Old City Hall’s boutique hotel will pay homage to Duluth history

Old City Hall’s boutique hotel will pay homage to Duluth history

The Oliver Inn, named for Duluth architect Oliver Traphagen, who designed the 1889 building at 132 E. Superior St., will have 13 rooms across three floors of the building.

Katrina Pierson of Katrina Lynn Consulting is doing the interior design and decorating of the hotel.

“The idea is that we want to tell the stories and preserve the history of Duluth, but at the same time bring those stories to life in a new and contemporary way,” Pierson said. “We’re also honoring and remembering people whose stories maybe have been forgotten or not shared as much.”

Owner Rod Raymond said he didn’t plan to convert the event and office spaces on the top floor of the building — which also houses Wasabi Japanese restaurant, Evolve yoga studio and the Rathskeller bar — but the coronavirus pandemic forced his hand.

Owner Rod Raymond (left) and interior designer Katrina Pierson, both of Duluth, explain the themes of the rooms at the Oliver Inn on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Duluth. The boutique hotel is in the old Duluth City Hall on East Superior Street and gets its name from architect Oliver Traphagen. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Owner Rod Raymond (left) and interior designer Katrina Pierson, both of Duluth, explain the themes of the rooms at the Oliver Inn on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Duluth. The boutique hotel is in the old Duluth City Hall on East Superior Street and gets its name from architect Oliver Traphagen. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

“It was crickets with COVID, and that’s not going to work, so we decided to build it into this boutique hotel,” he said. “We just did it because we had to, and now I’m so excited that we’re doing it.”

The top floor and Superior Street-level floor will have a total of nine luxury rooms, each named and themed for significant people from Duluth’s past, furnished with antiques and decorated with contemporary art.

The largest room will be the Chamber Suite in the former city council chamber room, which was used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The room will be a master suite that can accommodate up to six guests. Its wainscoting is original wood salvaged from the Rathskeller renovation, Raymond said.

The other eight rooms will be named after the following historical Duluth figures. Each room will have a part of their background and some decorative touches Pierson plans to implement.

  • Guilford and Caroline Hartley: The Duluth businessman and his wife had interests in nearly every industry in the late 1800s, including the railroad, logging and the development of the Mesabi Iron Range and some of its towns. Hartley built the Orpheum Theater and helped establish the Northland Country Club. He also owned the Duluth News Tribune after buying out James J. Hill. The Hartleys were the first in Duluth to have electricity in their home.

  • Chester and Clara Congdon: Chester, an attorney, helped form the largest iron ore producer on the Mesabi Range, which came to be known as United States Steel. He also was a Republican state representative. Clara was an art and language teacher and later took care of their estate and their seven children at Glensheen.

  • The Merritt Brothers: Three of the eight sons of Lewis Merritt — Alfred, Leonidas and Cassius — are credited with opening the Mesabi Iron Range to industry. They owned the mines and constructed railways and ore docks to transport the ore. The Merritt family ended up losing everything to investor John D. Rockefeller when he called in his debts after the Financial Panic of 1893.

  • Mayor Samuel Snively: Duluth’s longest-serving mayor, Snively served from 1921 to 1937. The lawyer also created several roads despite never learning to drive, including Seven Bridges Road in Duluth and U.S. Highway 2 in Northwest Wisconsin.

  • Roger and Olive Munger: Roger, coming from one of the first families to settle in Duluth, built much of the starting infrastructure of the city, including the first flour mill, coal dock, sawmill, opera house, and was in charge of digging the first ship canal. He also served on the first board of trade, school board and city council.

  • Mary McFadden: The first full-time female reporter and editor at the Duluth News Tribune, McFadden was also a poet, suffragist and activist. She led a campaign against tonnage tax that helped Duluth’s economic development.

  • Sara Burger Stearns: The suffragist was the founder and first president of the Minnesota Women Suffrage Association. She also was an activist for housing for women and children and served on the Duluth School Board.

  • Dorothy Arnold: The Duluth actress had a 20-year career in films between 1937 and 1958. Arnold was the first wife of baseball player Joe DiMaggio, with whom she had one child.

“We’re naming rooms specifically for women who have had influence on Duluth whose stories maybe were well-known back in their day, but their legacies haven’t carried forward in the same way as their male counterparts,” Pierson said.

Four rooms on the lower floor, adjacent to the Evolve yoga studio, will be hostel-style accommodations called Swede Town. Raymond envisions the space as an homage to the working-class immigrants of Duluth’s history. Each private room will have a sink, espresso machine and will share two bathrooms. Swede Town’s rooms will be cheaper and designed for people on the go. They will have more of a minimalist, industrial feel with exposed rock walls.

I.B. Dard of Duluth repairs wainscoting at the Oliver Inn on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Duluth. The boutique hotel is the old Duluth City Hall on East Superior Street and gets its name from architect Oliver Traphagen. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

I.B. Dard of Duluth repairs wainscoting at the Oliver Inn on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Duluth. The boutique hotel is the old Duluth City Hall on East Superior Street and gets its name from architect Oliver Traphagen. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

All Oliver Inn guests will have access to a cedar sauna and the Evolve fitness studio on the Michigan Street level. Raymond said the location is ideal for visitors to Duluth because it’s in such close proximity to downtown restaurants and coffee shops, the Lakewalk, Canal Park and the Historic Arts and Theatre District. Plus, guests wouldn’t even need to leave the building in order to access a bar or restaurant.

Raymond, who also owns the boutique hotel Endion Station in Canal Park, said the demand for places like this is very high in Duluth.

“Duluth is all about rich and unique,” Raymond said. “There’ll be nothing like this place in the Midwest.”

Pierson said this project is part of the “Roaring 2020s” revitalization that much of downtown Duluth hopes to see.

“It’s going to be luxury, but we want you to walk into the space and feel like you’re walking into the room of a very well-traveled friend, so there’s comfort in it too,” Pierson said.


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