DULUTH - More than a decade ago, a historic granite building on W. 2nd Street — built in the classic style by local architects in 1923 — was scheduled to be demolished to make way for more downtown parking.

Sandy Burgstahler remembered standing in front of the old St. Louis County jail with other history-minded residents with signs reading "This place matters" in March 2009.

It was ultimately spared.

Burgstahler was part of a group of a dozen members of Duluth's Preservation Alliance to tour that same building this past week as it shifts toward its second life as a mixed-income apartment complex with 33 units. It's expected to be move-in ready on Jan. 1, 2023. The site has been rebranded as Leijona (pronounced LAY-oona), a Finnish nod to the lions carved into the exterior stone — though there are cheeky callbacks to yesteryear in its marketing.

"From jailhouse to your house," it says on its website. "Duluth's most unique apartment, bar none."

One of the three developers involved with the project, Meghan Elliott, remembered her initial impression of the historical building when she first entered in 2018: floors covered in pigeon waste. Later she would find that the pigeon waste was covering floors decorated with lead paint.

The $7.7 million project has required removing the hazardous waste and 200 of the original 280 tons of steel used in construction. The jail's 98 glass-block windows have been replaced. An annex on the property was removed to create more parking for residents.

The jail cells, developers quickly learned, had been originally used for structural support — a conundrum Elliott felt confident could be solved, having worked for a while as a structural engineer in earthquake country.

Where guards and prisoners once used walkways along the perimeter of each level, each floor's main hallway now pushes through the center of the building.

"We've turned the building inside out in terms of how you circulate," Elliott said.

The main lobby retains its original terrazzo flooring — muted neutral tones that are the color scheme for the rest of the building. The one-ton front door remains and so do the bars on all windows in common areas.

A studio apartment on the second floor is more than the size of two cells. The sliding barred door is an accent wall that divides the kitchen from the main living space. The concrete floor has steel circles from where other bars have been sawed off.

A southwest-facing window offers a view of the Duluth Harbor.

The jail was originally designed by the architectural firm Holstead & Sullivan in the style of Daniel H. Burnham, the Chicago architect behind the City Beautiful Movement. It cost more than $700,000 back then — well over its $300,000 budget. Burnham was behind the design of the Civic Center Mall — which includes the St. Louis County Courthouse, City Hall and the Federal Building. A tunnel once connected the jail, which is set on the block to the north of these structures, to the courthouse. It's since been destroyed.

Two months out from move-in day, Elliott is feeling good about the project.

"It's amazing," Elliott said. "What I love is seeing how other people see the space."

The St. Louis County jail moved to an industrial area on Haines Road in 1995, and the former site was vacant for decades. In 2010, Duluth businessman Grant Carlson brought the building and has had differing plans for it along the way. At one point, he proposed that filmmakers use the space.

Carlson remains one of a trio of developers — along with Elliott and Jon Commers — involved with the project.

Burgstahler is glad the preservationists prevailed.

"This is a success," Burgstahler said after the tour. "The right person has to fall in love with a building. That doesn't always happen."