Freimuth’s Department Store (Fowler Block)

The Fowler Block, aka Freimuth’s Department Store, photographed ca. 1910 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

2–8 W. Superior St. | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1897 | Lost: 1967

In January 1896 the Duluth News Tribune noted that Detroit businessman Eldridge M. Fowler was visiting the Zenith City, accompanied by a “Chicago architect who supervises all his property,” looking for downtown lots on which to construct a building. Fowler was a well-known capitalist and multimillionaire who owned real estate developments, railroads, iron mines, and a hardware manufacturing business. He also served as president of McCormick Harvesting
Machine Company, known today as International Harvester. Three months after his arrival, Fowler purchased the southwest corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. He was fortunate: efforts by a local group lead by real estate developer Jeremiah Triggs and attorney Jed Washburn to construct a six-story building designed by Palmer, Hall & Hunt on the site had mysteriously ended the previous year not long after work on its foundation began.

Fowler obtained a permit to construct a building two stories tall along Superior Street and three along Michigan Street. He hired a Chicago contractor to construct the building and no doubt used his unidentified Chicago architect to draw its plans. Like the Metropole Hotel to the south, the Fowler was trapezoidal shaped to fit alongside the Lake Avenue Viaduct. The entire building was faced with stone blocks that separated rectangular window bays, and the top block of each column was intricately carved. A prominent modillion-lined cornice capped the roof, and the main entrance was placed opposite the street corner. Research has not discovered a description of the building’s interior, and for its first few years its only tenant to make headlines was the Cabaret de Naut, which was modeled on Paris’s Café of the Dead. It offered both lunch and illusions that “seem to border on the impossible,” all within a macabre atmosphere: the tables were actual coffins.

In late 1899 Issac Freimuth announced he was moving his dry goods store into the Fowler Building. Freimuth came to Duluth from Tonawanda, New York, in 1883 and established a store within the Metropolitan Block, where it stayed until he took over every inch of the Fowler in January 1900. Within five years the store began to outgrow the building and Fowler had died. At Freimuth’s request, the Fowler estate hired contractor George Lounsberry to add three floors to the building. Lounsberry temporarily removed the original cornice, built three very simple brick stories in the Chicago Commercial style, and then put the cornice back atop the building. Freimuth’s Department Store never left the building.

Ignatz Freimuth died at his desk in 1930, after which his son D. C. took charge until his own death in 1953. Three of Ignatz’s grandsons ran the business until it closed in 1961, and the building was demolished in 1968. Its location is now called Lake Superior Plaza.