Alworth Building

A postcard of the Alworth Building made some time between 1915 and 1925. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Inside, the entire first floor was occupied by Northern National Bank. Its counters were faced with white marble and capped with green marble. The woodwork and furniture were all made of mahogany, the floors of marble tile, and the ceiling finished in ornamental plaster. The bank also featured a large skylight. Beyond the first floor, the building is essentially made of two wings. The gap between them provides more windows to light offices and allowed light to come in the skylight. The second through fifteenth floors originally contained 275 offices, all lined with marble wainscoting and trimmed in mahogany; the floors were covered with marble tiles as well.

Other initial tenants included a number of real estate companies, insurance companies, and brokerage firms such as Clarke-Wertin Insurance Co., McLoed & Hamilton Real Estate, C. H. Graves & Company (insurance, real estate, loans), and A. H. Burg and Co. Real Estate. The Oneida Realty Company—created by Alworth in 1908 and technically the building’s owner—also set up shop in the Alworth. A few physicians took up residency as well, including Dr. McAuliffe, Dr. J. C. Anderson, and others.

Duluth was apparently fond of its tall structure. During its first ten years it was referenced in the papers frequently, sometimes in corny jokes (“How much is Alworth?”) and other times simply to fill space. A June 1913 article, for example, described the building’s maintenance crew and made some amazing calculations about its elevator operators: they “travelled” 170 miles each day, 1,120 miles a week, and 52,000 miles a year. “Every year the operator’s duties oblige them to travel as far as a trip twice around the world. Each month they ride over a journey equal in mileage to a sea voyage between Seattle and Japan. Each week they tour, through the Alworth Building, from New York to Cuba in the number of miles covered.”

As the region’s tallest building, it also attracted flies—human flies, that is. The first, W. H. Gardiner, scaled the face of the Alworth on August 12, 1916, with 5,000 people watching; he had scaled the Lonsdale the day before. In May 1921, Jack Williams—billed as “the original human fly”—scaled the building twice on May 9 and 10 as part of a fundraising effort for the American Legion. (William’s own publicity declared that “More than 500 men acting under his name have been killed in attempting to copy his feat.”)

As most office buildings do, the Alworth has led a quiet life. Tenants have come and gone, and have reflected the business of the city: the Alworth has been home to architects, attorneys, mining companies, railroad companies, steamship companies, and the previously mentioned real estate and insurance companies. The building had a minor facelift in 1947, when the first- and second-floor façades were faced with unpolished gray-and-pink granite panels that reached over to the Lonsdale Building to the east and a four-story addition to the west, creating one two-story façade for both buildings and the new wing.

The Alworths themselves have come and gone as well. Marshall H. Alworth’s sons Marshall W. Alworth and Royal D. Alworth—the only two of Marshall H. and Nellie’s seven children to survive to adulthood—took over their father’s businesses. Marshall W. oversaw the mining properties and Royal D. took on the real estate holdings. The elder Alworth passed away in 1931 at 84 years old. Nellie died in 1947. Two years later Marshal W. Alworth started the Marshall H. and Nellie Alworth Scholarship program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Northern National Bank became the Northern City National Bank some time before 1957, the year the giant letters “N” and “C” were first placed atop the Alworth—and illuminated at night. A 1980 merger changed the bank’s name to First Bank Duluth. In 1988 First Bank built itself a new building at 130 West Superior Street and, naturally, moved out of the Alworth. First Bank has since become U.S. Bank.

Today, the Alworth building still includes the offices of Alworth’s Oneida Realty. It is also home to the Marshall H. and Nellie Alworth Fund, St. Louis County Title Company, Stewart Title, several law firms (including large firms such as Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn, & Beyer and Petersen, Sage, Graves, Layman & Moe), The Minnesota Board of Public Defense, Eagle Accounting, and Wheeler  Associates. The first floor is still occupied by a bank, Republic Bank, which moved in in the 1980s. The skylight that once helped illuminate the bank when it opened in 1910 has been covered.

Despite those early reports of Duluth inevitably become home to dozens of skyscrapers, no one has constructed a building in Duluth that surpasses the Alworth in height. The original plans for the new Maurice’s corporate headquarters, currently under construction along the entire upper half of the west 400 block of Superior Street, called for a 15-story glass tower, but plans have since been altered to 11 stories. Over 105 years later, the Alworth remains Duluth’s tallest structure—and it doesn’t look like it will be surpassed any time soon.

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