St. Louis Hotel(s)
First: 330 West Superior St. | Architect: George Wirth, Oliver Traphagen | Built: 1882 | Lost: 1893
1888 Addition: 318 West Superior St. | Architect: Oliver Traphagen | Lost: 1893
Second: 318-330 West Superior St. | Architect: Traphagen & Fitzpatrick | Built: 1894 | Lost: 1932
After fire destroyed the Clark House Hotel in 1881, the Duluth Daily Tribune lamented that the Zenith City was “now without a first class hotel,” and asked, “What are we going to do about it?” Specifically, the paper demanded “no wooden rookery, no shambling, shuffling, shaking structure, but a solid one made of brick.” Clark House proprietor Thomas Cullyford knew just what he wanted to do about it: hire St. Paul architect George Wirth to draw up plans for a grand hotel on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue West and Superior Street. He named the hotel the St. Louis after the river along which much of the city was built.
Wirth produced an elaborate Victorian structure that stood four stories above Superior Street and was originally faced with red and white brick. The hotel had three distinct sections: Iits eastern portion featured two square roof towers, the west was crowned with a pediment, and an elaborate cornice capped the center section. Other adornments abounded, including columns, balconies, and decorative window hoods.
The Superior Street level contained the hotel office, a kitchen, and a large dining room as well as a barber shop and two retail stores with their own entrances. The basement held a club room, bar room, billiard hall, seven sleeping rooms for servants, and ten offices available for lease; a subbasement was used as a root cellar. The upper three floors contained parlors, bath and toilet rooms, and a total of ninety guest rooms. Like the Clark House before it, Cullyford’s new hotel would serve as Duluth’s most grand hotel and a gathering place for financiers
and politicians. Cullyford advertised that his hostelry was also “famous for its food and hospitality.”
In 1888—as the grand Spalding Hotel was being built one block west—Cullyford hired former Wirth protégé Oliver Traphagen to design an eastern wing for the building that would nearly double the hotel’s size. The new portion mirrored the architectural features of the eastern two-thirds of the original building. Cullyford sold the entire hotel to the Boston Realty Company in 1890 and then leased the 1888 addition and began operating it under the name Brighton Hotel. Meanwhile, James Butchart and Alexander Michaud took over the original St. Louis. By then the hotel had become a favored temporary home for touring performers booked at the nearby Lyceum Theatre and the unofficial home of the Duluth Snowshoe and Toboggan Association.
Tragedy struck the St. Louis on January 13, 1893, when two men working for the South Shore Railroad (identified in reports as “Baggerman Baudre and Brakeman Preston”) perished in a fire that ultimately destroyed the western wing of the original 1882 building. That’s when Cullyford decided to leave the hotel game, and Butchart, Michaud, and new partner Louis Rouchleau leased what remained of the entire facility. After an extensive renovation, they reopened the building as the St. Louis Hotel. The Duluth Herald called the refreshed facility “brighter, better and vastly more cheerful than its predecessor.” Under the daily direction of Michaud and his son Horace, the new St. Louis regained its previous popularity with visitors. (The Providence Building replaced the burned-out wing in 1895.)
The hotel underwent an expansion in 1902 that added floors and unified the older portions of the building to match the new design. When complete, the hotel boasted 175 guest rooms—65 of them with their own bathrooms. When George Lounsberry’s construction crews finished the addition, it stood six stories tall along Superior Street. The renovation also cost the facility all of its Victorian charm, not that it lacked adornments. The new building, faced mostly in red brick, featured large corbels supporting a shallow veranda across the new sixth floor, and intricate ironwork above the entrance and retail storefronts along Superior Street. Portions were dressed in carved-stone panels, and a patterned brick cornice topped the Superior Street façade. In many ways it was a hybrid of Romanesque Revival and the burgeoning Chicago Commercial Style later championed by Louis Sullivan, an example of the evolving taste in commercial architecture in the early twentieth century.
The hotel’s owners and proprietors continued to make improvements throughout the years, including another interior renovation in 1906. When new lessees from Minneapolis took over in 1911, they made “extensive improvements,” and Michaud moved on to the Holland Hotel. More renovations followed in 1912 and 1914, and in 1917 fire gutted the sixth floor, but fortunately no one was injured. Two years later newspapers announced that its owners intended to demolish the hotel and replace it with a new theater. The Duluth News Tribune commented that “many of the most prominent men of the state and country have been entertained at the St. Louis. It has been the center of many hot political campaigns…and its passing will be sorely regretted by many.”
But the St. Louis remained standing. The hotel traded hands at least twice between 1920 and 1922, ultimately purchased by William Hamm, president of the Hamm Brewing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lenox Hotel proprietor E. R. Rebinick then leased and operated the hotel. Once again papers announced plans for a major renovation. Despite the constant changes, by the late 1920s it was in decline, described in a 1948 WEBC radio program as “a rat’s nest and fire trap” at the end of its life. It was razed in 1932 to make room for the Medical Arts Building.