A Sit Down with John Damberg

We recently sat down with John Damberg, whose father, Paul and uncle, Rheuben started the firm. We talked about how DSGW got its start and some of the differences from then and now.

After attending high school in Eveleth, Minnesota, Paul and Rheuben Damberg planned on attending the University of Minnesota for engineering. But as luck would have it, the line was extremely long when they went to sign up for classes. When they looked at the architecture line, it was much shorter. So, they hopped lines and went to school for architecture instead. After they graduated in 1922, Paul stayed to work in Minneapolis and Rheuben went to work in Boston.

In 1934, Paul moved back to Eveleth to work for himself and was joined by his brother in 1938 to create Damberg & Damberg. Their first office was located in Virginia, Minnesota above what is now Grande’s Ace Hardware on Chestnut Street. For nearly the next 20 years it was just the two of them. Rheuben was the designer and draftsman, while Paul did public relations, chased projects, went to interviews, wrote specifications and did project observations.

Above the Ace hardware store was first Damberg & Damberg office location

The first big job that Damberg & Damberg got was a renovation project of the Eveleth Hippodrome in 1938. As John put it, “They replaced everything except the roof.” The Hippodrome, for those of you not familiar, is a historic hockey arena in Eveleth built in the 1920’s and still in use today! The work done by Damberg & Damberg in 1938 included replacing all of the wood walls with brick, adding a new lobby to the south side of the building, more seating and new locker rooms in the basement.

First big project, the Eveleth Hippodrome renovation

The next two large projects that helped put Damberg & Damberg on the map were an addition to the Nopeming Sanitorium’s on site hospital called The Chateau in Duluth and an expansion project to the Virginia hospital where they teamed with Ellerbe Architects.

One of our curiosities was the time it took to do things versus how long it takes now. Before there were in-office large scale printers there were blue print machines. He shared with us that “it was every intern’s job to make blue prints” and that the ammonia was very smelly. If it was a large project, it was sent to Duluth to make copies or if it was small enough, City of Virginia had a blue print machine. When looking at deadlines, you always had to account for printing / copying time.  It could take up to a week to get your copies back versus now, being able to print multiple drawing sets in a day in-house.

DSGW has seen many changes in the last 80 years. Moving from hand drawn renderings to 3-D fly-thrus to improving the print production time of a drawing set from a week to an afternoon. There are some things that haven’t changed. Damberg & Damberg specialized in education, commercial and healthcare industries; three target areas we still focus on today! And the presentation props might be a little fancier now, but the way in which you go about developing business is relatively still the same.

From left: John Geissler, John Gerzina, John Damberg, John Erickson

It was a delight visiting with John! We thank him for sharing some history about the company his father and uncle started, and a firm he later took over and continued to grow.