Hotel Duluth (aka Greysolon Plaza)

The Hotel Duluth ca. 1930, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

219–231 East Superior Street  | Architect: Martin Tullgren & Sons | b. 1924 | Extant

It may be difficult for us in 2013 to think of Duluth as a community without a nice place for out-of-town guests to stay. Since tourism took off in the 1980s we’ve seen more and more quality hotels pop up in Canal Park and along London Road, where they replaced the motels that sprung up in the 1960s. But in the early 1920s, there weren’t too many hostelries the Zenith City could brag about. Duluth had other luxury hotels at the time, including the Spalding, but most of them were aging and located in what had become Duluth’s Bowery. Many of Duluth’s hotels were hardly hotels but boarding houses occupied mostly by the destitute. Duluth business leaders dreamed of a luxury hotel for local dignitaries to host out-of-town guests and other V.I.Ps. That dream would come true with the opening of the Hotel Duluth.

The Hotel Duluth was built through the efforts of the Citizen’s Hotel Committee, formed in 1923 by Whitney Wall to bring a first-class hotel to Duluth. At its helm was George H. Crosby, who had made a fortune in real estate and mining speculation and built himself a grand mansion at 21st Avenue East and Superior Street.

Crosby traveled to Milwaukee to meet with Walter Schroeder, owner of six hotels in Wisconsin, including Green Bay’s Hotel Northland, Wausau’s Hotel Wausau, Fond du Lac’s Hotel Retlaw, Madison’s Hotel Loraine, and two in Milwaukee, the Astor and the Hotel Milwaukee. Schroeder agreed to build his seventh hotel in Duluth, but first the committee would have to raise $350,000. Schroeder would fund the rest. Meanwhile, Schroeder had Milwaukee’s Martin Tullgren and Sons—the architects who had designed his previous hotels—begin work on drawings for the Hotel Duluth.

Crosby returned to the Zenith City and began a fund-raising effort while the committee sought out a site for the building. The first choice was 12th Avenue East and Superior Street, but Schroeder didn’t like it and instead the Amphitheatre was constructed on that lot. Other possibilities included Fourth Avenue West and Second Street, 8th Avenue East and Superior Street, and Third Avenue East and Superior Street, part of which was owned by Cavour Hartley, head of the Hartley Family Trust (Guilford Hartley passed away in 1922). Four buildings stood on the lot, but they were hardly remarkable works of architecture: simple, timber framed buildings that held small retail businesses and a taxidermist, so there was no public outcry concerning their demolition. A deal was struck. All that was needed now was money.

Crosby raised the funds by selling stock by subscriptions beginning in November 1923. he worked tirelessly, and Duluth businesses donated goods and services toward the effort. But the morning of Schroeder’s deadline in February 1924 Crosby was still $40,000 short—over half a million dollars today. At ten a.m. that day Crosby began calling on his wealthy friends, including Hartley, Albert M. Marshall (owner of Marshall-Wells Hardware), and Albert Ordean. At 2 p.m. Crosby wired Schroeder: Duluthians had raised their $350,000 portion of the project.

While the investors would have to wait for their return, the project boosted the local economy almost immediately: the hotel’s construction was a feast for the local building trades, with 90% of the construction handled by local firms: General Contractor Jacobsen Brothers oversaw the entire project; Whitney Brothers provided the sand & gravel; Stack Brothers plumbed the project, heat came from Gogebic Steam boilers, Walker-Jamar furnished the insulation, sheet metal, and roofing materials, Thomson-Williams put in the marble floors while Sani-Stone Products provided the Terrazzo floors and stairs; the glass came from Paine & Nixon; Scott-Graff made the doors and other millwork, outfitted with hardware from Karon Hardware; George G. Thill performed the plastering, and his walls were covered in paint from Marshall-Wells. One man—Gustav Richardson—sanded the ballroom floor.

Jacobsen Brothers and their subcontractors finished the job three weeks before their deadline. Their work resulted in a 14-story Classical Revival hostelry with Italian Renaissance details, the largest building of its kind in all of the “Northwest” at the time. It is U-Shaped, made up of two connecting brick-and-stone towers. The building’s west end has an additional three-story section in anticipation of a third wing which was never built. The building’s exterior was faced with over 500,000 bricks provided by Duluth’s Standard Salt & Cement and decorated with rosettes, swags, Corinthian columns, bronze lamps along the roof and a terra cotta canopy for each tower. When it was complete, the building contained more than 500,00 board feet of lumber and 1,000 tons of reinforced concrete. The final cost of the project came to $2.4 Million, about $31 million in today’s dollars.

Inside the building was equally opulent. Duluth’s H. A. Hall & Co. interior decorators outfitted the 450 guest rooms with furniture from French & Bassett and the business offices with desks and cabinets from Burgher-Williams. Each bed was topped with a “Dewco Hair Mattresses” made by Duluth’s DeWitt-Seitz. Guests were greeted by a lobby the Duluth Herald called “one of the most beautiful in the United States.” It contains a fountain carved with the Minnesota state seal. The hotel restaurant had a number of dining rooms accessed via the lobby, including the English Room and the Spanish Room (today referred to as the Moorish Room). Tea and coffee was served with a silver service provided by Bagley Jewelers. A less formal coffee shop was also located off the lobby. The Herald also described the hotel’s third-floor ballroom as the “finest in the midwest.” It is decorated with crystal chandeliers and other classical ornamentations such as garlands, wreaths, and shields, creating a formal atmosphere.

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