Superior flea market fire, 1998

 May 16, 1998

Children gather on the corner of Broadway Street and Tower Avenue in Superior Saturday evening to watch a downtown building burn. The building, which houses a flea market and antique store, used to hold labor offices and a supermarket. Smoke could be seen from Duluth and other points miles away. Hundreds watched fire destroy the building. Flames had consumed the third floor by the time firefighters arrived, and they turned attention to saving neighboring buildings from damage. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

 

FIRE GUTS LANDMARK

CROWDS GATHER ON TOWER AS FORMER LABOR BUILDING GOES UP IN SMOKE

NEWS-TRIBUNE

Fire destroyed a three-story building in downtown Superior Saturday.

No one was injured in the blaze at Broadway Street and Tower Avenue, but smoke from the huge fire could be seen from Duluth and other points miles away. The structure was a former labor center that has held a flea market in recent years.

Hundreds gathered downtown to watch the fire. The cause was undetermined Saturday night.

"You get an old building like this, anything can happen," said the building’s owner, Mickey Nilsen. He said the Superior Flea Market and an antique store were on the first floor. The top two floors were empty.

Nilsen said he was more worried about the flea market and antiques store owners than his building. He said he was with flea market owner Agnes "Jett" Atkinson when they learned of the fire. Nilsen said he was showing Atkinson a pottery collection in his Superior home.

Atkinson was in tears Saturday as friends tried to console her outside of Willie’s Pub, just feet from the burning building.

Nilsen doubted the flea market was insured.

Little remained of the three-story building on Tower Avenue and Broadway Street in Superior on Monday morning before a wrecking crew began to demolish its remains. The building, destroyed by fire Saturday night, had a long history in Superior, including a 1911 fire that caused $200,000 in damages when it was a department store. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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The blaze appeared to have started on the third floor, which Nilsen said was empty. High winds fanned the flames, making it impossible for firefighters to extinguish the fire.

Hundreds of small, square windows cracked from the heat, emitting sounds like a giant popcorn popper.

Curious spectators refused to back away from the fire, forcing police officers to cordon off the block. Officers were reportedly forced to issue citations to some persistent fire watchers.

The fire was a big draw. Hundreds of people watched from the street while others parked their cars in a nearby municipal lot and watched as if it were a drive-in movie.

Fire quickly consumed the third floor. Firefighters worked to keep it from spreading across the street to Kari Toyota Jeep-Eagle, while Kari employees rushed to move cars from the dealership’s lot.

Superior was plagued by a series of fires in 1997 that led to the creation of an arson task force. The task force investigated a dozen fires that occurred north of Belknap Street and east of Tower Avenue. They identified one suspect, but the case deteriorated after a judge threw out the suspect’s confession.

Saturday’s fire occurred in the same neighborhood as the 1997 fires, but fire investigators will have to be called in before Superior officials can determine what caused the fire.


Demolition of the building began within days of the fire. Here is some background on the structure from a later article:

The building cost about $65,000 when it was built around 1900 by a group of Chicago speculators. An expansion was added in 1908. From 1900 to 1926 the Roth Brothers had their Bee Hive store there.

On May 24, 1911, a blaze caused roughly $200,000 in damage to the store. That daytime blaze, which began in the partition between the wallpaper and shoe departments, slightly injured two of the store’s 85 employees. Several firefighters were overcome by heat and smoke.

The building later housed offices of the Great Northern Railroad and the AFL-CIO.

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4 thoughts on “Superior flea market fire, 1998

  1. I used to work at the antique store in the middle of the building, there is some information that seems to have been left out.

  2. When they were demolishing that building after the fire, my friends and I scoured the dumpsters. We found thousands of old vinyl LPs, some which were quite valuable.

    If one takes something from dumpster, is it really stealing?

  3. I remember that day – huge black clouds over Superior. I liked going through the crazy flea market. I wish that something similar would open up.

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