Our Great North Shore Venue Tour continues as Bruce Vassar makes his way to Duluth.
Those of us who have lived in Minnesota or grew up in the surrounding states all know how the Duluth and Lake Superior area is steeped in Minnesota history and to many the starting point of the North Shore experience. From someone who has been through Duluth a number of times, I had no idea there was this historic Duluth Hotel which was built in 1925 in what is known as the Greysolon Plaza on Superior Street of the Historic Arts and Theatre District. Visiting the Greysolon Ballroom by Black Woods is quite honestly taking a phenomenal step back in time. Back to when The Great Gatsby was published by F. Scott Fitzgerald which had a resounding effect on so many cultural levels and the design and character of the Duluth Hotel were not exempt by any means. Built in 1925 for the amount of $2,400,000, today the cost to build a hotel with 500 sleeping rooms and event space like the Duluth Hotel would cost $31,000,000.
Originally described as an Italian Renaissance style, with Corinthian columns as their inspiration, the top and bottom of the exterior are elaborately ornate in classic detail while the middle of the building is visibly non-descript just like a column. If you love a gilded esthetic, you will love this venue. With the white walls lending themselves like a painting canvas the gold gilded details highlight every turn, as you automatically think of the grandeur of Versailles in Paris or the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Who could ask for anything more!
As I met with Jax — you will love her — I was excited to take a tour. I would soon learn all there was to know about the history and the famous people whose footsteps walked the hallways so many years ago. People like Hollywood celebrity Henry Fonda, BeBe Shopp from Hopkins, Minnesota, who became Minnesota’s very first Miss America in 1948, and The Crown Prince Olav of Norway. However, the most notable guest was in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy and his entourage occupied the entire 14th floor, only two months before his assassination in Dallas. As I would soon learn the hotel had quite a reputation in Duluth society and this reputation proudly continues today with the caring staff and management.
On the day of my tour, I was able to see the delicate care taken to restore and bring back to life this incredible event space. Walking through the entrance into the lobby all I could imagine was the number of people who were walking on the sidewalk outside the building would have absolutely no idea of the treasure waiting for them inside. I can tell as we walked along, Jax has pride and passion for their offerings to couples. You could say she has a love for the venue and its history, as her enthusiasm is contagious. Walking past the lobby fountain and up the marble steps we entered the first floor Moorish Room which accommodates 200 guests. This room is striking with wood beam, gothic cathedral-style ceilings, mosaic tile flooring, hand-painted murals, and a beautiful built-in mahogany bar.
As with any historical property, there is always ongoing upkeep and maintenance at Greysolon Ballroom to deal with while trying to manage tours and upcoming events. Work had just been completed on refinishing the ballroom floors, and they were glistening. I so wanted to walk on them but I couldn’t. I was chomping at the bit to get into the opulent room which seats up to 375 people for a reception. With the massive crystal chandeliers, gold leaf ceiling, while giant Corinthian columns, I could only imagine how a couple and their guests would feel entering the room at a wedding. Walking through the venue I could see every aspect from the stately draperies on the curved windows sharing the sunlight passing through, to the wedding parties getting ready rooms, everything was so well maintained and clearly detailed. Even the bathrooms with their white subway tiles and hand-carved blue marble scenic inlays were very special wrapping in the 1920’s glam.
So you may be asking yourself with all this historical information what could be left to discover – well the chandeliers are amazing as I have already written but I always find it fascinating as to how long they are and how they are cleaned because it would take an awfully tall ladder to reach them and/or one big feather duster. To show the extreme detailing, it takes hours to clean each of the two massive ten-foot-long chandeliers. That’s a lot of sparkle.
Photos courtesy of Greysolon Ballroom by Black Woods