A long abandoned duplex in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood was a complete wreck that showed no sign of its historic past when Steve and Diane Dick purchased it. Their simple renovation plan was to make room for an aging parent and host regular gatherings with their children and grandchildren.
Eight years on, the project has accomplished all the necessary family duties and more. The house stands out among its stately London Road neighbors and keeps an important piece of history alive: its original owners were Civil War veteran and early mining-exploration Captain John Mallman and his wife Catherine.
The beautiful bungalow at 19 N. 43rd Ave. E. — now known as the Mallman House — will be one of six stops on the Duluth Preservation Alliance Historic Properties Tour Sunday, Sept. 17. The annual tour allows ticket holders an up-close look into some of the most unique and historic buildings in the city.
Duluth Preservation Alliance President Blake Romenesko said the group recognizes a handful of property owners every year with plaques for their preservation work. Some award winners are then featured on the tour which attracts hundreds of curious history buffs or people just looking for good kitchen design ideas.
The tour becomes both practical and educational.
“I think one of the greatest ideas in my mind about old homes and old buildings is that we don’t truly own these old buildings, it’s partially owned by the people who built them and the next generation. It’s our job to take care of them and hold the spirit of their original intent,” said Romenesko. “So it’s important to celebrate the owners who do take that spirit to honor their buildings.”
Steve and Diane Dick didn’t see much to honor when they decided to sell their Minneapolis house, move back to Duluth and renovate a converted duplex that was built in 1889, survived two fires and had stood empty for three years.
“There was absolutely nothing charming anywhere in the house,” said Diane. “And we’re big on salvaging.”
“There were a couple of door knobs. That’s it,” said Steve.
But the Dicks said the price was right and the east side neighborhood was wonderful. The house was big enough for their needs and Steve, a recently laid off nurse, had the time and skills to rebuild, well, everything.
Beginning in 2015, the main level was gutted down to the studs and lifesaving repairs were made to the heating system. Plans were then established to rebuild the property in an American Empire, Turn-of-the-Century style.
“I just pictured my grandma’s house and I wanted to get it back to something like that,” said Steve.
Working with basic computer programs, Steve created a floor plan featuring a living room anchored by a custom-designed fireplace, two bedrooms connected by a new bathroom and a kitchen piled high with cabinet work. A wrap around front porch and rear sun room were added on for good measure.
An amazing 31 new windows — all finished in lavish amounts of trim — were installed to capture the sunlight and changing northland seasons.
“Everything you see in here was all done by Steve,” said Diane. “He did all the woodwork.”
Facebook Marketplace, eBay and North Shore Architectural Antiques in Two Harbors were the main sources for raw materials and unique hardware like the set of light fixtures in the sun room. Most of the living room furniture was purchased second hand and Steve put all the kitchen cabinetry together in his shop.
The couple splurged on handmade artisan tile work for the new living room fireplace. The warm green tile with pine cone accents make the piece unforgettable. It isn’t the first time the couple chose to bend the budget for something special. “Eventually, I coined the phrase: It only hurts once and you’ll be glad forever,” said Steve.
The house is filled with clever, unique details like a Hoosier cabinet wedged into a kitchen corner, a bathroom pocket door separating a powder room and a mail slot with a removable catch drawer. An oak staircase was salvaged from a house down the road and will replace creaky steps leading up to the second floor — where more renovation will take place.
Of course, the things visitors don’t see are usually what costs the most.
After gutting everything in the building, Steve discovered workers from another era used a small piece of wood to level a pillar that was holding up one side of the house. Tree stumps were used to support the dining room floor.
“So we were constantly faced with questions over and over again: Should we just cover this back up and try to forget about it or do we do a real fix,” said Diane. “We made the decision every single time: ‘No, no, we need to take care of this.’ But doing it right, that costs five figures every single time.”
The couple said all the work and investment has paid off. Diane’s mother was able to live out her life in a beautiful space and today, the family — which now includes 21 grandchildren — can all gather for special events like a Thanksgiving dinner.
The history of the house was just a bonus. “We only learned about it two weeks ago,” said Diane.
Duluth Preservation Alliance research uncovered the connection to the Mallman family. After John Mallman served in the Civil War he married Catherine in Duluth in 1866, making the couple early city pioneers. The Mallmans opened a bakery in 1871 and later became involved in iron ore exploration. In 1886, Mallman purchased iron ore lands for $850. One of his discoveries — called the Mallman mine — was the first to produce iron ore on the Vermillion Range. The mine was active through 1900.
“(The Mallmans) were in Duluth when it was just a shanty town, just Park Point basically,” said Romenesko. “All the houses have their quirks and their own different stories to share.”
The tour will also include:
- The Weiss house, 201 Ridgewood Road, built in 1927 by the editor of the Duluth Herald.
- The Park Point Streetcar House, 1229 Minnesota Ave., converted in about 1939.
- 1051 84th Ave. W., a Morgan Park concrete company house.
- The historic First Presbyterian Church at 300 E. Second St.
- The Garfield News Building, 1604 W. Superior St.
Tour tickets are available online for $30 with proceeds going to Duluth Preservation Alliance projects.
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