At the turn of the last century, ornate entryways were all the rage across the United States. Even Duluthians — normally a practical and humble bunch — created a downtown packed with buildings meant to impress.
There are several outstanding examples of stone-carved doorways and tiled facades in Duluth, but for this piece, we are going to focus on the modest entryway floor. Since these relic entryways have been exposed to a century of feet scuffing over them, most are in tough shape. But if we squint and use a little imagination, we can see the grandeur with which they once greeted customers.
E.F. Burg Company Building at 20 W. First St.
This first tiled entryway may not look terribly impressive, but its history is hard to beat. The Burg Family was one of the Twin Ports’ earliest settlers, arriving in 1865. In 1906, one of the Burg children opened a hotel supply company at 20 W. First Street. The storefront has remained remarkably unchanged since, including the tiled entryway. A descendant of the Burg family operated Glenwood Signs and Awards out of the building in recent decades, the business only recently relocating. One block west, find the simple but Romanesque tiled entry at 138 W. First St., the old Bella Flora location.
The Lake Superior Bakehouse at 102 W. Superior St.
This building has housed a coffee house for decades now, but long before that, it was home to the Three Sisters department store. This particular department store chain has been weirdly overlooked by the internet and was difficult to find information on, but its footprint is still clear in Duluth, gracing the entrance to the Lake Superior Bakehouse. Bonus: The storefront next door has the same entryway hidden under a carpet, but the inlay is wearing through, making the cursive words visible. Both Oreck’s and Hughes entryways are still visible and nearby, at 7 W. and 25 W. Superior St.
CSL Plasma at 106 W. Superior St.
One of the most recognized of the old entryways left in Duluth, perhaps because the Woolworth Company remained open until the early 1990s. At some point, the entryway was covered over. It appears as though the letters were intentionally left exposed, but more of the quartz has worn through now, exposing the original background.
The former Duluth Water & Gas Building at 414 W. First St.
One of the more unusual tile entryways in Duluth, the water and gas company opted to make their business clear with a hexagon tile mosaic depicting a (gas) flame over waves. The building, built in 1921, is also worth a look not only for the entryway but also for the intricate brick and tile work covering the facade.
Garon Bros. Building at 217 W. First St., now Hostel du Nord
Garon Bros. Jewelers operated out of this building beginning in 1915, closing just recently in 2013. The tiling is a basic square tile reminding us of the success of one of Duluth’s longest-standing businesses. The building’s present occupant, Hostel du Nord, was eager to preserve the history of the building, and the tiled “Garon Bros.” still greets the hostel’s weary travelers.
The former C.Z. Wilson Sporting Goods store at 208 W. Superior St.
This beautiful tilework is typical of the 1940s, favoring simple tiles in differing patterns and colors. A name is centered in the tiles, but sometime along the way, a new doorway was built over it, making the name difficult to discern. A few questions placed to longtime Duluth residents revealed this was once the home of C.Z. Wilson Sporting Goods Store. Next door at Mainstream Fashions for Men, a modern example of a detailed tiled entryway can be found.
Anderson Furniture Company at 2032 W. Superior St.
One of the few decorative entryways outside of the downtown area, the Anderson Furniture Company has been greeting guests at the same location since 1910. The area was once called Duluth’s furniture district rather than the craft district, but now Anderson Furniture is one of only two home furnishing stores in the area. The stone entryway appears newer than the rest on this list, its age uncertain, but it is beautifully done, and the only entryway on this list that still hosts the original business. Also in Lincoln Park, check out the traditional early-1900s basketweave tile entryway at Duluth Pottery at 1924 W. Superior St.
Temple Opera/NorShor block, covering the entire 200 E. Superior St. block
The present home of Duluth’s Playhouse, this single block boasts four historic entryways. Three are tiled, two a simple square and hexagon design, the third a giant, colorful arrow directing customers toward the door. The fourth is a smooth stone surface that lets the customer know sportswear used to be sold at that store.
Just for fun, how about a little scavenger hunt? If you know where this simple, square tile entryway can be found in Duluth, let us know on the Duluth News Tribune Facebook page.
One more for you to find, though this one will come with a clue: The building that boasts this traditional square-tiled entryway is facing demolition.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance journalist who works and lives in Duluth. Visit duluthnewstribune.com to read previous Relics columns.