Phoenix Block (1889)

The 1889 Phoenix Block. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

325 – 335 West Superior Street | Architect: Oliver G. Traphagen | Built: 1889 | Lost: 1994

After fire destroyed the Grand Opera House in late January 1889, retail tenants, including the Boyce & Totman pharmacy, had to find a new place to do business. Oliver Traphagen was hired to design a two-story retail and office complex to replace the opera house, but research has yet to reveal who commissioned the project. Whomever it was gave the building a fitting name: the Phoenix Block, for just like the bird of myth, the structure had metaphorically “risen from the ashes” of the opera house. Traphagen’s mystery client chose a Romanesque Revival design, with rows of Roman-arch windows along the second floor of both the Superior Street and Fourth Avenue West façades. Five store fronts were placed along Superior Street, and a sixth at the building’s clipped corner. A Roman-arch entrance between the third and fourth shops led to offices on the second floor.

Boyce & Totman rented the corner store when the building opened in September 1889, but within a year Totman left the firm. Boyce Drug Store operated out of the building until 1964. Other early tenants included real estate firms, insurance companies, Oswald & Co. Cigars, and Cate & Clark, which sold hats and men’s clothing.

The building remained a popular location for retailers and professional offices until it was ironically destroyed by an arson fire in December 1994. Businesses lost included Security Locksmiths, Arna Rennan Studio Gallery, Sylvester’s Bargain Emporium, and Lurye Furniture. Officials told the Duluth News Tribune that the building could have been saved if it had been equipped with a sprinkler system. Its successor, also named the Phoenix Block, was built in 1995.