Duluth Downtown YMCA (1908)

302–312 West Second Street | Architects: German & Lignell | Built: 1908 | Lost: 1974

One of the oldest organizations in Duluth, the Young Men’s Christian Association has been serving the community since 1882, when it set up a free reading room and library association at 18 East Superior Street. Since then the Y has grown and spread throughout the city. The 1908 building at 302–312 West Second Street, designed by Frederick C. German & A. Werner Lignell, was five stories of red brick in a classical design trimmed with Tennessee marble. Its amenities included two gymnasiums, a pool, locker rooms, game rooms, a library, classrooms, and a dormitory. Its lobby had a marble base and terrazzo floors and was trimmed in English Oak; the chairs were upholstered in Spanish leather. Adjoining the lobby was “The Alcove,” offering “a retreat for reading, music, and social chats” and furnished with easy chairs, a piano, and a red-brick fireplace. The downtown YMCA was demolished in 1974 to make room for a new YMCA facility on the same site.


Young Men’s Christian Association

Of the religious and benevolent organizations which, from “little acorns” have grown to be “mighty oaks,” one that has grown to conspicuous place is the Young Men’s Christian Association of Duluth, which, from the earliest days of the city, has tried to hold its young men to manly acts. It has well deserved honorable place in the history of Duluth for the leadership it has had over the young men of the city in their teenage and early manhood, growing with the city and the generations until its branches overspread the city and provide useful inspirational service to the rising generation in its impressionable years.

With the exception of the Duluth Bethel Society, which was organized in 1872, the Young Men’s Christian Association is the only one, of the present auxiliary organizations of religious character, that comes into the pioneer record. The compiler of this review has unfortunately been able to gather little regarding the organization of the Duluth Y. M. C. A., but it seems more than likely that it came into being in 1869, or early in 1870. Its quarters in 1870 were at 110 West Superior Street, the site now occupied by the Ten Cent Store.

Those original quarters of the Y. M. C. A. come into some records of the pioneer period as the “Y. M. C. A. Building,” into others as the “Graves Building”; the little two-story frame structure well deserves place in the review of the historic buildings of Duluth, for within its walls were humbly begun many institutions which have become mighty organizations. It has been stated that in it the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, in the winter of 1869-70; it was in the “rooms of the Young Men’s Christian Association over the office then occupied by C. H. Graves and Company, at 110 West Superior Street,” that the “first formal gathering” of Congregational friends occurred, on November 27, 1870, “to consider the question of organizing a Congregational Church” in Duluth, the outcome of which meeting was the organization of the society now represented in the Pilgrim and other Congregational churches of the city; in the same building on a Sunday afternoon in 1870 the Duluth Street Railway Company was formed, probably in the office of Charles H. Graves; and several other movements of importance had their inception in that building, which seemed to be the center from which radiated the activity and initiative of many of the public welfare and service movements of that period of Duluth.

The Pendleton Building is interesting in its business associations also; one of its four store-windows on the ground floor was all the display-space that was necessary to satisfactorily exhibit the leading “lines” offered for sale by the pioneer department-store enterprise, the business which has grown so that it now demands all the space provided in the Glass Block store of today; and the third story in the Pendleton building was the photographic studio of Caswell and Davy.

It is possible that the work of the Young Men’s Christian Association dwindled to well-nigh insignificant proportions during the few benighted years that followed the Jay Cooke failure of 1873; indeed, the original organization may have passed out of existence altogether, for some records apparently show that the present organization had its inception in 1882, when the rooms of the “Y” were a little to the eastward of Lake Avenue, on Superior Street. In 1886, the association had a membership “rapidly nearing three hundred, earnest and active in religious work,” and had “a comfortable building,” which provided “a well-equipped gymnasium, reading rooms, members’ parlor, a hall for religious and social meetings” and other offices.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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