Wolvin Building (Missabe Building)

The Wolvin Building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
225-231 West 1st Street | Architect: John J. Wangenstein and William Hunt | 1901-1902, 1909 | Extant (Missabe Building)

When the Wolvin Building first went up in 1902, it was six stories high — another three were added in 1909, as shown in the postcard above. Built by Captain August B. Wolvin, the building’s primary tenants included subsidiary companies of U.S. Steel and the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad. Ironically, Wolvin and others had also acquired and modernized the West Duluth Blast Furnace Company, turning it into a profitable operation that competed with its tenant, U.S. Steel in Morgan Park. By the 1970s the building’s name had changed to the Missabe Building.

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When it was constructed for A. B. Wolvin, the Renaissance Revival style Wolvin Building was a mere four stories high. But in a move that does not appear to be unusual in Duluth, an additional five stories were added in 1909, presumably following the successful example of the Lonsdale Building. Approximately 1.5 million pounds of structural steel were used to construct the building, by the American Bridge Company, which was a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. The building as it now appears is nine stories on its primary south façade, and eight stories on the rear due to the slope of the rectangular site on the northeast corner of First Street and Third Avenue West. Like its neighbor to the west, the Board of Trade, the two-story base of the building is built from large blocks of red sandstone, here carved into stacks of rusticated blocks that form large square Doric pillars. These pillars break the facades up into bays, five on the south and seven on the west. On the north façade, the large central entry bay has been modified with a new, highly polished purple granite surround and new aluminum frame entry doors and transoms, added at an unknown date. It was also at this time that a granite base and bulkhead was added across the first floor. Large rectangular storefront window openings on the first floor are defined by the vertical piers and large jack arch heads formed from rusticated sandstone voussoirs. All of the storefront windows were replaced by new aluminum frame fixed units with dark tinted glazing. The second floor appears to retain many of its original features and details, with each bay containing a trio of wood frame windows joined by decorative square sandstone mullions – a large central fixed window flanked by two smaller 1/1 double hung units.

The third through eighth floors are of a tan brick with matching terra cotta sills and quoins on the corners of the outer bays. The south façade is arranged in three bays, with the central bay slightly recessed. The outer bays have two rectangular openings at each floor, but the center has three groups of three. All of the window openings were modified at an unknown date with infill in a contrasting orange brick, and new aluminum frame fixed window units that are much smaller than the original openings. The ninth floor follows the same arrangement as that seen on the lower floors, but displays more elaborate terra cotta detailing in the form of a projecting string course with dentil molding that also serves as a continuous sill for the windows. Piers composed of alternating bands of brick and terra cotta frame the window openings, and large round shield motifs are affixed to the tops of the piers. The projecting terra cotta cornice above is supported by large brackets.

The secondary west façade is virtually identical, but the central bay is expanded to include five groups of three windows. As on the Board of Trade building, this secondary façade also has a skywalk inserted at the third floor above the central entry, and the central entry bay still contains its historic doors, windows and transoms.

Sources:

  • Koop, Michael. “National Register of Historic Places Registration for the Duluth Commercial Historic District.” Minnesota State Office of Historic Preservation, St. Paul: 2005.
  • Dierckins, Tony. Zenith: A Postcard Perspective of Historic Duluth. Zenith City Press (X-Communication), Duluth, Minnesota: 2006.
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