Saving Fitger’s from the wrecking ball

Feb. 22, 1976

The Fitger Brewing Co., 600 E. Superior St., Duluth, as seen on Sept. 28, 1972, a few days before it terminated brewing operations. (Duluth Herald photo)

Fitgers fight comes to a head

By John Krebs, News-Tribune

A brewery that bailed Duluth out of its first unemployment crunch more than 100 years ago may wind up in a survival struggle between two federal agencies.

The Fitger Brewing Co. building on Superior Street seems destined for destruction under a plan to extend Interstate 35 to its vicinity.

But, in the opinion of Minnesota’s historic preservation officer, Russell Fridley, the structure should be saved. It is, he pointed out, eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Fridley’s position places him as a representative of the U.S. Department of Interior trying to save landmarks of yesteryear.

On the other hand, the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota Highway Department fear the stately structure will have to be demolished if I-35 is extended from Mesaba Avenue to the vicinity of Eighth Avenue East as proposed by Mayor Robert Beaudin. …

Although still under ownership of Fitger Brewing Co., the building is little used. The company has advised the highway department it agrees the building "should not be allowed to stand in the way" of I-35. Fitger’s, the city’s first industry – dating from 1859… – went out of the brewing business in 1972. The company has conducted distribution business since then using the building as a warehouse and office.

Fridley said he will make a determined effort to save the building. …

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Within two years, proposals to renovate the building were in the works. Within a decade, the renovated Fitger’s complex had opened its doors. Thank you, Russell Fridley (and anyone else who played a role in preserving it).

The Fitger Brewery is seen in an aerial view from October 1983, before the extension of Interstate 35 was built in a configuration that spared the complex from demolition. To the right is the Pickwick Restaurant, and at far left is the former gas station building that now houses the Portland Malt Shoppe. The buildings across Superior Street from Fitger’s were razed to make way for the highway. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

An exterior view of the renovated Fitger’s complex at night in May 1985. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune & Herald)

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