Police, fire officials investigating after fire damages landmark Duluth building
Brady Slater, Duluth News Tribune
Police and fire officials are investigating the origin of a fire early Monday morning that caused significant damage to a historic mansion on East Superior Street in Duluth.
Meanwhile, authorities also are investigating an apparent Molotov cocktail found Monday morning in a building across the street from the mansion. Officials with the fire department declined to say if the two cases are related as the investigation continued into Monday afternoon.
“I can’t fathom why somebody would do this,” said 67-year-old Frank Messina, owner of Real Living Messina & Associates at 1512 E. Superior St. “How somebody can be that malicious to destroy somebody else’s property.”
The Oliver G. Traphagen House at 1511 E. Superior St. was the site of the fire, where Duluth firefighters extinguished a two-story blaze that blackened the building’s west side and charred the ivy of the three-story historic home turned business property.
Across the street, Messina said he arrived for work Monday to discover a Molotov cocktail that had been thrown through a window and into his building’s basement. The fire-bomb – described by Messina as a wadded wick inside a beer bottle – failed to ignite.
“I’ve been here since 1984 and never had any issues until now,” Messina said.
By midmorning, Messina’s office was bustling with activity like any other workday. Duluth Police Department officers and other investigative authorities were on the sidewalk outside, holding a discussion about swabbing the bottle for DNA “in case somebody drank from it first,” one of the officials said to the others.
Across the street, the Traphagen House was surrounded by yellow police tape. Several windows were broken and police vehicles were parked throughout the neighborhood.
“It looks like a crime scene,” said Greg Follmer, of Greg Follmer Commercial Real Estate, who has the Traphagen House listed for sale at $750,000 and works out of the Messina offices across the street. “It’s a real pity. It appears to be arson.”
Presently, HTK Marketing Communications and Ledingham Promotional Advertising occupy the building, which is owned by Howard Klatzky. There was nobody working in the building Monday as it was closed because of damages and for the investigation.
“I’ve had better days,” said Klatzky, who arrived at the scene shortly after receiving a call from authorities at 6 a.m.
Klatzky would not say if the building was under investigation for arson.
The HTK agency is in the process of moving to the DeWitt-Seitz Building in Canal Park. Klatzky founded the agency, which specializes in health care advertising, and later sold it to Mike Seyfer and a partner in February 2012. Seyfer did not respond to attempts to reach him.
“I remember the day I walked in and fell in love with it,” Klatzky said of the Traphagen House. “Within a week or two we had the purchase agreement. I took possession Halloween 1986 and moved in March-April 1987. It’s one of the great buildings of Duluth. It was beautiful. There were constantly people coming in and asking, ‘Can we see the building?’ It was on a number of historic home tours over the years.”
An initial estimate in a Duluth Fire Department press release placed damages “in excess of $150,000.” Klatzky said insurance adjusters were expected to arrive Monday.
The Traphagen House was built in 1892, and features more than 9,200 square feet on its three floors. It was designed by renowned architect Oliver Traphagen for his personal use. Mining magnate Chester Congdon purchased the home five years later and the Congdon family lived there until Glensheen Mansion was completed in 1908.
Klatzky restored the building before moving in his HTK Marketing Communications in 1987. The now commercially zoned property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Follmer said there had been serious interest in the property, but did not know how the fire would affect its potential sale.
“It’s historic stuff – the beautiful wood work, fireplaces in stone,” Follmer said. “You can’t imagine.”
Messina said he would be installing cameras to the exterior of his building in an effort to deter further incidents.