Duluth Downtown Y.W.C.A.

Downtown Duluth’s 1909 Young Women’s Christian Association building photographed ca. 1915 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

202 West 2nd Street | Architects:  Frederick German &  A. W. Lignell | Built: 1909 | Extant

Duluthians first organized a branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in 1893, but that year’s nationwide financial panic quickly rendered the organization financially untenable. It took until 1901 and a visit from Henrietta L. Henderson, secretary of the Minnesota YWCA, to restore local interest. Within a year of her visit, Duluth’s YWCA had 638 members and secured rooms in the Axa Building at 102–104 West Superior. Within months membership had nearly doubled. The group quickly outgrew the facility, which the Duluth News Tribune described as consisting of “narrow and inconvenient quarters, a gymnasium and two small rooms.”

In 1907 the organization, Lead by local association president Mary Agnew, began an aggressive building fund campaign and hired the architectural firm of German & Lignell, who also designed the similar but less adorned 1908 YMCA that stood at 302–312 West Second Street until 1974. For the YWCA they designed a four-story Classical Revival building that sits on a foundation of deep red brownstone. Most of the building’s ornamentation is furnished through its elaborate facing, a mix of red brick, dark terra-cotta, limestone, and granite in decorative patterns. The first floor alternates brick with bands of terra-cotta, and heavy terra-cotta keystones top segmental arch windows. The recessed two-story Roman-arch entry along Second Avenue West is made of terra-cotta and granite. More terra-cotta keystones grace the windows of the top three floors. Other Classical elements include terra-cotta Doric columns flanking two windows in the fourth story’s central bay, which terminates at the brick parapet whose piers feature a pair of terra-cotta wreaths.

Inside, the ground floor originally included a lobby and reception area, meeting rooms, offices, a cafeteria, and a tearoom. The second floor was dedicated to education, with parlors, classrooms, and an auditorium that sat 250. The third and fourth floors housed seventy-five rooms that served as apartments. The basement, which was actually above ground on the building’s southern end, contained a bowling alley, gymnasium, swimming pool, and shower baths.

In 2008 the building was sold to the American Indian Community Housing Organization, who renovated the building and reopened it in 2011 as the Gimaajii Mino Bimaadiziyaan Building, which translates from Ojibwe to “Together we are beginning a new life.” The facility now houses up to 150 adults and children in a variety of units ranging from one-room efficiencies to three-bedroom apartments and includes an American Indian Center offering various services and cultural and recreational opportunities.