Astoria Hotel (aka Loeb Block)

The Astoria Hotel, aka the Loeb Block, photographed ca. 1910 by Hugh McKenzie (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Katherine A. Martin Library Special Collections & Archives)

102–108 East Superior Sreet | Architect: John J. Wangenstein | b. 1905 | Extant

Like the Metropole, Louis and Sam Loeb built the Astoria Hotel and John Wangenstein designed it—and trouble marked its early years. When it opened, however, the Duluth News Tribune boasted of its fifty-six “splendidly furnished” rooms and a buffet it considered “second to none,” and that it stood “among the leading hotels of the city.”

The building stands two stories tall on Superior Street and three along Michigan Street. Wangenstein’s design called for a simple commercial building with fanciful brickwork adorning its Superior Street façade, including corner quoins, large rounded pediments at each end of the parapet, and six central second-floor windows crowned with pediments pierced by keystones. It was more of a retail complex than a hostelry: the Superior and Michigan Street levels each contained five storefronts while the hotel was restricted to the second floor. Proprietor Martin Smith threw the Astoria’s doors open on March 24, 1906, with Jen Flaaten’s Orchestra providing music in the large dining room, whose walls were decorated with reproductions of famous oil paintings executed by Axel Bergholdt of St. Germain Brothers.

By 1908 the hotel had become a popular location for assignations between unmarried couples, often young people who found little opportunity for privacy in their parents’ homes or boarding houses. In March, police arrested two unmarried couples, registered at the hotel as married couples, for disorderly conduct. Tragedy struck the Astoria in 1914, when drunk Duluthian Pat Lawler shot his widowed sister-in-law Mary in the head before turning the gun on himself (she died; he was only grazed). They too were registered as a married couple.

George Larson took over as the hotel’s manager in 1915, but little changed. Despite warnings by Duluth police chief Robert McKercher, unmarried couples still frequented the Astoria—and police kept arresting them. There was other trouble as well, including gambling, clerks selling liquor to guests without a license, and a melee in the Astoria’s pool room that ended when an aging lumberjack cracked a clothing salesman over the head with a cue.

The hotel closed following a fire in 1929 that destroyed much of the building’s decorative flourishes above its roofline, after which the building was partially remodeled. Over the years the building has served as the home of all sorts of retail and service businesses, including dry cleaners, a marine supply company, an electronics store, a paint store, several taverns, a liquor store, a coin shop, a lighting studio, interior designers, a head shop, a screen printer, a martial arts studio, and a gift shop. For the past few decades, its main tenants have been Old Town Antiques & Books and the Chinese Dragon Restaurant, operated nearly single-handedly since the mid-1980s by Chinese immigrant Fong “Jenny” Tang. Tang told the Duluth News Tribune in December 2021 she “wouldn’t retire until they tore down the building.” Just days later the newspaper announced that the building’s owner, Hall Equities, of Walnut Creek, California, plans to tear down the building in 2022 to create a parking lot.