Hoppman Block

The Hoppman Block photographed in 1963. It was demolished by 1966. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)

421 West Superior Street | Architect: Oliver Traphagen | Built: 1890 | Lost: 1963

Successful mineralogist Edward J. Hoppmann commissioned Oliver Traphagen to draw plans for a four-story Romanesque Revival office building immediately east of the Lyceum Theater in 1890. Faced with brownstone and trimmed with contrasting buff sandstone, the four-story building featured Roman-arch windows along the top floor and was capped with a pointed pediment. The building was further adorned with a plethora of carvings, and its oriel windows provided a Tudor Revival touch. By 1893 the upper three floors had become the Hotel Brunswick, with a buffet restaurant and saloon operating out of the Superior Street level while the Hoppmans served as on-site landlords, living in rooms in a one-story wing located behind the building. According to Duluth historian Heidi Bakk-Hansen, Delia S. Klein, wife of notoriously unstable real estate speculator Solomon Klein (aka “Sol the Gambler”), took over management of the hotel in 1896—and thereafter the building was rumored to operate as a brothel. By then the area surrounding the Hoppman was becoming known as the city’s Bowery—its center of vice. After Sol died in an insane asylum, it was discovered he and Delia had never actually married. Hilda Baker took over the hotel in 1908, replaced by known madam and brothel owner Jeanette Palmer in 1915, followed by another known prostitute, Julia Wallace, the following year.

By then Edward Hoppman had died. His daughter Theresa had taken over the building and had leased the hotel to Baker and Palmer. Hoppman’s youngest child, Carl, made poor choices as well. As Bakk-Hansen reports, the younger Hoppman was “a portly blond and blue-eyed sports fan [who had] earned a reputation around town as a bombastic bully and bounder. He repeatedly embarrassed the family with his reckless driving, careening pell-mell down Superior Street at a time when automobiles were rare and the streets were full of horses.” Theresa died in 1918, and two years later barber and jealous rival Casper Nelson shot Carl six times, tearing off “half his skull” according to newspapers. Nelson was convicted and died in an insane asylum in 1930. (Read Heidi Bakk-Hansen’s full story of the Palmer House shootings here.)

By the time Nelson died, the building was operating as the Palace Hotel with Joe Gatzek’s restaurant on the Superior Street level. The hostelry’s name later changed to the Emerald Hotel and then to the Lyceum Hotel, and by 1945 it was operating as the Lyceum Apartments. The building’s Superior Street level was also home to the Esquire Bar & Grill, Kenny’s Bar & Grill, and the J. W. Saddle Shop. The Hoppman and Lyceum were both demolished in 1966.

Architect Oliver Traphagen’s sketch of the Hoppman Block, c. 1890. (Image: Duluth Public Library)