Hemlock Garage Collapses, 1979

March 7, 1979

Crumpled walls reveal the cavernous interior of the Hemlock Garage building, a Duluth landmark, after the roof collapsed under the weight of snow Tuesday afternoon. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Snow crushes downtown building

By John Murrell and Susan Willoughby, Duluth News-Tribune

With a rumble and a cloud of yellow dust, a large section of the 83-year-old Hemlock Garage building at Third Avenue East and First Street collapsed at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, crushing several cars under an avalanche of bricks, but causing no injuries.

Assistant Fire Chief Robert O’Rourke said the collapse was caused by "a lot of snow on an old building."

A third of the building on the First Street side was reduced to rubble. Cracks and bulges were visible in the portion left standing.

Gerald Veillet, acting city building inspector, said building owner Jack Krenzen has arranged with his insurance company to contract for the demolition of the rest of the structure early today.

The building, most recently used for storage by Krenzen’s Cadillac-Pontiac-Honda agency, opened in 1896 as the Union ice-skating rink. In later years it was a roller-skating rink, a public auditorium, a garage and a warehouse. …

Bricks from the collapsed facade of the Hemlock Garage building crushed several cars on First Street, but no one was injured. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


A recent occupant of the building was City Councilor John Fedo’s car cleaning business, which moved to Garfield Avenue in January. Fedo announced his candidacy for mayor about three hours [before the collapse].

Considering his fate had he been in the building, Fedo said, "It might have been the shortest Duluth mayoral campaign in history."

The garage is the third Duluth-area commercial building to be damaged by heavy snow on its roof. A structure at the Morterud Egg Co. collapsed Feb. 21, and last Sunday part of Minnesota Power & Light Company’s Cloquet office roof collapsed.

A undated view of the Hemlock Garage building in its final years before collapsing under the weight of heavy snow in 1979. (News-Tribune photo)

These excerpts are from the Duluth Herald’s coverage of the collapse:

It was built in 1896 as a wooden frame structure and faced with brick in 1910, city building records show. It was opened as a skating rink and had two sheets of ice, 180 by 82 feet, on two levels. It was Duluth’s first indoor ice-skating rink. There was no artificial ice in those days and in the off-season the place was used for roller skating.

Over the years it housed a variety of businesses and also had been used as an auditorium. The Hemlock Garage business had moved out last year. …

The collapse of Duluth’s first skating rink under the weight of snow recalled a similar incident involving a skating rink of a later era – the Amphitheater, at 12th Avenue East and Superior Street. Its roof collapsed on Feb. 12, 1939, only minutes after 3,000 spectators at a hockey game had escaped after being warned by crackling noises in the ceiling. Four persons were injured.


The Hemlock Garage building site now is occupied by the parking ramp behind the new Sheraton Hotel.

A "turn-of-the-century" view of the Hemlock Garage building – then being used as an auditorium in its upper levels, with a wagon shop below. (from the News-Tribune files)

The top line on the poster on the corner says "AUDITORIUM," but the rest of the text is too small to read off the original print:

6 Responses

  1. Pingback : Corner of Superior and Fourth Avenue East, 1959 | News Tribune Attic

  2. Marion

    Does anyone else remember the Hemlock Garage which was located on 7th Ave. East and Third Street?

  3. Patt Jackson

    One of my friends was working at Automatic Vendors that day, and we were chatting on the phone when she said “oh, my God, the roller rink just collapsed!” It was a pretty weird conversation after that. I’d forgotten that incident until I saw this photo. Wow.

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