Columbus Block

The Columbus Block photographed ca. 1924 by Hugh McKenzie [Image: UMD Martin Library]

28–30 West Superior Street | Architect: Peabody & Stearns | Built: 1894 | Altered: 1908, 1955

Research indicates that Elizabeth Amory Gammell of Rhode Island likely commissioned the construction of Duluth’s Columbus Block. Gammell’s father was Robert Hale Ives, half of Rhode Island merchants Brown & Ives; his partner, John Brown, established Brown University. When Hale died in 1875, he left Elizabeth an estimated $15 million. She used some of it to build Providence’s 1889 Church of the Messiah, designed by Boston architects Peabody & Stearns—who also designed the Columbus Block and Duluth’s 1892 Union Depot. (The building’s name was probably inspired by Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition.)

The tan brick-and-brownstone Neoclassical Columbus Building originally stood three stories high along Superior Street and four along Michigan Street. The Superior and Michigan Street levels were faced with rusticated stone, except along the façade facing Superior Street, which was made mostly of plate-glass panels to show off retail merchandise. The second-story windows featured Roman arches, and heavy quoins defined the building’s corners. William Pattison purchased the building in 1908 from Gammell’s estate and added two more floors to the building faced in brick and incorporating heavy corner quoins to tie together the new and old portions of the building.

Four years earlier the first-floor retail space became the home of J. M. Gidding’s dry goods and women’s apparel store. Operated by Jacob Gidding, long-time manager of Silberstein & Bondy, the store remained in the building until 1923. The next year Minnesota Power & Light (formerly the Great Northern Power Company and today Minnesota Power, a subsidiary of the Allette Corporation) began leasing the building and eventually purchased the property. In 1955, MP&L purchased the buildings east of the Columbus at 24 and 26 West Superior Street, razed them, and doubled the size of the Columbus Block. Further additions were made to the building in 1978 and 1985 from 14 to 20 West Superior Street, covering the former footprints of the 1910 Fidelity Building, the 1890 Zenith Block, and the 1896 Kalamazoo Block. The entire structure is now uniformly faced and looks like one building. Today the only  visible signs of the Columbus Building are remnants of three floors along its Michigan Street façade showing some rusticated stone and the third floor’s Roman-arch windows.