The Douglass House

Houghton’s commercial district began with the establishment of two hotels – the Houghton and the Douglass – both named Douglass Houghton. But that’s where the similarities ended, as the two businesses catered to a completely different types of clientele. While the Houghton House provided simple and cheap accommodations for the average Joe, the Douglass House was built to cater to a more prestigious class of mine agents, investors and businessmen. Built of wood and standing three stories in height, the original Douglass House featured 50 guest rooms, a saloon, kitchen and large dining hall. But as Houghton prospered, the once top-of-the-line accommodations offered by the hotel began to show their age and lost favor with those elite clientele the Douglass House were targeting. By the turn of the century the old hotel was bought up by new owners, who quickly invested over $100,000 dollars on a new and improved Douglass House.

The new Douglass House was in actuality a brick addition to the old Douglass House, built along the old terraced gardens that once fronted the iconic hotel. (you can see the original wood framed structure attached to the backside of the addition in the photo above) This new addition was four stories tall at its Shelden facade, and soared to over 80 feet in height thanks to the intricately detailed Baroque towers rising up out of the building’s front corners. The hotel’s buff brick facades were embellished with a great deal of white terra cotta pieces around the windows and entranceways as well as across the building’s frieze.

Since its construction this new Douglass House hasn’t changed too radically over the years, with only a few of its balconies falling victim to the passage of time. The hotel’s first floor was home to four storefronts, one of which was occupied by the hotel’s saloon (which is still used in such a capacity today). The remaining spaces were originally occupied by a Telegraph Office, Jewelry Store, and a Red Cross boarding house.

Besides those towers perhaps the most iconic feature along the new Douglass House was its second floor loggia, essentially a covered porch protruding out the front of the building. This open air gallery was part of the hotel’s main reception parlor, which took up a good deal of the building’s first floor and was entered from Isle Royale Street (and not Shelden oddly enough). Like its predecessor, this new Douglass House’s guest rooms occupied the third and fourth floors.

Here’s a closer look at that loggia which has more recently been enclosed as part of the hotel’s transformation into an senior residence. You can still make out the loads of terra cotta embellishments decorating the loggia, such as the line of wreaths, floral patterns, and scrolled capitals atop the pilasters.

Of course the real defining element of the Douglass House is those towers, capped by these domed masterpieces adorned with plenty of columns and terra-cotta embellishments. Those terra-cotta embellishments continue down along the tower’s facade, adorning the top floor guest room windows. The top window seen in this photo would have originally sported its own balcony, but that was removed for safety reasons during the building’s renovation.

As noted earlier the Douglass Hotel’s first floor was in fact its second floor, entered from a formalized entrance sitting along Isle Royale Street. This doorway opened up to the hotels main reception parlor and front desk. This was a visitor’s first impression of the grand building, and no expense was spared in its construction. In addition to the ionic columns toped by scrolled capitals and the intricate stained glass transom window, the entranceway was also guarded by two mythical gargoyles perched atop the columns. (gargoyles! Seriously?) Inside things got even more elaborate as tiled mosaic floors, oak wainscoting, marble baseboards and gold stenciled ceilings awaited the hotel’s guests.

Here’s a closer look at some of those entrance-way details. I’m not sure if all of this is original to the building, since it looks to be in far too good of shape to be very old. But perhaps this particular building was just taken care of better then others.

Next door to the formalized entrance sits another entranceway, though this one is not so ornately embellished. The stylized overhang above the door makes me think that this was also original to the building, and not simply a servants entrance. Supposedly the hotel had a “ladies entrance” which allowed visiting gals to call up to the rooms without having to pass through the hotel’s lobby. I would hazard a guess that this particular doorway was that same entranceway.

Looking high up above the entrance we take a closer look at the windows to some of the old guest rooms (now apartments). While the windows themselves on this side of the building were rather plain and simple the frieze still held some glitz and glamor (including more lions heads!)

Looking towards the back of the old hotel we find it continues onward all the way back to Montezuma Ave. Originally this would have been the old wood framed portion of the hotel, but a fire in 1901 resulted in its destruction. Luckily the newer part of the hotel was spared, and a new brick addition – designed to mimic the newer addition as best it could – was added in its place. While it looks similar to the more elaborate front section, it’s really just a pale imitation.

Moving on…

To Be Continued…

Some of the information found in this series is courtesy the Copper Country Architects website researched and compiled by MTU students under the supervision of Professor Kim Hoagland.

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  1. It’s really neat to see the history of buildings downtown. I’d like to know more about my block, but I know you probably wont get that far down (900).

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