Metropolitan Block

The Metropolitan Block photographed in 1922 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

113–119 West Superior Street | Architect: George Wirth | Built: 1882 | Altered repeatedly

When first built, the Metropolitan Block’s elaborate Italianate façade was highly adorned and faced with patterned brick, Ohio sandstone, and terra-cotta trim. Its central entrance portico featured a keyhole entry, and its cornice was crowned with a prominent pediment. The building still serves Duluth, but it looks nothing like the sketch and photo on this page, as its façade has been altered repeatedly over the years. Commissioned by Duluthians George Spencer and Melvin Forbes, the Metropolitan was built to house the American Exchange Bank and offices for the newly formed Board of Trade—but it is known best as a dry goods store. First Metropolitan Dry Goods (1882–1884), then Friemuth’s Dry Goods (1884–1899), the Gray-Tallant Store (1900–1910), George A. Gray & Company (1911–1935), and finally Wahl’s Department Store (1936–1989).

George A. Gray stayed in the building the longest, starting with Gray-Tallant in 1900. A bookkeeper by trade, Gray arrived in Duluth in 1888 and within two years had secured a job with the Friemuth Dry Goods Store, first as a bookkeeper and later as an office manager. When Freimuth moved out of the building in 1899, Gray teamed up with George Tallant and the pair opened their own store within the Metropolitan. Tallant left the company in 1910.


A sketch of the Metropolitan Block made in 1882. [Image: Zenith City Press]

Fire gutted the building on the first day of 1911, destroying the stock of the Wieland Shoe and Duluth Hardware stores, as well as that of anchor tenant George A. Gray. Following the fire, the building underwent a thorough renovation, inside and out. The exterior was entirely replaced with a much more simple façade crowned with a grand Neoclassical cornice made of terra-cotta and dressed with modillions and dentils. Fifty years later the front façade received another facelift. Clothing manufacturer Maurice’s purchased the building in 1989 and connected it to its office building immediately east of the Metropolitan Block. The front façade was altered once again, this time to tie in seamlessly with its neighboring building. The building survives, but its exterior is now a sleek, modern building faced in brown polished-stone panels.

Metropolitan Block, ca. 1890s. (Image: Duluth Public Library)