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Canopy of Greysolon Plaza in Duluth to be replaced with history in mind

Metal panels now cover the exposed brick and damage left by the removal of the collapsed canopy in late December. But owner Sherman Associates is planning to restore the canopy this year. (Steve Kuchera / / 8
The ornate terra-cotta canopy that was above the front entrance of the Greysolon Plaza at 231 E. Superior St. in Duluth was original to the historic 1920s-era building. (2012 file / News Tribune)3 / 8
The four chains that helped support the canopy that collapsed are still in place in front of the Greysolon Plaza in downtown Duluth. (Steve Kuchera / / 8
Firefighters survey the damage shortly after the canopy over the front entrance of Greysolon Plaza collapsed on the evening of Dec. 28. Although many were attending a wedding reception in the building and the building houses dozens of residents, no one was under the canopy when it collapsed, and no one was injured. (2013 file / News Tribune)5 / 8
Workers with the Jamar Co. discuss how to safely remove the Greysolon Plaza canopy along Superior Street the day after it collapsed in late December. (2013 file / News Tribune)6 / 8
One of the chains that supported the canopy dangles by a cut-off beam that ran into the canopy. (Steve Kuchera / 7 / 8
Except for signage changes, the original front canopy of the Greysolon Plaza, shown here as the Hotel Duluth in the 1970s, changed little over the years. In 1980, the building became a housing facility and was renamed Greysolon Plaza. (1974 file / News Tribune) 8 / 8

Nearly four months after the ornate canopy above Greysolon Plaza’s front entrance collapsed, temporary metal panels still hide the exposed brick and the damage caused.

But Sherman Associates, which owns the historic building in downtown Duluth, intends to restore it — decorative terra cotta and all — in the next six months, said Nick Capra, director of operations.

“We remain committed to rebuilding the canopy,” Capra said last week. “We’re trying to duplicate what was there.”

That’s good news for local preservationists.

“It’s great that they want to bring it back,” said local historian Tony Dierckins. “You can tell the organization has great respect for that building. You can tell by the renovations they’ve done. I applaud them. They could have easily have gone a cheaper route that didn’t take history into  consideration. They could put something up that just doesn’t fit the building.”

And leave it without the canopy, and it looks like something is missing, he said.

Construction is to start this summer.

 But exactly how they’re going to do it hasn’t been determined, nor have the costs, Capra said. They could build it entirely out of new materials, using molds to re-create the ornate features, or they could reuse at least some of the salvaged materials.

“With the deconstruction, we retained as much of that as we could with the idea that some of that could be reused,” Capra said. “At the very least, that can be used in the redesign to duplicate it.”

Sherman Associates has been working with designers, engineers, contractors and historians to develop a plan that works with today’s building codes. Among them is the Jamar Co., which was involved in the building’s construction nearly 90 years ago and could be tapped for the job.

 The fact that the iconic Duluth building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing member of a historic downtown district adds to the responsibility to do it right.

“We’re not there yet,” Capra said. “Everything is being considered. We looked at historical photos. All the folks who are helping and are involved in the plan are considering all of that. We have provided any recent photos we had of the canopy and some historical photos.”

Moreover, the chances it will again be a terra-cotta canopy are good.

“It’s one of the things that is seriously and mostly being considered,” Capra said.

The sprawling, 13-story Classical Revival building at 231 E. Superior St. opened in 1925 as the Hotel Duluth. For decades it was one of Duluth’s premier hotels. In 1980, its 500 hotel rooms were reconfigured into 150 one-bedroom apartments. Today it houses mostly seniors, but its grand ballroom and other public spaces still are used for weddings, dinners and other events.

Why the snow-covered canopy — supported by beams and steel cables anchored to the building — collapsed on Dec. 28 hasn’t been determined.

“It’s really hard to say,” said Capra, noting several possible factors, including the heavy snow that Duluth started to get in early December.

No one was injured when the canopy fell.

The Greysolon canopy wasn’t the only possible casualty of Duluth’s harsh, snowy winter. Recently the canopy of an ICO gas station on Sixth Avenue East tipped  over, and a portion of the Duluth Armory’s roof caved in.