LaVaque Block

The LaVaque Block photographed by Perry Gallagher Sr. ca. 1930s. [Image: Dale Johnson]

16 West Superior Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1883 | Lost: 1968

Brothers John and George LaVaque, namesakes of LaVaque Road north of Duluth, arrived in the Zenith City in 1869. George later started a fishery with Jerome Cooley while John worked as a commercial painter, eventually opening the LaVaque Paint & Wall Paper Company. In September 1882 the Duluth News Tribune announced that LaVaque was constructing a new four-story building that would stand two stories high along Superior Street. Its lower basement would serve as a store room, the next floor up a work room, the retail store would occupy the Superior Street level, and the top floor would be a display gallery.

The newspaper claimed it was LaVaque’s intention to construct “the handsomest front in the city…with cornice and ornamental trimmings in galvanized iron.” The article did not mention an architect, but its construction year and ornamental design—including an oriole window, indicate it was likely the work of George Wirth. The building opened for business in April 1883 and was operated by LaVaque until 1900 when mounting debt (created, in part, by the failure of Bell & Eyster’s Bank) forced him into bankruptcy. LaVaque left town in 1904, returning when his brother George died in 1906. In 1911, when he accepted a job as deputy county sheriff, which he held until his death in 1923.

By 1930 LaVaque’s building had become an annex of the Freimuth’s Department Store. Both buildings were demolished in 1968. Lake Superior Plaza now occupies its site.