Spina Building

The Spina Block ca. 1912, photographer unknown. [Image: DSGW Architects]

2–8 W. First St. | Architect: Anthony Puck | Built: 1912 | Extant

Italian immigrant Peter Spina owned real estate throughout Minnesota’s Iron Range, much of it tied up in saloons and hotels, including the Spina Hotel in Ironton. It is difficult to pin down all of Mr. Spina’s business entanglements, as research indicates there may have been several gentlemen named Peter Spina living in northeastern Minnesota between 1900 and 1920. In 1911 Spina invested in Duluth by constructing a building at the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and West First Street, hiring Anthony Puck and Abraham Holstead to design it. The pair developed plans for a Neoclassical building standing two stories tall over First Street and three along Lake Avenue. Builders faced the structure in cream-colored brick with terra-cotta accents, including a large cornice set off by a row of pendant dentils. A pointed pediment crowns the cornice along the Lake Avenue façade, framing a low terra-cotta segmental arch supported by two pairs of brackets adorned with garlands. Below the arch sits a red-and-white-striped cartouche in a shield motif.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that the ground floor would contain five retail spaces. The top would be outfitted with “a large auditorium and reception rooms,” essentially a custom-designed ballroom for use by Lionel Coffin’s Dancing Academy. In 1912 Coffin, a Vermont native, also organized the Boston Music Company and opened the store within two of the Spina Block’s retail spaces. He had arrived in Duluth with his wife Jennie and several children in 1905, when he first began teaching dance lessons out of Oddfellows Hall. Coffin’s time at the Spina Block was brief. Jennie died in 1913, and by the following year Coffin had remarried and relocated his businesses back across the avenue to Oddfellow’s Hall.

Inside Coffin’s Dance Academy ca. 1912. [Image: DSGW Architects]

In 1922 Andrew Hagenson opened the first of many restaurants to operate out of the building. Hangenson’s eatery was followed by restaurants run by James Casperson, James Pappas, and Dominick Irino and a drinking establishment owned by Anton Susnick, later named Tony’s Bar & Grill. By 1960 the building was home to Lofdahl’s Bar & Grill. Lofdahl’s later became the Corner Lounge and by 1990 it was known as the Shish-ka-bar. After the Dance Company had moved out, the upper floor became the longtime home of manufacturing chemists Edison Laboratories, followed by United Improvement Distributors and the Janitorial Supply Company. In 1990 the former dance floor went back to its original purpose, reopening as the short-lived Dreamland Ballroom. The building sat vacant until it was purchased and renovated by DSGW Architects and its retail space has been occupied by Paper Hog Printing