Mystery Photo

Date unknown

I found this poignant image of a man surveying a block of abandoned homes in a folder of random, unfiled photos in the archives. It has no date, and no caption information of any kind.

It was in some proximity to a group of 1960s I-35 construction photos, which fits with my first thought on what this photo might show – a group of homes slated for urban renewal demolition in that era. Perhaps the man is a former resident. It’s winter, and the street the homes are on is unplowed.

What appears to be the Duluth ridgeline is visible immediately above the man’s head, so that might be a small clue.

Can anyone fill in more information? If so, post a comment. Here is a closer look:


I mentioned the I-35 photos I also found in that file. Here’s one from October 30, 1962, showing civic officials with a model for the freeway’s planned expansion through downtown Duluth:

Pictured here are, from left, Charles N. Bailey, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Streets and Highways Committee; R.B. Morris, executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce; and L.H. Miller of the Minnesota Highway Department.

Here’s a closer look at the model:

The Mesaba Avenue interchange is at left. As envisioned here, the freeway would have been elevated and left the railyards largely intact (in fact, this model shows the Soo Line Depot still intact and handling trains via a tunnel under Mesaba). The freeway would have run across the northern part of Canal Park, with interchanges at Fifth Avenue West and somewhere around First Avenue East.

Of course, many variations and many years passed before the freeway was extended in its present – and most assuredly better-than-this-model form.

One other thing stood out to be from this image – the homemade quality of the poster:

– Andrew Krueger

16 Responses

  1. The above photo of the abandoned houses is not, I repeat, is not at 51st Ave west and Bristol Street. Bristol Street did not go all the way to 51st Ave west. The only intersecting streets on 51st Ave West,at that time, was Main Street, Roosevelt Street , Ramsey Street and Wadena Street. Bristol and Nicollet did not intersect at 51st. I grew up in that neighborhood and I do not recognize the houses in the picture.
    From what I gather this photo was taken on or near Garfield Ave near where Goodwill is now. I believe these houses shown was torn down for the approach to the Blatnic Bridge.

  2. Pingback : Photo mystery solved… and other odds and ends | News Tribune Attic

  3. Rick

    If anyone here reads this, and has photos of West Duluth, there is a group on facebook called, West Duluth memories, where we have now posted hundreds of photos from this once very beautiful side of Duluth. Please join us. In it’s day, West Duluth had so much character. With West Jr. and Laura Macarthur soon to be torn down, another part of West Duluth will be gone forever. To make a parking lot, it’s a elementary school, how many cars do you think will be needed to fill up that empty spot? Just like that beautiful old West Duluth library they tore down on Central Ave, what is there now? Nothing but grass. This is why people are leaving Duluth. The city does not know the effect they have when they remove historical landmarks. These building have meaning, and purpose. And are still very functional. And need to be saved. West Duluth was also a place of factories, not shopping malls, we don’t need shopping malls, we need factories where we can earn a decent living and job security. Duluth needs to get rid of all the shopping malls in West Duluth, where KMart is and where Diamond Tool use to be. If you build factories, people will come back too Duluth.

  4. Jim Heffernan

    Regarding your art of two guys looking over a model of the proposed Arena Auditorium: I would say the photo was taken in a room at the Spalding Hotel, southeast corner of Fifth Avenue West and Superior Street (partial current site of Ordean Building). The Dutch Room was in the Holland Hotel (Dutch..get it?) kitty-corner from the Spalding on the northwest corner if Fifth Avenue West and Superior Street (current site of Radisson), and the Hotel marquee likely would have been on the Fifth Avenue Hotel, directly across Superior Street from the Holland (and across Fifth Avenue West from the Spalding), on the southwest corner of the intersection. All of these buildings were still standing when I started at the (Herald &) News Tribune in 1963, but not for long. Always enjoy the attic,


    looks like either 27 or 28 ave. west and Helm street. Used to hang out there in High school before the freeway. Never did get caught by the “tough” guys.

  6. Jim

    Shopper’s City was great–everything from hardware
    to groceries. Perhaps the forerunner of the big box stores we know today.

  7. PJ, Duluth

    Before it was Shopper’s City (and oh, I loved that store!) it was the Coolerator Plant, making freezers and refrigerators and other appliances. My sisters and I used to search their garbage cans for the blue Coolerator logo flag, and we’d stick them in the spokes of our bicycles. This has nothing to do with the question at hand, but just a memory to share.

  8. Kathie

    The first thing I thought of when I saw the pic was the old Railroad St/Helm St neighborhood in the area where the Post Office is now too. I’m willing to go with Mike Flaherty’s idea though, since so many of the old neighborhoods looked so much alike back then.

  9. Mike Flaherty


    Shopper City was where Menards is now. About a third of the current Menards building is the original Shopper City building.

  10. kpkpkp

    A bunch of homes were bulldozed in West Duluth for the ‘new highway’. Do you know where “Shopper’s City” used to be? I believe these homes were around that area. When did the interstate cut through Duluth? Wasn’t that in the 70’s? I got my driver’s license in 1974 or ’75 and we already had the west end of the highway in place. I remember being in jr. high and doing a report on air pollution in relation to the new highway project. Many people were against having it come right through town. It should have bypassed Duluth, but the chamber of commerce thought it would be better for business if the traffic was forced through downtown along Superior Street.

  11. Me Again

    I think that house is facing 27th Ave West, the man is standing on Helm Street which is now the off ramp from southbound I35. The sidewalk in front of the house is where I received one of my first beatings from the local tough guys. I ran home crying and my mother said I probably deserved it.

  12. Senty

    51st Avenue West runs north-south (as Central Avenue does), so the photographer is looking roughly NNW. The hillside in the background would be about the location of Brewer Park, east of Oneota Cemetery. Nice work, Mike! That location today would roughly be in the northbound lane of I-35 next to the concrete trailer pad for the New Page recycle mill.

  13. PJ, Duluth

    Wow… you guys are GOOD. I grew up in the Oneota neighborhood and lived there until our house was taken down for the freeway, but nothing in your photo looked familiar to me.

  14. Michael Schiltz

    Nice job, Mike Flaherty… my first thought before reading your comment was the area of Bristol / Nicollet where the freeway now stands, meaning the hillside in the background would be approximately Spirit Mountain or just west of there…

  15. Mike Flaherty

    I have been doing some research on this area and suspect that this photo is the corner of 51st Avenue West and Bristol Street, which no longer exists due to the freeway. If I’m correct, then the house that the man is looking at is 302 N. 51st Ave W., which was listed at vacant in 1961.

    The houses on the other side of the street would be 301, 305, 307, and 309.

    I have an old building map of the area and the house positions match the photo. In 1961, a police officer was listed as living in the 301 address.

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