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This built-in cabinet is original to the dining room in this Duluth home. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

Duluth home tour heads west: Morgan Park residence among stops this year

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Come on in, a smiling Bill and Sue Majewski will tell you outside their home in Morgan Park. Take a look around.

After all, you’ll be on the annual Tour of Homes and Gardens put on by the Duluth Woman’s Club on Wednesday.

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This is the second time the Majewskis have been part of the tour, which has been an annual event since 1967.

Mention Morgan Park and the cement-block homes built by U.S. Steel for a planned community come to mind. The Majewski “executive” home is no exception. They had coveted it since visiting colleagues there for parties. It was designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright and is one of the roomiest of the 17 models U.S. Steel used in constructing the company town.

In 1972, the pair was offered a chance to leave a starter home in Lakeside when the Morgan Park home went up for sale.

“We grabbed it,” Sue Majewski said.

Some “cosmetic work” ensued over the next few decades, she said. They improved the kitchen space by creating walls instead of entry points. The bulk of the cabinets, like much of the other finished features of the home, are originals.

Bill put in insulation by drilling into inside walls and then Rube Goldberg-ing an apparatus that blew insulation in. Why weren’t the homes built with insulation?

“It would make sense, but they didn’t,” Bill said.

They added a garage 25 years ago. Its design is meant to complement the home.

Such actions are part of the care the Majewskis are taking to preserve the historic nature of the company town. They like to show their home and inspire others to keep them up and maintain as original as possible. The couple has been part of residents’ efforts over the years to tag Morgan Park as an area of historical significance.

They knew the home’s potential 42 years ago, but at the time were simply glad to have some space. Bill recalled his wife tripping over toys to get around their small Lakeside home. Although the steel plant was in the throes of shutting down and Morgan Park’s future was up for grabs, they seized the opportunity.

“We thought we were in hog heaven,” Sue said.

“I told her we’d never be able to fill this place,” Bill said. He recalled office parties at the home with 30 people easily enjoying the space.

Across 42 years, the couple has filled the home simply, letting its own character shine through. Sue has a piano in the sunroom, and Bill’s woodworking hobby fills up the garage. The trend the two bedrooms their children grew up in into offices.

But Sue’s favorite spot is the kitchen.

“I love to cook,” Sue said. It features graters and a colander for light covers above the sink and kitchen table. Some new cabinets were installed, matching the originals.

The home’s architect was Harry Robinson, once a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Examples of the prairie style can be seen throughout the home.

The Duluth Preservation Alliance has the home listed in its files. It remarks on those influences: “Broad gables, pitched roofs and wide eaves. Open rooms and general banks of windows completed with the simple, unified character of each house.”

Robinson’s relatives have come and studied the house, a grandson ended up including it in a paper he did while studying architecture. It eventually became a book.

The home plan is called 17B among the 17 designs U.S. Steel had for its planned company town. The books include some of those designs.

“We always try to share the book,” Bill said. It’s part of the couple’s effort to inform people about the historical nature of Morgan Park. It can inspire and offer ideas on how to preserve features in the homes, they said.

One copy of the book is tattered and torn. Another is kept safely tucked away upstairs.

“If only a few followed some sort of guideline,” Bill said.

There are other projects in the works — like a bathroom in the basement — but Sue wants to take a break and enjoy the surroundings as they are now. The latest project was replacing all the windows in the home. They did a special order to match the existing ones.

It’s a constant process that the couple obviously revels in.

“It’s been a trip living here,” she said.

BUILT FOR THE EXECUTIVE

Bill Majewski says that somewhere under the carpet in the dining room of their Morgan Park house is a button that could be pushed with a foot to summon the maid. The responding bell remains part of the kitchen decor, a sign of the care he and his wife, Sue, have taken to preserve the nature of the home built in 1918 as part of the U.S. Steel planned community.

The home has four bedrooms on the second floor, making it one of the largest of the 17 styles the company built. The Majewski home would have had an executive living there, of course, and thus the designs were with maid service in mind.

The Duluth Preservation Alliance has a description of the home in its files. It named the Majewskis last year as part of its awards for the “best examples of the sensitive remodeling of historically significant homes.”

One passage in the DPA’s description reads as follows:

“This home contains living and dining rooms with pocket doors between, enclosed sunroom with French doors, serving pantry, kitchen, reception hall and four bedrooms. The smallest bedroom was for a domestic employee and had a separate stairway from the landing connected to the kitchen.

After dinner, the family would retire to the living room and the pocket doors would be closed while the dining room and kitchen were being cleaned. Located next to the serving pantry was a service entrance for deliveries and also a floor drain for the icebox.

“The woodwork in the home is birch, with the kitchen and pantry cabinets constructed of fir, and the hardwood floors in beech wood.”

IF YOU GO

The 47th Tour of Homes and Gardens begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday with homes open until 4 p.m. The cost is $30 and includes lunch at the Duluth Woman’s Club. The tour is self-guided, with maps and descriptions provided. There will be music at some of the stops, along with refreshments.

There are two stops “out west” during this year’s tour, a nod to Mayor Don Ness’ initiative to give some love to areas in the St. Louis River corridor.

There is the Majewski home in Morgan Park and the new lodge at Mont du Lac Recreation area, where there will be lemonade, bruschetta and spring rolls. The lodge hasn’t been opened to the public, making this part of the tour a coup for the Woman’s Club.

Register online at www.duluthwomansclub.com or by calling (218) 724-3168. Same-day signups will take place at the club Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 2400 E. Superior St.

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