Goodbye, Flame; hello, aquarium, 1998

June 30, 1998

The crowd attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Great Lakes Aquarium watches the wrecking ball hit the former Flame Restaurant on Monday morning (June 29). Mayor Gary Doty was at the controls and hit the building twice with the 8,200-pound ball. The actual demolition of the building will begin today. (Bob King / News Tribune)



News Tribune

After a decade as an idea and subject of debate, the Great Lakes Aquarium began moving toward concrete form on Monday.

As a wrecking ball slammed through the brick wall of the former Flame Restaurant building at Fifth Avenue West and the Duluth Harbor, civic leaders celebrated the imminent construction on the site of the proposed aquarium and exhibit hall.

Duluth Mayor Gary Doty slid the lever to release the wrecking ball, making literal government’s role in reshaping the bayfront to solidify Duluth’s tourist economy.

State funds of $16 million and city funds of $11 million are going into the project, along with $6 million in private contributions. Backers hope to attract more than 280,000 visitors a year with the result, an exhibition of freshwater ecologies around the world featuring live otters, five large fish tanks, 22 smaller ones and interactive exhibits.

"The proper development of the bayfront area has been a priority of my administration. Lake Superior Center has a been longstanding dream for many of us to be a cornerstone of that devlopment," Doty said. "Their work will show the world how Duluthians feel about the aquatic treasure that we have right here."

In the crowd was Terry Teich, a Lincoln Park Middle School teacher who was enthused about the potential educational value.

"If you look at what they want to do in the future, it’s going to be great, and fun," she said.

Today crews plan to start demolishing the former warehouse built in 1910 that housed the swank Flame after 1946. Crews finished work related to asbestos removal just an hour before Monday’s ceremony.

Next month the general contractor, a partnership between Johnson-Wilson Construction Management of Duluth and Adolfson & Peterson Construction of Minneapolis, will review subcontractors’ bids with the city to make sure they meet budget projections.

Then comes 18 months of construction, with opening projected for late 1999.

The $30 million project will be the most noticeable makeover of the downtown waterfront since the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center was expanded in 1990. It will be the first major enhancement on the west side of South Fifth Avenue West since that former industrial land was developed into Bayfront Park in 1987.

The Duluth aquarium will be unusual in one respect. Of 30 accredited aquariums in the United States, only one, in Chattanooga, Tenn., is themed on freshwater rather than saltwater.

The Great Lakes Aquarium happened only because local backers persisted after the prospect of federal funding dissipated.

Bayfront preservationists unveiled the aquarium idea to the public in March 1989. Local attorney and venture capitalist Nick Smith served as the first chairman of the nonprofit Lake Superior Center, whose board includes Minnesota Power executives, Duluth and Superior city officials, Lake Superior experts and representatives of the financial and medical professions.

Early plans were to open in 1994 with a sister facility in the then-Soviet Union. Organizers figured they’d get $10 million from local sources and $20 million from Congress. But then the Communist government collapsed.

"All this wonderful international connection went bye-bye," said aquarium marketing director Paula Davidson.

Left off a federal list of environmental projects, the center slashed its staff in 1992 and downsized its plans. Organizers proposed the state up its contribution to $20 million while the city share stayed at about $5 million.

The state balked, saying it would pay no more than about half of the total cost. In 1996, the state Legislature approved the last of its $16 million grant. This spring, Doty, the City Council and the Duluth Economic Development Authority agreed to augment the city’s $5.4 million grant with a $6.75 million loan.

"It has been a long time coming, and I know a lot of people thought it wouldn’t happen," said Yvonne Prettner Solon, city councilor and DEDA president.

The waiting now gives way to a flurry of activity. Lake Superior Center is scheduling a fund-raising campaign to cover operating expenses and begin repaying the city loans.

In August, crews plan to start driving more than 400 pilings 140 feet through dirt and fill into bedrock. They hope to start erecting the structure around late winter and complete it by May 1999. After exhibits are installed, work could be complete in November 1999.

The Flame Restaurant opened in 1946, and operated steadily into the 1970s. It had some ups and downs in the 1970s and 1980s before – according to the records I could find – closing for good in 1986. Here are a couple of photos of the Flame while it was in operation:

Sept. 26, 1983

The Flame Restaurant reborn — Seated at the table of the Duluth waterfront restaurant are Joann and Jerry Fischer and Joyce and Daryl Hirschel, all of the Twin Cities area. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Feb. 11, 1985

The Flame restaurant in downtown Duluth closed today. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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New home for KBJR, 1998

June 30, 1998

John Kaptonak of Mulcahy Inc. installs sheets of drywall to the ceiling of the main floor of the new KBJR-TV building in Canal Park on Jan. 27, 1999. This area will house the station’s studios. The station excercised an option to buy the building in June 1998. (Dave Ballard / News Tribune)



KBJR-TV Channel 6 has exercised an option to buy the GE Supply Building in Canal Park and plans to occupy it by next spring.

The 20,000-square-foot building at 246 Lake Ave. S. is about the same size as the station’s longtime home at 230 E. Superior St., which was damaged by fire Dec. 14. The GE Supply Building has more flexibility, said Bob Wilmers, the station’s president and general manager. "We’re going to be able to configure it more efficiently," he said.

Preliminary plans call for a "Today" show-type news set with large windows where the public can view newscasts. A "news patio" and the possibility of a deck for weather forecasts will also be added, said KBJR’s architect, Paul Winship of Architects IV.

The roof line will be modified to partially conceal satellite dishes. The design was approved earlier this month by the city’s Downtown Waterfront Mixed Use-Design Review Committee.

The two-story office-warehouse building has two tenants, GE Supply and Walker Display Inc., which will relocate, Wilmers said.

He wouldn’t say how much the station will invest in the building or spend on renovations. KBJR, which is owned by Granite Broadcasting, plans to close on the sale Aug. 1.

KBJR reached an agreement with its insurance company on its claim for the burned-out building on Superior Street and got the go-ahead to buy the GE Supply Building last week, Wilmers said.

KBJR occupied the Superior Street building from 1954, when it began broadcasting, until the fire. Wilmers said the station will sell the building and that several parties are interested.

Employees are excited because they finally know where the station’s permanent home will be, according to news director Dave Jensch. "We’ve been sitting still since December wondering what’s going to happen," he said.

Since the fire, KBJR has been operating from three sites. Administrative offices are in US Bank Place downtown, engineers are at the Duluth Antenna Farm and the news and promotion staff works at the WDSE-TV Channel 8 studios on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

KBJR moved to its Canal Park offices in June 1999. Here is some coverage of the fire at the station’s previous building:

Dec. 15, 1997

Chuck Hatfield with Amendola Construction carries in plywood that will be used to cover windows that were blown out during Sunday night’s fire at the KBJR-TV studios, 230 E. Superior St. (Bob King / News Tribune)



A two-alarm fire with at least one explosion rocked KBJR-TV Channel 6 late Sunday night, knocking Duluth’s NBC affiliate off the air.

General manager Bob Wilmers said that an engineer and a newsroom
employee were inside the building at about 11:39 p.m., when the fire
was reported.

No one was injured in the blaze, but police said several firefighters were knocked to the ground by the blast which threw shattered glass and debris onto East Superior and Michigan streets.

The explosion appears to have been caused by a backdraft, said Fire Marshall John Strongitharm.

"It was louder than hell," said Clayton Hanks who is staying with a relative at the Greysolon Plaza across the street. "The whole building kind of bounced. The glass hit everywhere. There’s glass spread out from the windows all the way across the street."

The engineer smelled smoke coming from an air intake. He alerted his co-worker. They left the building after calling 911.

Wilmers said he’s just grateful everyone got out of the building safely.

He will meet with station officials early this morning to discuss temporarily broadcasting from the station’s transmitter on the hill.

Even if the studios and offices are severely damaged in the fire, it will be possible to broadcast network programming from that transmitter. If they’re able to salvage any equipment, they may still be able to have a local news broadcast, he said.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

Firefighters from at least two stations, downtown and Lakeside, responded.

Assistant Fire Chief John Keenan confirmed that no firefighters had been injured in the blast, or as they continued fighting the fire as of 1 a.m. He couldn’t comment further.

Extensive remodeling to the building, including suspended ceilings, caused problems in fighting the fire, Strongitharm said. The building had no sprinkler system. Damage to the building was expected to be extensive.

Firefighters are expected to be on the scene most of today.

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Downtown steam whistle, 1996

July 2, 1996



Prepare for another historic sound from the harbor.

On Wednesday, the City of Duluth will begin sounding a refurbished

The city plans to sound the

Three weeks ago, when the city conducted tests of the



But it was turned off and lost decades ago — until

Police want the late

steam whistle four times a day from the top of the city steam plant on Lake Avenue.whistle at 8 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. And it will be loud.whistle, it could be heard as far away as the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the Riverside neighborhood out west, said steam cooperative manager Gerry Pelofske. But unlike the harbor’s infamous fog horn, the steam whistle generated no complaints, Pelofske said.whistle is thought to be the same one that once sounded from the top of the old Marshall-Wells hardware building in Canal Park. The building is now known alternatively as the Meierhoff Building and Waterfront Plaza.whistle announced the lunch hour and the beginning and end of the workday for thousands of Duluth workers.whistle enthusiast Bob Wilson found a whistle several years ago. Wilson got businessman Bill Meierhoff to help restore the whistle, and convinced the city to install it on top of Duluth’s steam plant.whistle to serve as a warning for young Duluthians to get home before the 11 p.m. curfew.

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TV flashback: thirtysomething, 1988

June 14, 1988

Young and old, they play their parts in "thirtysomething" on the ABC Television Network, airing Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m. CT. They are (left to right) Jordana Shapiro, Timothy Busfield, Patricia Wettig, Luke Rossi, Polly Draper, Mel Harris, Brittany Craven, Ken Olin, Melanie Mayron and Peter Horton. (ABC promotional photo)

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Carlton, 1981

July 1981

Downtown Carlton, looking west, July 1981. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

This photo shows the main intersection in Carlton, looking West down Highway 210 toward Interstate 35. The bank on the far left with the corner clock is still there. It was the Carlton National Bank then; it’s a Wells Fargo bank now.

Here is one more photo of Carlton from the same month (caption is hard to read, so I may have these names wrong):

Carlton Hardware Hank employee Robin Hury and owner Doug Grannes in the store. (News-Tribune photo)

The giant heads on the ad for Toro lawnmowers caught my eye (it’s partially obscured by a lamppost):

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Highland Meat Market, 1983

Nov. 28, 1983

Bert Parson stocks shelves at the Highland Meat Market. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

These photos of the Highland Meat Market ran with a story on how the market, and several other businesses, stayed open to serve customers during a major snowstorm.

Jean Parson stands at the counter of the Highland Meat Market. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

The only article solely about the Highland Meat Market that I could find was from June 13, 1988, when the Parsons announced they were closing the store:

Market to close after 70 years in business

After almost 70 years in business, Highland Meat Market, 40 W. Central Entrance, will close sometime this week, according to Jean Parson, one of the store’s operators.

Parson said she and husband Bert, both over 65, have decided to retire, while their nephew, Kevin Parson, wants to leave the market for another line of work.

Parson’s brother, Gunnar Nelson, bought the store in 1945 and operated it until he died four years ago, she said. The Parsons have operated it since then. The store was founded around 1919, Jean Parson said.

Here are some detail shots from the photos above:

Does anyone know what Yum Yums were?


The cracker and cookie shelf


The front page of that day’s News-Tribune and Herald had coverage of the fire at the Northwestern Bell building – an event featured in a previous News Tribune Attic post.

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Dugar Music Co. and the Kasbar, 1961

November or December 1961

This photo from late fall or early winter 1961 doesn’t have a caption, but it shows the Dugar Music Co. store and the Kasbar, which were located in the 200 block of West Superior Street in downtown Duluth.

I don’t have any more information about the music store, but I found some interesting details based on the poster outside the Kasbar:

The poster is advertising the Dec. 4, 1961, closed-circuit telecast of a heavyweight boxing title bout between Floyd Patterson and "Irish" Tom McNeeley, as well as a second bout between Sonny Liston and Albert Westphal.

The fights – Patterson-McNeeley in Toronto, and Liston-Westphal in Philiadelphia – were to be "shown in about 150 theatres and arenas in the United States and Canada," according to a pre-fight article in the Duluth Herald, which called the telecast "a first in boxing."

In Duluth, the fights were shown at the Armory; tickets to the telecast were sold at the Kasbar.

Here is a link to a full-color image of the same poster (except for the local reference at the top):

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Patterson knocked out McNeeley in the fourth round, and Liston knocked out Westphal in the first round.

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TV flashback: Toonces, the Cat Who Could Drive a Car, 1992

Jan. 30, 1992

Toonces, the talented tabby made famous on NBC-TV’s Emmy-winning late-night series "Saturday Night Live," steers into NBC’s prime time on Friday, Feb. 14, in "Toonces, the Cat Who Could Drive a Car," a half-hour comedy presentation of new and all-time favorite escapades of Toonces and his friends. (NBC promotional photo)

Everybody sing… "He drives around, all over the town, Toonces the Driving Cat."

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Downtown Duluth Woolworth’s, 1987

I just pulled out the Attic files on two former pillars of downtown Duluth shopping – Woolworth’s and Glass Block. I’ll parcel out the photos and stories over the summer, starting with these items on the Woolworth’s lunch counter:

Nov. 2, 1987

Karen Richardson (left) and Bernice Dahl share a laugh over afternoon coffee at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, an institution since 1949. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

Counter culture survives at Woolworth’s

By Julie Gravelle, News-Tribune and Herald staff writer

"So whaddaya say we head over to the five-and-dime for a coupla sodas?"

"To the where? What’s a five-and-dime?"

The days of the dime-store bargain – the rock upon which F.W. Woolworth stores stood firm – are long gone, and the five Woolworth stores once open in Duluth have been whittled to one – downtown on Superior Street.

And, though prices have changed, you can still sip a soda at the lunch counter there.

When it was built in 1949, the four-story Woolworth building was known as "The Wonder Store" because of an advanced air cooling and heating system "to provide comfort during long, hard Minnesota winters." Displays at the time featured fountain pens, metal luggage and The New World of Plastic.

In its "new" lunch department, a tomato and bacon club sandwich was 40 cents, a complete turkey dinner 60 cents, a piece of chocolate layer cake 10 cents, and 25 cents would get a malted milk.

Even today, the sign on the storefront reminds the faithful: "Visit Our Lunchette."

At the back of the store, the aroma of french fries and the steady whine of a blender beckon to downtown shoppers and smokers chased from offices by the smoke-free generation. By 3 o’clock – the height of afternoon coffee break time – cigarette smoke trails from the row of red vinyl booths, as other customers prop their elbows on the 38-year-old wood-grain counter top, dreamily staring into space over a cup of brew.

Last-minute Halloween shoppers nearby look over orange plastic pumpkins, candy corns and glitter wigs.

Lunch counter manager Joan Nelson, who’s been on her job at the downtown Woolworth’s store for 12 years, scrubs the stools minutes before closing time. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)


Behind the reflections of spotless stainless steel, Joan and Flo and Nancy are a flurry of activity preparing tomorrow’s meals. Joan Nelson has watched the changes in her 12 years working the counter.

"It used to be that the kids’ hangout was Woolworth’s – they’d come in and try on makeup and jewelry. We used to get a lot more activity from the kids in here until Central moved up the hill and the video games opened at the mall," she said, dropping a frozen fish patty into the fry vat.

Her salt and pepper hair is held neatly in place by a banana hair clip, and her gray skirt and vest are immaculate. A pin on her vest proclaims, "Customers FIRST!"

Flo Flick, a waitress for 44 years, said she is glad to be back at woork at Woolworth’s after retiring from another restaurant a few years ago.

"I was shopping in the store one day and the manager asked me if I wanted to come back part time, so here I am."

And Nancy Lindsey, a fry cook at Woolworth’s since 1969, met her husband behind the counter. "I used to serve him breakfasts and ham sandwiches," she said.

The downtown Woolworth’s, which was located at 106 W. Superior St., closed its doors in late 1993 / early 1994. The building now houses ZLB Plasma Services.

Here are a few more photos from the 1987 lunch counter story:

Waitress Kay LaPlante tidies up the counter after a customer. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)


A person’s booth is their own private world at the downtown Woolworth’s. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

A closer look at that newspaper shows that it’s the News-Tribune & Herald sports section, with coverage of the Minnesota Twins celebrating their 1987 World Series championship (that big photo is of manager Tom Kelly riding in the victory parade):

Here is one more photo, from March 29, 1986, showing the exterior:

Woolworth’s in downtown Duluth will get a new look soon as a branch of the downtown skywalk will reach into the second floor of the building. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Perpich-Latimer debate, 1986

Aug. 16, 1986

Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich (left) and St. Paul Mayor George Latimer draw numbers for the order of response in a debate Saturday at the KBJR-TV studios in Duluth. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Perpich went on to defeat Latimer in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary, then beat Independent-Republican challenger Cal Ludeman in November to win another term.

Perpich served as governor from 1976-1979, and again from 1983-1991. He died on Sept. 21, 1995, at age 67. St. Louis County Highway 4 – Rice Lake Road – is designated as Governor Rudy Perpich Memorial Drive.

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