Duluth Bethel (1911)

The Duluth Bethel in 1911, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

23 Mesaba Avenue | Architect: Vernon Price | b. 1911 | Extant

During its first forty years, according to a 1911 Duluth News Tribune article, one clear purpose guided the Duluth Bethel: “To give temporary accommodations to needy men, to look after their spiritual welfare and to stand between them and temptations which threaten the homeless working men.” By 1910 the center of Duluth’s social ills had shifted to the Bowery at the western end of downtown. So when the Duluth Bethel decided to construct a new facility, it purchased lots adjacent to the Bowery at the southeast intersection of First Street and Mesaba Avenue.

rchitect Vernon Price proposed a four-story, V-shaped building that would fit the space, but when drawings of the building appeared in August 1911, they were signed by Frederick German. The vernacular building’s shape allowed for two large wings joined in the middle by a central tower capped with an octagonal roof. The building, faced with pressed red-and-brown brick made in Wrenshall, Minnesota, and trimmed with cut stone, sits on a concrete foundation. Recessed bays are divided with piers that end in dormers protruding from the roof, originally made of tile set in concrete. Its few Roman-arch window openings and central entrance were fitted with rectangular windows, the arches filled with decorative brickwork. The Duluth News Tribune explained that “No money has been used in ornamentation, but the proportions themselves add the element of beauty.”

The structure’s four stories were meant to accommodate two hundred men, and German intentionally designed the building to handle additional floors if needed in the future. The first floor contained offices, a receiving room, chapel, reading room, washrooms, and dining rooms. The second held rooms for staff, a small infirmary and doctor’s office, and a dormitory with room for sixty men. The entire third and fourth floors also served as dormitories; the third had beds for fifty men, including three double rooms and two dozen six-by-ten-foot rooms called cubicles, while the fourth had forty-eight cubicles and three double rooms. The building was also outfitted with a fumigator to disinfect clothing.

The Bethel’s mission has evolved since the building first opened and today “exists primarily to assist those seeking to recover from substance abuse disorder or to integrate back into society,” including both men and women. The 1912 Bethel Mission continues to serve that purpose.

The 1911 Duluth Bethel photographed by Dennis O’Hara in 2009. Click here to read a history of Duluth’s Bethel. (Image: Northern Images)