Duluth National Bank

The Duluth National Bank in 1891, photo etching by lithographer F. B. Schuchardt. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

229–231 West Superior Street | Architect: Oliver G. Traphagen | Built: 1887 | Lost: 1958

Luther Mendenhall and Frederic Paine organized the Duluth National Bank in 1882 as Duluth was beginning to boom again—besides the grain trade, the lumber and brownstone industries began to thrive as well, and many who had experienced hardship in the 1870s were finally seeing their financial ships come in. The bank set up shop within the Hunter Block before its directors decided to construct a building in 1886, selecting a lot at the northeast corner of Superior Street and Third Avenue West.

Designed by Oliver Traphagen, the Duluth National Bank building was a massive, six-and-a-half-story Romanesque Revival building faced with St. Louis pressed brick and trimmed with brownstone from Crowley’s Quarry in Fond du Lac. Its Superior Street level featured a recessed Roman-arch entry supported by two stone pilasters and six polished granite columns that sat atop plinth blocks six feet high and four feet wide. Its windows were topped with both flat and Roman arches and the building was crowned with an ornate cornice that included a balustrade along the Third Avenue façade. Atop its southwest corner sat a pyramid-capped tower adorned with turrets and covered with terra-cotta. The building’s interior design followed Queen Anne Victorian aesthetics, finished with “antique oak” woodwork, polished brass, and marble floors on the first and second floors, which held the bank’s facilities. The upper floors contained offices the bank rented to a variety of businesses.

The letters “DNB” for “Duluth National Bank” were carved in stone vertically along the building’s front façade of the second through fourth stories—but those letters would mean nothing by the time the bank opened. Before Duluth National moved into its new building, it merged with the Union National Bank, creating the Duluth Union National Bank. Shortly thereafter Union National merged with Albert Ordean’s Merchants National, organized in 1886, to become the First National Bank of Duluth. Mendenhall served as the bank’s president until he retired in 1896 as the bank underwent reorganization; Ordean, who had served as vice-president and manager, then replaced Mendenhall as president. He served as the bank’s president until his death in 1926.

In July 1929, a few months before the stock market crashed, First National and American Exchange banks merged to become First American National Bank. For two days fifteen armed guards escorted bank employees carrying $20 million in cash (worth about $307 million in 2021) from the American Exchange National Bank across Superior Street to the First National Bank of Duluth. The Duluth National Bank building served as an office block until 1958, when it was demolished. The site was used as a parking lot until 1977 when the Normandy Mall, later renamed the Holiday Center, was built on the site.