 West block of Superior Street. Now only the Bell & Eyster Building (also by George Wirth) and the well-preserved Wirth Building remain of that early commercial streetwall. The building was individually listed in the National Register in 1991 and restored by the current owners in 1995.

Sited on a narrow rectangular lot with its primary façade facing south onto Superior Street, the Romanesque detailing of the second and third floors is balanced by the large, open storefront at the first floor. Two large, flat cast iron columns (maker’s mark obscured by multiple generations of overpainting) support an unadorned steel beam, forming the framework for the storefront opening. The original glazing system and doors have been replaced with new materials, but the large plate windows with three-light transoms, low wooden paneled bulkheads, and glazed wood frame entry doors with multi-light transoms are very sympathetic to the period of construction.

The heavy iron framework of the first floor supports the large blocks of rusticated ashlar masonry that cover the second and third floor. Red sandstone blocks are laid in a running bond, with rusticated limestone accents at window heads and sills, and string courses. A large half-round window opening pierces the eastern half of the second floor, surrounded by a limestone arch that springs from two limestone blocks decorated with an abstracted floral or shield design. The original window unit is set back behind the masonry, and consists of three windows, one fixed window flanked by two 1/1 double hung windows. The windows are supported by a low wood paneled bulkhead, and are topped by large half-round expanse of prism glass. An oriel or bay window balances out the western half of the façade, with two narrower 1/1 double hung wood windows flanking a large fixed unit. The original pressed metal (bronze?) panning and cornice are intact, and the cornice displays a series of beaded bands in graduated sizes. A curved cast iron railing surrounds the upper roof of the bay, which is accessible from the third story windows.

Two engaged red sandstone columns frame the four pointed arch 1/1 double hung wood frame windows of the third floor. The windows rest on a continuous limestone sill and a band of limestone demarcate the spring point of the arches. Small leaded glass transoms fill the point of the arched openings, which are surrounded by a red sandstone head outlined with limestone banding. A tall gabled red sandstone parapet is punctuated by a circular limestone frame that enclose a carved red sandstone shield bearing the dedication date of “1886.” The parapet is capped by a simple rusticated limestone coping.

Sources:

  • Dierckins, Tony and Kerry Elliott. True North: Alternative and Off-Beat Destinations in and Around Duluth, Superior, and the Shores of Lake Superior. Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota: 2003.
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