In 1909 Duluth businessman and real estate developer Marshall H. Alworth decided to finance and build a new office building for Northern National Bank, of which he was a major partner. Alworth hired local Duluth architect William A. Hunt to design a new bank and office building in downtown Duluth, on West Superior Street, which already had its share of tall office buildings.
While Hunt was drafting plans for Alworth’s downtown site, Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham was designing the nearby St. Louis County Courthouse, which would become the centerpiece of a new civic center complex. Impressed by Burnham’s scheme, Alworth canceled his contract with Hunt and immediately commissioned Burnham to design his new office building.
Though Hunt had proposed acquiring and demolishing the existing Lonsdale and Torrey buildings to create a triple-lot building site, Burnham argued for a narrow, sixteen-story tower to rise on the single fifty-foot-wide lot in between them. Alworth accepted Burnham’s proposal, and construction began immediately. Langquist and Illsley of Chicago were awarded the construction contract and J.E. Ericson of Duluth oversaw the construction. The $500,000 building was ready for occupancy in May 1910, after just nine months of construction, most of which occurred during the winter. The new building contained 275 offices and at its completion was the tallest office building in Minnesota and the region.
The Alworth Building is an excellent example of the Chicago commercial style, with its symmetrical facade, vertical lines, large windows, and projecting cornice. The steel-framed structure is reinforced with concrete. The building’s exterior is buff-colored brick with terra-cotta ornament. The top floor features large oval windows capped with terra-cotta lion heads. Northern National Bank occupied the entire main Superior Street level. The interior featured marble bank counters and marble tile floors, mahogany woodwork and furniture, and offices with marble wainscoting trimmed in mahogany.
“M.H. Alworth, Pioneer Dies in Southland.” Duluth News Tribune, April 1, 1931.
Scott, James A. Duluth’s Legacy, Vol. 1 Architecture.Duluth, MN: City of Duluth Department of Research and Planning, 1974.