West Duluth Municipal Building

The 1916 West Duluth Municipal Building. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

601 North Central Avenue | Frederick German | b. 1916

Architecture enthusiasts might find some poetic symmetry in the fact that Frederick German designed the West Duluth Municipal Building across Cody Street from the 1888 West Duluth Village Hall. German had started his career in Duluth in 1889 working as a draftsman for Oliver Traphagen, and more than twenty-five years later he had a commission for a new building that would replace a structure designed by his former boss.

Architectural styles and construction materials used in commercial buildings had changed dramatically during that span, which German’s design reflected: His Classical Revival-inspired building was constructed chiefly of steel and concrete as opposed to the wood, brick, and brownstone that made up the 1888 village hall, and the new building’s large arched doorways along its Central Avenue façade opened to bays for two fire trucks, not horse stables. Along Cody Street, smaller doorways at either end of the building lead to the fire house and police station, each crowned with porticos supported by ornate corbels that frame the words “Police Dept.” and “Fire Dept.” The building extends beyond the police station entrance to make room for a larger entrance to the police garage. A larger, central arched entry—trimmed in heavy stone quoins and an ornate keystone—provided access to the second-floor court rooms. Above it, two stone shields featuring carved scales of justice provide ornamentation to a frieze bearing the words “Municipal Court.” Similarly arched windows flank the first-floor Cody Street entry. While it is not nearly as ornate as other Duluth municipal buildings, the Duluth News Tribune pointed out that German’s building was “one of the most artistic structures in West Duluth.”

The fire department’s Engine House #8 occupied most of the first floor, with the police department’s Station No. 3 at the rear of the building. The police station, which doubled as a jail, included cells for men, women, and juvenile prisoners. The second floor held municipal court offices and courtrooms as well as a dormitory for firefighters. The building also served as a polling place for elections and, during the first world war, as a facility for the draft board to facilitate registration and conduct examinations.

Following the 1928 opening of Duluth’s new city hall, which contained a city jail and facilities for the city’s municipal court, West Duluth’s municipal court was no longer used. During the 1930s the Duluth News Tribune & Herald used the court facilities as its West Duluth office. The Police Department moved out by the 1960s, but the building served as Fire Hall #8 until City Center West opened in l991 at 5830 Grand Avenue. In 1995 architect Alan Adams purchased the 1916 Municipal Building and converted it into the Lattner Apartments. As of 2020 it still serving as an apartment building.