An evolving family business for over a century

April 1, 2008
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Northwestern Marble & Granite Co., which was founded 112 years ago under the name Northwestern Mantel Co., operates out of a 20,000-square-foot fabricating facility in Edina, MN.

As president and owner of Northwestern Marble & Granite Co. since 1988, David C. Gramling - named after his grandfather who had also once served as company owner and president - has dedicated himself to continuing to run a successful fabrication business, which has been in his family for more than 100 years. Since its start in 1896, the company has experienced several name changes, actively supported World War II and relocated its facility a few times. Today, Northwestern Marble & Granite Co. operates out of a 20,000-square-foot shop - with an additional 7,000 square feet of office/showroom space - in Edina, MN, and the company works hard to serve both the residential and commercial markets across the U.S.

“We do work such as commercial, condos and remodels,” said Gramling. “We try to keep it even across the board so if something is down, we can turn to something else. We do work around the country. We just finished the Four Winds Casino outside of Detroit, MI.”

Among the equipment in the shop is a Cougar bridge saw from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN.

Company history

While the company has processed stone since its beginnings, its initial operation varied from its current production. In 1896, the owners of Flour City Ornamental Iron Co. founded Northwestern Mantel Co., which supplied marble and ornamental iron to the office and bank construction industry. The original office and facilities were located in Minneapolis, MN.

It was in 1906 when Gramling’s great uncle, Charles N. Gramling, joined the business and served as president until his death in March of 1936. In 1910, the company’s name was changed to Northwestern Marble & Tile Co., and it moved to larger facilities in Minneapolis, which sat on 3 ½ acres of property.

Two years later, Gramling’s grandfather, David C. Gramling, started working part-time for the company, while he was still in high school. In the 1920s, David C. Gramling ran Northwestern Marble & Tile Co.’s marble quarry in Winnipeg, Canada. The marble was named “Gramling Green,” and it was approved for all U.S. Post Office construction nationally. Because none of the firm’s competitors knew a marble by this name, they could not compete for the contracts, reports the company.

In the 1940’s - prior to World War II - the Northwestern Marble & Tile Co. was the largest terrazzo contractor in the area. In fact, David C. Gramling was president of the National Terrazzo Association in 1941 and 1942. During World War II, the company demonstrated its support by producing aluminum pontoons, cowlings for C-47 airplanes, engine cylinder heads and mine anchors.

David C. Gramling, W.W. Getchell and J.M. Shelley bought the company from Flour City Ornamental Iron Co. in 1947, and they renamed it Northwestern Marble Corp. Through the decades, the company would experience several more changes in its name and location. David C. Gramling retired from the business in 1962, and his son, Thomas, was appointed president and remained in this position until he retired in 1988.

The company’s final name change came in 2001, when it took its present name, Northwestern Marble & Granite Co. In this year, the company also moved to its current location, which features a state-of-the-art fabricating facility.

Additional machinery used in the fabrication process includes a Park Pro-Edge III automatic edge shaper and polisher.

The present-day shop

“Our facility was purchased seven years ago to accommodate our stone business,” said Gramling. “We do about five kitchens a day.”

The majority of the equipment in the shop is from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, including an Odyssey CNC stoneworking center, a Cougar bridge saw, and a Pro-Edge II and a Pro-Edge III automatic edge shaper and polisher. Additional machinery includes a LCV 711 Marmo Meccanica edge polisher and a Torit air filtration system from Donaldson Company, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN. Hand tools and accessories are purchased from suppliers such as Granite City Tool Co. of Waite Park, MN; GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; and VIC International of Knoxville, TN. Also, Tenax products are used on slab edges, according to Gramling.

In total, Northwestern Marble & Granite Co. employs 30 workers, and its factory runs two shifts. The company has three install crews, which use plastic and Luan plywood for templating. “It hasn’t gotten to the point yet for us to use digital [equipment],” said the company owner, adding that the counters are rodded when the material dictates.

Approximately 90% of the company’s production is natural stone, while the other 10% is comprised of CaesarStone and Dupont Zodiaq®. “About 70% of the material we have, we bring in ourselves from overseas,” said Gramling.

The company displays its array of material in a showroom adjacent to the shop. A number of vignettes as well as tile samples are on display for designers and homeowners to view. In total, more than 200 selections of various granites, marbles, soapstone, travertine and limestone from around the world are offered. An assortment of sink undermounts and faucets are also available.

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