DeWitt-Seitz Warehouse, Showroom & Factory

The DeWitt-Seitz mattress factory photographed ca. 1925 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

394 S. Lake Ave. | Architect: John J. Wangestein | Built: 1909 | Extant

New York native Charles E. DeWitt came to Duluth in 1882 when he was twenty-five years old to work at Bell & Eyster’s Bank. He later worked as secretary and treasurer of the Leithead Drug Company before teaming up with Henry F. Seitz, who had fifteen years experience working with the Webster Chair Factory across the bay in Superior, Wisconsin. In 1905 they formed DeWitt-Seitz, which sold furniture and manufactured mattresses, setting up shop on Michigan Street just east of Lake Avenue.

In 1908 the company began construction on two buildings in what is today the Canal Park Business District, an eight-story warehouse and showroom at 394 South Lake Avenue and a three-story mattress factory at 393 St. Croix Avenue (now called Canal Park Drive). John J. Wangenstein designed both buildings in the Chicago Commercial style. Each is faced in red brick and modestly trimmed with brownstone. Ornamental brickwork and keystones above the windows of the Lake Avenue building provide some Neoclassical touches, as do its Roman-arch windows along the fifth floor. (A sketch sgowing both buiuldings as eight-story tall structures appears on page 285.)

Duluth journalist Richard Thomas reported that, along with mattresses and box springs, the company made bunks for mining locations, logging camps, and even steamboats. In the 1920s the company began marketing its products under the trade name San-O-Made and in 1938 began producing one of the first mattresses with internal springs, which they patented under the name Taperease. During the Great Depression the company began phasing out furniture sales to focus on mattress manufacturing.

Following Word War II, DeWitt-Seitz went all-in on mattress building, converting the Lake Avenue facility into a second factory. The company shuttered the smaller building in 1959, and in 1961 Bayfield, Wisconsin, businessman Sam F. Atkins purchased the business and the Lake Avenue building, changing the company’s name to Happy Sleeper after his son, who was nicknamed “Happy.” The company moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1983. Since 1985 the Lake Avenue building has operated as the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace, with restaurants, shops, and office space, and the smaller building’s anchor tenant has long been Little Angie’s Cantina. Meanwhile, Happy Sleeper is still making mattresses.