131 E. Second St. | Architect: Carl Nystrom | Built: 1923 | Extant
Irish immigrant James Love Crawford came to Duluth in 1889, taking a job as an embalmer with Marvin J. Durkan & Company, “Dealers in Books, Pictures, Church Goods, and Undertakers” at 18 Second Avenue West. In 1900 Crawford became a partner, and the company became Durkan & Crawford, operating out of 211 Second Avenue West until 1910 when Durkan retired (he died three years later). Crawford practiced by himself for a couple years back at 18 Second Avenue West before setting up shop at 203 West Second Street. His son William joined him in 1913, and the company became Crawford & Son Undertakers & Embalmers.
In 1920 Crawford became associated with Duluth’s most tragic event: A mob lynched three African American circus workers who had been falsely accused of rape. Their bodies were first taken to the Grady & Horgan Mortuary for embalming, but crowds gathered outside the funeral home, hoping to catch a glimpse of the deceased. Policemen were stationed in front the funeral home (which later became home to Duluth’s Owl’s Club), and the victims’ bodies were quietly moved to Crawford & Son and prepared for burial.
In 1918 the Crawfords purchased lots at the northwest corner of Second Avenue East and Second Street and hired architect Carl Nystrom to draw plans for what would be the first building in Duluth specifically designed to function as a mortuary. Nystrom designed a two-story Neoclassical/building faced in red brick trimmed with white limestone. Four Corinthian columns support the main entrance portico along Second Street, which is topped with a gabled dormer. Along the first level, three Roman-arch windows topped with prominent keystones flank either side of the entrance. The hipped roof is covered with green clay tiles, and hipped dormers protrude from its east and west sides.
The building’s first floor included offices, viewing rooms, and a chapel complete with a pipe organ. The chapel also featured alabaster chandeliers and stained-glass windows made in Belgium under the direction of Duluth’s St. Germain Company. The basement contained a morgue and embalming room, and the top floor housed bedrooms and bathrooms used by relatives of the deceased who had travelled to Duluth to attend funeral services.
Construction on the new building was delayed until 1922 and the building did not open until 1923. The mortuary operated as a family affair throughout most of its existence. In 1941 William’s son James P. Crawford joined the firm. James’s daughter, Joan, came on board in 1978. Four years later she became the first woman in Duluth to own and operate a funeral service. In 1996 Joan Crawford sold the company to mortuary conglomerate Service Corporation International, which in 2002 merged the company with Johnson Mortuary. The 1923 building was then closed as a mortuary. The building sat vacant until 2015, when it was converted into an apartment building.