Spalding Hotel

The Spalding Hotel photographed ca. 1907 for the Detroit Publishing Co., photographer unknown. [Image: Library of Congress]

424 West Superior Street | Architect: James J. Egan | Built: 1889 | Lost: 1963

The Spalding Hotel took its name from William Spalding, who led a group of prominent Duluthians including Roger Munger, Guildford Hartley, Owen Fargusson, and Luther Mendenhall to invest in the creation of a first-class hotel that would eclipse the St. Louis one block east. Contractors broke ground in 1887, but it took two years before construction was complete.

When the Spalding finally opened in June 1889, the Duluth Herald called the hotel, designed by renowned Chicago architect James J. Egan, “a magnificent pile of brick, iron and stone…massive, simple and imposing in architecture.” A Romanesque Revival building with Gothic Revival flourishes, the Spalding stood seven stories over Superior Street and eight over Michigan Street. It was faced with red brick and brownstone with terra-cotta accents and capped with a mansard roof that featured many dormers and round corner towers capped with conical roofs. Its Superior and Michigan Street levels each contained several retail storefronts.

The Spalding opened on June 10, 1889, with a grand ball to show off its finery. Besides its two hundred guests rooms (many with their own bathrooms), facilities included a grand lobby, separate “Ladies Writing” and “Ladies Waiting” rooms, a solarium, a billiard room, and the “largest and handsomest” barroom in the city—all panelled and trimmed with quarter-sawn oak. The hotel also featured a rooftop pavilion and several dining rooms, including the Palm Room and a separate dining room for children. Its sixth-floor main dining room, said to offer the finest views of the harbor, measured 40-by-82 feet and had a 25-foot-tall vaulted ceiling; its walls were adorned with “delicate and beautiful” frescoes. To keep diners happy, the Spalding’s 2,550-square-foot kitchen turned out fine cuisine, including planked whitefish, its house specialty.

The Spalding did indeed replaced the St. Louis, not only as the city’s most elegant hotel but also as the center of its business and social affairs. Throughout its first half century, the hotel also hosted many prominent guests, including boxer Jack Dempsey and Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. The hotel thrived through the 1940s, but by the 1950s the blight of the surrounding Bowery caught up with it, and the Spalding’s reputation and popularity declined. By the time it was demolished in September 1963 as part of Duluth’s Gateway Urban Renewal Project, it had become a residential hotel. The building’s lot sat empty for nearly ten years before the Ordean Building was constructed atop it in 1973.