Panton & Watson, aka Glass Block

The Panton & White Glass Block Store, photographed ca. 1910 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

128 West Superior Street | Architect: McMillen & Radcliffe | Built: 1892 | Lost: 1981

Scottish immigrant John Panton met his Irish counterpart Joseph Watson in the early 1880s when both worked for the Wm. Donaldson & Company dry goods store in Minneapolis, housed in the Glass Block building along Nicollet Avenue, known for its large plate-glass windows. The pair decided to head north and opened a small one-room store of their own within the Pendleton Block at 104 West Superior Street in March 1887. Six months later, success convinced them to construct their own two-story building at 118–120 West Superior Street, and they advertised their business as “Panton & Watson, The Glass Block Store.” It was time to move again in 1892, this time to an even larger building they constructed at the southeast corner of Superior Street and Second Avenue East.

While the building (not shown) was faced in red Tiffany brick and brownstone from the Portage Entry Quarry in Port Wing, Wisconsin, its Superior Street façade was primarily covered in plate glass. The Duluth Herald described the two-story building’s design as “Italian Renaissance,” but if a 1902 sketch of the building is accurate, it had no elements to classify it as such. When Watson retired in 1896 another Donaldson alum, William White, purchased his half of the business and the store became Panton & White’s Glass Block. In 1902, contractors McLeod & Smith raised the building three stories, replaced the original Superior Street façade, and crowned the building with a Classical Revival cornice adorned with modillions, dentils, and medallions.

The F. A. Patrick Company purchased the store in 1911, and officially changed its name to the Glass Block Store. The new owners installed the elegant Greysolon Tea Rooms on the fourth floor. The rooms were divided into three separate facilities: one for ladies and children only, one for gentlemen only (where men could hold private business meetings and smoke a selection of the tea room’s “choicest line of cigars”), and a third in which the genders were allowed to mix. The facility moved to the fifth floor in 1919, with a dining room that sat six hundred patrons and featured two paintings of Duluth namesake Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut by noted artists Clarence C. Rosenkranz and David Ericson. The tea room remained a cornerstone of Glass Block until 1940.

Glass Block opened a second store in Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall when the complex first opened in 1973, continuing operation of the downtown facility until 1981. The building was demolished that year to make room for First Bank Duluth Building, now the US Bank Building.