Holy Family Catholic School burns, 1992

December 15, 1992

Flames illuminate the sky above the former Holy Family Catholic School on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 1992, as Duluth firefighters battle the blaze. The interior of the West End building was gutted by the fire. (Clara Wu / News-Tribune)

Tears shed at landmark’s ruin

By Laurie Hertzel and Susan Hogan/Albach, News-Tribune staff writers

Nearly 70 years of memories went up in smoke and flames Tuesday evening when the former Holy Family Catholic School burned.

Hundreds of West End residents stood along the sidewalks at 24th Avenue West and Fifth Street, watching as flames shot out of the roof of the burning building. Some wept.

“This is going to be a hard one for the parishioners to forget,” said Patrick Perfetti, a parish trustee. “There’s a good number of parishioners who grew up and went through kindergarten through eighth grade there.

“There were some tears shed tonight.”

Originally Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, the three-story brick building was constructed in 1926. It became the Holy Family Catholic School in 1985 when three West End Catholic parishes merged.

This was not the first time the building burned.

“It survived a fire in the late 1940s, at which time the entire roof caved in and fell down onto the main floor,” Perfetti said. “It was repaired and rebuilt and brought back up to standards and utilized as a school.”

The school closed in the spring of 1990, but the building remained an active part of parish life.

Youth programs, religious education classes, meetings, wedding receptions and parties were held there. The building contained a gymnasium, classrooms, a library and a kitchen. Some of the upstairs rooms were used for storage of audio visual equipment and parish documents, and others were offices.

“I’m just glad nobody was in there,” said Marlene Jacobs, youth minister and religious education coordinator. “There are times where there are hundreds of kids in there.”

She was standing on the sidewalk watching with tears in her eyes as firefighters battled the blaze. Her office was on the old school’s second floor.

“Many traditions have been housed in this building for years,” said the Rev. Al Svobodny, associate pastor. “I grieve with the parishioners at the loss of great memories in their lives.”

“The biggest activity that’s going to be missed would be for all of the weddings and anniversaries and funeral luncheons that took place in that building,” Perfetti said.

“This is going to be very difficult for people.”

This weekend, Bishop Roger Schweitz is scheduled to say Masses at Holy Family to celebrate his 25th anniversary as a priest. Schweitz served as pastor of the parish before he became bishop.

“This will be very helpful, to have the bishop here,” Svobodny said, “because he will help deal with the healing process. … What was supposed to be a celebration will be a time of healing.”

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Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith examines the damage inside the former Holy Family Catholic School in Duluth’s West End on Dec. 16, 1992. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The fire caused the roof to cave and the upper floors of the building to cave in, and on top of that the main floor sustained heavy water damage. The building was razed, and today a parking lot occupies the site.

The fire was ruled arson, started by someone on the balcony of the first-floor gymnasium. In the last clip saved in the News Tribune file on the fire, investigators were trying to track down some teenagers seen leaving the scene of the blaze; I have no idea if they ever were caught.

For some more history on the Holy Family Parish, including its former church buildings, go to this past News Tribune Attic post.

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Now boarding at Gate 1… Duluth Airlines

As so often happens when scanning old newspapers on microfilm, I was looking for one thing today and came across something else more interesting. This time it was microfilm from March 17, 1946, and I stumbled across this ad:

Duluth Airlines? I had never heard of that before. I searched online, and found this information from a June 4, 1946 Milwaukee Journal article:

“Duluth Airlines, which is operating a charter service with one daily round trip between Chicago, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Duluth and Hibbing, Minn., Monday asked the civil aeronautics board for approval of the airlines’ application for this and three feeder routes in Wisconsin.

“Jack Cavanaugh, Duluth president, told CAB Examiner H.K. Bryan in Washington, D.C., that without approval of the application, the firm would discontinue its present service. The airline operates two 14-passenger Lockheed Lodestar planes.”

And here are excerpts from a Nov. 4, 1946 Milwaukee Journal article about Duluth Airlines:

“The firm was incorporated in Minnesota last year by a group of naval air veterans. (Examiner Herbert K.) Bryan recommended that it be granted a three-year certificate to operate to these cities: Chicago; Fargo, N.D.; Bemidji, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Hibbing, Duluth, Minn.; Iceland; Rhinelander, Wausau, Stevens Point, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wis.; Ironwood, Iron Mountain, Marquette, Escanaba, Marinette, Mich.; Fort Dodge, Waterloo, Dubuque, Iowa; and Rockford, Ill.

“Duluth proposes to operate five Lockheed Lodestars and Douglas DC-3s. Hangar facilities and maintenance equipment, the application said, will be housed at Hibbing, the origination and destination point of most flights.”

That’s where the trail runs cold from my initial search; there’s nothing in the indexed files in the News Tribune archives. Can any of you fill in the gaps about what happened to Duluth Airlines? Did it go out of business? Merge with another company? If you have any information, please post a comment.

Coverage of the Titanic disaster

Top of the front page of the April 16, 1912, Duluth News Tribune with news of the sinking of the Titanic

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and over the next few days the Duluth News Tribune and www.duluthnewstribune.com will be running a lot of stories on Northland ties to the wreck.

For the Attic, I’ve uploaded PDFs of the front page and “jump” page of a week’s worth of issues from April 1912.

The Titanic struck the iceberg late on the night of April 14, 1912, and sank on April 15. The News Tribune did manage to get news in its April 15 edition that the huge ship had struck an iceberg. But it was the next day’s paper – April 16 – and the ones that followed that really showed the scope of the disaster.

Click on the PDF links below to see for yourself – even if you’re not interested in the Titanic, there’s a lot of other stuff to read on these pages:

April 15, 1912 (front page) – initial news of ship striking iceberg

April 15, 1912 (story jumps)

April 16, 1912 (front page) – first “complete” story on scope of disaster

April 16, 1912 (story jumps)

April 17, 1912 (front page) – awaiting arrival of survivors aboard Carpathia

April 17, 1912 (story jumps)

April 18, 1912 (front page) – still waiting for Carpathia and more details on wreck

April 18, 1912 (story jumps)

April 19, 1912 (front page) – “awful details” of shipwreck are revealed

April 19, 1912 (story jumps)

April 20, 2012 (front page) – more details and testimony on the wreck

April 20, 2012 (story jumps)

April 21, 2012 (front page) – information from lookouts, radio operators

April 21, 2012 (story jumps)

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Duluthians of 1912 find a reason to like Superior

I’m going through old papers from 1912 in advance of the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and stumbled across this editorial that ran in the News-Tribune on April 17, 1912.

At that time the early rivalry and battles between Duluth and Superior – over the ship canal, etc. – still were in living memory. But the newspaper found “one (issue) on which we can get together” – Superior’s superiority as a site for a horse-racing track:

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The steepest streets in Duluth

Looking out over downtown from atop Duluth’s steepest street – Fifth Avenue West, at its intersection with Sixth Street, April 2012. (Andrew Krueger / News Tribune)

This blog chronicles many things that have changed in Duluth over the years, but here’s an entry on something that’s as much a topic of discussion today as it was 50 years ago – the steep streets downtown. They certainly can keep life interesting – take this mishap from 1984.

Back in February 1998, the News Tribune looked at life on what often is cited as THE steepest street in town – Fifth Avenue West, above Mesaba Avenue. Here’s that story:

A DIFFERENT SLANT OF LIFE

PEOPLE WHO LIVE AND WORK ON DULUTH’S STEEPEST STREETS TAKE THE UPS AND DOWNS IN STRIDE

By Chuck Frederick, News-Tribune staff writer

Angela Szymecki leaned into the hillside and climbed slowly to the top of the mercilessly steep street. Her leg muscles screamed as she clutched a railing and reminded herself not to slip. She didn’t want to fall. Not here. Not on Fifth Avenue West, perhaps the steepest of Duluth’s many steep streets.

In a city built on the side of a hill, a city that is sometimes compared to San Francisco, thousands of Duluthians live and work on the hillside. Many of them think nothing of it. They buy four-wheel drive vehicles, take roundabout routes home during snowstorms, and then turn their front tires toward the curb when they park.

But on some streets people can’t help but think about the hill. They can’t help but wonder, “If I fall down will I stop rolling before I splash into the harbor?”

“It is dangerous walking up and down this hill,” said Szymecki, a two-year resident on Fifth Avenue West, which has a 25 percent grade between Fifth and Sixth streets. That compares to a 19 percent grade on the steepest ski run at Spirit Mountain, the Gandy Dancer.

“I slipped just the other day,” Szymecki said of her steep street. “And on just a little piece of ice. That scared me.”

Living and working on the face of a dropoff can be hairy. Concessions must be made to the terrain. Difficulty in moving around during the winter is something you just come to accept.

But it also can be fun, some residents say. There’s something very Duluth about it, something rugged and adventurous, a pride that comes from knowing you live somewhere others don’t dare visit.

Unless they’re looking for an extreme workout, most joggers choose the same route across Fifth Avenue West, rather than up or down the steep street. Between Fifth and Sixth street, the avenue’s grade is 24 percent. (Bob King / News Tribune) Note that many of the trees lining the street in this photo from January 1998 are no longer standing in the present-day view atop this post.

Bruce McLean feels that rush. From the back of Szymecki’s home, his voice is dripping with an attitude flatlanders will never understand.

“Did you mention the goats?” he shouted before stepping into the front room, grinning. “The billy goats we saw walking up here the other day? Did you mention them?”

“Very funny, Bruce,” retorted Luke Szymecki, Angela’s 16-year-old son and Bruce’s friend.

“I rode my bike down that hill once,” McLean continued, still grinning. “Only once. I looked back up and decided to sell it to a passerby at the bottom of the hill.

“My girlfriend is afraid to drive up it,” he said, being a little more serious. “I’ve got to walk down there and meet her and then drive her car up for her. It’s crazy.”

“And it’s just crazy to park here,” Luke said. “I assume your car would just end up at the bottom of the hill every time.”

Mail carrier Jack Harmon has been parking his postal truck on Fifth Avenue West for 14 years.

“It can be difficult,” he said of this portion of his route. “But the city takes pretty good care of the streets and most of the people do real good to keep their steps clear. I’ve gotten so used to (the hillside), I actually look forward to the exercise. I’ve gotten to know the people there so well, too. If I didn’t deliver there, I’d miss our little chats every day.”

Arne Sather delivers mail to the top half of the avenue. He, too, has come to accept the hill as just another part of the job. He has even developed a sense of humor about it.

“The guy who used to have this route, he wound up with one leg shorter than the other,” Sather said, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “You have to do the route backwards every couple of days to keep yourself even.

“But the best thing to do is park and walk,” he said, more seriously. “Driving on those hills is tough. There are days you just can’t control the truck there.”

You don’t have to tell that to the city workers who plow Duluth’s steepest streets. Tony Budisalovich has been plowing Fifth Avenue West for 10 years.

“I’ve slid from Sixth to Fifth in a second and a half,” he said. “I’ve done full-circle spins. You just hold on and go. There’s nothing you can do. It’s like on a skating rink. It happens so fast. It’s over with before you can really get scared. But afterward you shake. You just sit there and shake.”

Budisalovich likes to drive his grader backward up the avenue — not because it’s easier to climb the hill, but because he wants to see where he’s going if he should slide back down.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “I’m waiting another three years for another guy to retire. Then I can take his route. Let someone else take a turn at this.”

Shoveling, driving and even just walking can be a challenge on a steep street, says Angela Szymecki, seen here in January 1998. She lives near the top of Fifth Avenue West, perhaps the steepest of Duluth’s many steep streets. (Charles Curtis / News Tribune)

Most of Duluth’s steepest streets are in Central Hillside, Goat Hill and Lincoln Park (West End). But a pair of streets near the top of the city’s steepest list are found over the hill. St. Paul Avenue and Minneapolis Avenue, both in the Woodland neighborhood, ranked fifth and sixth with grades of 20 and 19 percent, roughly the same as the Spirit Mountain’s steepest ski run.

That doesn’t surprise Doug Sanders. He has lived at the bottom of Minneapolis Avenue, near Isanti Street, since 1942, back when the avenue was first nicknamed “Steep Minnie.”

Sanders remembers neighbors throwing ashes from their coal furnaces onto the road to help motorists climb the hill.

“People who lived up there had to get up the hill,” he said. “Those ashes and clinkers helped.”

Sanders also remembers sledding down the avenue as a boy, back when there wasn’t as much traffic and cars didn’t go so fast.

“We’d keep one kid at the bottom of the hill as a lookout, and then down we’d go,” he said.

Kids still play on the hill, zooming down on their bikes, sleds or in-line skates.

“I’ve seen the neighbor kids take their Roller Blades down it,” said Mary Kettelhut of Minneapolis Avenue. “That’s horrifying. I pray no cars are coming across at the time.”

A block over on St. Paul Avenue, the steep hill stopped bothering Jennifer Lewis the day she bought a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Gone are the days when she had to shout into the back seat to remind the kids to hang on because Mom was turning into the driveway.

“We don’t have any problems, but we still see a lot of cars getting stuck here,” Lewis said. “They’ll try to make it up the hill, but they’ll get stuck, so they’ll have to back down, and then they’ll slide and wind up getting stuck in the woods. Then someone has to call a tow truck.

“It is hard to make it up and down some days,” Lewis said. “But it’s where we live. We love it here. We make the best of it.”

- end -

Mail carrier Jack Harmon makes sure he sets his parking brake before delivering mail to a house off Fifth Avenue West in January 1998. After 14 years on the route. Harmon says he’s accustomed to steep streets. “I actually look forward to the exercise,” he says. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Here’s a list that ran with the story back in 1998:

Duluth steepest streets

Some streets in Duluth are actually steeper than the steepest run at Spirit Mountain. The Gandy Dancer ski hill has a 19 percent grade. These streets are at least that steep:*

Streets and grade

1. Fifth Avenue West between West Fifth and West Sixth Streets — 25% — Rises 80.788 feet in 320.239 feet

2. 17th Avenue West above West Third Street — 24% — Rises 37.616 feet in 158.707 feet

3. W. Seventh Street above Piedmont Avenue — 21% — Rises 54.820 feet in 256.960 feet

4. 19th Avenue West above Old Piedmont Avenue in Goat Hill. — 21% — Rises 42.343 feet in 197.869 feet

5. St. Paul Avenue between Isanti and Anoka avenues — 20% — Rises 51.114 feet in 260.366 feet

6. Minneapolis Avenue between Isanti and Anoka avenues — 19% — Rises 61.307 feet in 318.738 feet

7. West Fourth Street above Piedmont Avenue — 19% — Rises 65.854 feet in 338.615 feet

Minneapolis Avenue in the Woodland neighborhood, seen here in January 2002, has gained a legendary reputation for its steep slope that rivals the steepest run at Spirit Mountain ski resort. The street is usually a haven for kids on bikes, in-line skates and sleds. (Justin Hayworth / News-Tribune)

Here are some other steep Duluth streets:

– Eighth Avenue West above West Third Street — 18% — Rises 58.420 feet in 319.687 feet

– Fourth Avenue West below Mesaba Avenue — 17% — Rises 51.312 feet in 307.957 feet

– First Avenue East between East Sixth and East Seventh streets — 17% — Rises 51.408 feet in 306.421 feet

– Park Street between Livingston and Morningside avenues — 17% — Rises 48.723 feet in 289.757 feet

– West Sixth Street above Piedmont Avenue — 16% — Rises 32.522 feet in 199.730 feet

– 26th Avenue East between London and Greysolon roads — 15% — Rises 46.058 feet in 314.733 feet

– 22nd Avenue West above Piedmont Avenue — 14% — Rises 20.838 feet in 154.139 feet

– Fourth Avenue East from Superior to First streets — 13% — Rises 39.190 feet in 297.699 feet

– 19th Avenue East above Superior Street — 12% — Rises 35.249 feet in 293.994 feet

– 21st Avenue East between London Road and Superior Street — 11% — Rises 35.767 feet in 311.500 feet

– Mesaba Avenue above West Seventh Street — 10% — Rises 38.888 feet in 390.875 feet

– Piedmont Avenue above Seven Corners — 9% — Rises 27.560 feet in 317.032 feet

– Piedmont Avenue below Seven Corners — 7% — Rises 32.743 feet in 437.008 feet

*There may be steeper streets in Duluth than some included here. These lists are not intended to be “Top-10” style rankings. Some streets were included solely because they are well-traveled, allowing easy comparisons to steeper but lesser-known roadways.

Source: The Lake Superior College Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineering Technicians.

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Share your steep-street stories and memories – and tell us if there’s a steep street missing from these lists – by posting a comment.

Mike Wallace’s trip to Duluth

Famed CBS newsman Mike Wallace made at least one reporting trip to Duluth during his long career in journalism — in 1998, to interview Duluth-Superior Dukes pitcher Ila Borders.

Borders joined the Dukes midway through the 1997 season as a relief pitcher. But her fame reached new heights in July 1998, when she became one of the first women to start a men’s professional baseball game.

Wallace journeyed to Duluth later that summer to interview Borders, and other members of the Dukes, for a “60 Minutes” segment. Read more about it – and see photos – at this previous Attic post.

Corner of Superior and Fourth Avenue East, 1959

This photo from the News Tribune files, which appears to be dated 1959, shows the north side of Superior Street looking from the corner of Fourth Avenue East. The site of the building being torn down in this picture is now the home of Voyageur Lakewalk Inn. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The back of the photo has the address of the doomed building – 329 E. Superior – and the word “landmark,” without further explanation. Can anyone shed light on this mystery? Why would this building have been a landmark, or otherwise special for some reason?

According to a 1959 city directory (and confirmed by a small sign in the window), the last occupant of the building was Speedometer Service auto repair. Next door at 331, in a structure already razed by the time this photo was taken, the 1959 directory lists Larry’s Clutch & Brake Service, George-N-Henry outboard motors and a few apartment tenants.

To the left…

… in 1959 the building at 323 E. Superior, the facade of which is just visible, housed The Antrobus Shop, a women’s clothing store. The sign right below the shop’s billboard points the way to Hutchinson’s used car lot across the street.

The Antrobus Shop building survives today – it apparently now houses a tattoo shop – tucked between the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn and the Hacienda del Sol restaurant building.

At upper right (perhaps better seen in the full picture), you can see the unique roof line of the Hemlock Garage building. And some of those buildings in the background, up along First Street, still stand today, though obscured from this vantage point by a parking ramp (see below).

Here’s one more zoomed-in view, of the demolition workers forever frozen in time atop the building:

Here are two present-day views of this site, starting with an approximate re-creation of the original photo:

And for a better view of the former Antrobus Shop building, here’s a look down the block to the west:

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Corner of Superior and Lake, circa 1930

This photo, which dates to about 1930, shows the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue in downtown Duluth; it’s looking east up Superior Street.

At far right in the Freimuth’s Department Store building, and the dominant facade across Lake Avenue belongs to the Bradley Building. Next door to the Bradley Building is a building that, in this photo, appears to be home to the Boston Piano Co. (see close-up below). It appears to be the same structure that housed the Famous Clothing Co. for many years, and which survives today as the home of the Electric Fetus music store.

Here are some zoomed-in views of the store signs (click on the photos for a larger view):

I’m basing the date for this photo (there’s no caption information) mostly on the movie playing at the Strand Theater, next door to Boston Piano Co. It’s “The Other Tomorrow” starring Billie Dove, which Internet sources say was released in 1930. Certainly the cars must give some clue to the date, too, but that’s not an area of expertise for me.

And one other thing I noted…

A former home of the News Tribune (then apparently known as the “T.N.T.” as opposed to the “DNT”), in a building that still stands today, in renovated form, as part of the Wieland Block development.

Spot anything else interesting in these images? Share your memories and stories by posting a comment.