Duluth’s Fidelity Building comes tumbling down, 1977

April 1977

Wrecking crews start to demolish the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth in April 1977. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The Fidelity Building stood in downtown Duluth for about 65 years, on the site now occupied by Lake Superior Plaza – along the south side of Superior Street just west of Lake Avenue. Demolition crews knocked it down in 1977 to clear the way for Lake Superior Plaza, home to Allete and Minnesota Power’s headquarters.

Freimuth’s Department Store was right on the corner of Superior and Lake on that block; it was the subject of a previous Attic post. Fidelity was next door. Articles at the time of demolition reported it as both 12 and 14 stories tall; perhaps there was a difference of opinion on whether the small structures up top were actual “stories.”

Initially, the plan was to demolish the Fidelity Building with explosives; less than two weeks before the demolition date, the News-Tribune reported:

“The Fourth of July, minus the rockets’ red glare, will arrive three months early in Duluth, but not for the reason you think. There will be a massive explosion in downtown Duluth at 8 a.m. April 3, and when the dust clears, it will mark the first time that a Minnesota building was destroyed by blasting. The victim is the Fidelity Building.”

Officials with Minnesota Lumber and Wrecking of St. Paul told the paper in March 1977 that smokestacks and concrete footings had previously been destroyed by explosives, but at that time no Minnesota building had been imploded.

However, difficulties in obtaining insurance scuttled plans for the implosion, and the building was razed using more traditional wrecking methods. It took less than three weeks for the building to be reduced to rubble.

Bystanders look on as the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth is razed in April 1977. (News-Tribune file photo)

There had been efforts to find a new use for the Fidelity Building back in 1968. It was having troubles then – only 30 percent occupied, with thousands owed in back property taxes. In November 1968, the News-Tribune reported that a group of Duluth businessmen wanted to remodel the Fidelity Building “for use as a motor hotel of about 100 units. It would be in conjunction with a parking ramp and retail shops to be constructed on the site of the Freimuth Building,” which had been razed earlier that year.

But the plans never came to pass, and a decade later the Lake Superior Plaza project spelled the end for the Fidelity Building.

Demolition work continues on the Fidelity Building in downtown Duluth on April 20, 1977. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

There was one last bit of controversy regarding the Fidelity Building – or, rather, what was left of it. Brick and concrete rubble from the building was dumped in West Duluth near the corner of Main Street and 52nd Avenue West, where the NewPage paper mill now stands. The proximity of that site to St. Louis Bay prompted complaints and the possibility of fines from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the News-Tribune reported in July 1977.

I’m not sure how the dispute was resolved – the clipping file for the Fidelity Building ends with that article.

Share your memories of the Fidelity Building by posting a comment.

The demolition of the Fidelity Building is almost complete in this view from April 26, 1977. (News-Tribune file photo)

Interstate Bridge, 1961

As with the previous post on the bear in the boat, this one features a reader-submitted photo from years back that was left in the News Tribune files.

The photo, credited to C.F. Sager of Duluth and dated Oct. 22, 1961, is a view of the old Interstate Bridge linking Duluth and Superior, as seen from its replacement, the then-new High Bridge, later named the Blatnik Bridge. Click on the photo for a larger version:

Here are a couple of zoomed-in views:

The Interstate Bridge has been featured in several past Attic posts:

Interstate Bridge

Superior’s Main Street and the Interstate Bridge

Edmund Fitzgerald passes through the Interstate Bridge

Most of the span was removed in the years after the Blatnik Bridge opened. Part of the Interstate Bridge remains in place on the Duluth side and is used as a fishing pier; find more information at the links listed above.

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Aerial view of West Duluth, 1970

Circa 1970

This News Tribune file photo shows Interstate 35 under construction through West Duluth. It has two dates written on the back – 1969 and 1970 – so perhaps an alert reader can pick out some details from this image to determine which year is correct.

This photo certainly shows how important Cody Street was as an entrance to Duluth before the freeway was completed.

Click on the photo for a much larger version of the image. Here are a couple of zoomed-in views, starting with the West Duluth commercial district (this was a time before Kmart and Super One):

And here’s the area around Laura MacArthur School, what was then Shoppers City and the long-gone railroad viaduct:

Here are links to a couple of past Attic posts on West Duluth:

West Duluth, early 1980s

West Duluth before the paper mill, 1986

What interesting things do you spot in these photos? Share your observations and memories by posting a comment.

Superior Street before the I-35 tunnels, 1983

Here’s a photo of East Superior Street from Oct. 10, 1983, right before construction of the Interstate 35 tunnels in the vicinity of the Fitger’s Brewery complex and Leif Erikson Park:

Scattered among the many buildings that were demolished for the extension of I-35 eastward from downtown to 26th Avenue East, you can see the buildings that survived – Fitger’s just visible at lower right, the Portland Malt Shoppe, Sir Benedict’s, the Kitchi Gammi Club and more. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Also visible is an odd diagonal street cutting across the lower half of the image. That was one-block-long Washington Avenue, which was mostly swallowed up by the freeway construction:

What perhaps could be called a small nub of Washington Avenue still exists today, angling off First Street at Seventh Avenue East next to Expert Tire, leading to the back alley.

The Expert Tire building, visible at left center above, has an angled edge along Washington Avenue – it retains that shape to this day, though the street that caused it to be built that way has been gone now for more than 25 years.

Here are a couple more views of that area from October 1983. This first shot was taken the same day as the photo above, Oct. 10 (click on the photo for a larger view); all photos with this post were taken by the News Tribune’s Charles Curtis:

And this photo was taken later in the month, on Oct. 25, 1983, looking southwest along Superior Street from in front of Sir Benedict’s as buildings were razed for the pending freeway construction:

Here’s a related past Attic post, on efforts to preserve the Fitger’s Brewery complex as the freeway plans were created: Saving Fitger’s from the wrecking ball

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Superior church’s steeple comes crashing down, 1982

September 2, 1982

The steeple of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church lies damaged at Birch Avenue and North 14th Street in Superior on Thursday, Sept. 2, 1982. The 38-foot steeple was being lifted from the soon-to-be-demolished church when a crane tipped, sending the steeple crashing to the ground. (Jack Renudlich / News-Tribune)

Steeple falls prey to crane

By Larry Oakes, News-Tribune staff writer (appeared in paper on Sept. 3, 1982)

“My reaction was just plain fright. Everything was coming along beautifully, and all at once it swung and started to crash down through the wiring.”

The exasperated speaker was Sophie Butler, 68, of 24-B Hayes court, Superior. She had come Thursday to St. Stanislaus Catholic Church and School in Superior to pay her last respects to her former church, which is scheduled to be razed.

However, the church’s 38-foot steeple was going to be salvaged for use as a beach house. Butler and her husband, Joe, 68, watched as a crane began lifting the steeple from the building.

The couple, longtime members of the church as Birch Avenue and North 14th Street, were taking snapshots and reminiscing. It was about 10:15 a.m.

Seconds later, the feelings of nostalgia turned to horror when the crane, holding the suspended steeple about 30 feet above the ground, tipped, sending the steeple crashing to the ground.

“He lifted it off and everything seemed OK,” said Max Taubert, 29, of 3310 Minnesota Ave., Duluth. “But it came down kind of fast once it started. There was no stopping it. It only took about four seconds.”

Taubert had wanted to convert the carved, metal-faced steeple into a beach house.

“There was a lot of scurrying around,” said Cliff Anderson, whose company, Anderson Sand& Gravel, will demolish the church. Anderson, of 5565 Arrowhead Road, Duluth, sold the steeple to Taubert, who hired Lakehead Constructors of Superior to remove it.

“The crane either broke through the asphalt or the boom started to bend,” Anderson, 40, said. “It made one hell of a lot of noise,” he said, removing a toothpick from his mouth. “Like steel crashing into brick — one of those sounds you don’t hear too often.”

A construction worker is dwarfed by a twisted crane lying in front of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church at 1414 Birch Ave. in Superior on Sept. 2, 1982. No injuries were reported when the crane tipped over and the steeple crashed to the ground. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

Witnesses said that as the crane tipped, the boom crashed into the entry of the brick building.

Tim Bernard, 35, of Superior, owner of Lakehead, estimated repair to the crane will run from $25,000 to $30,000. “It will be usable,” Bernard said. “We’ll have to cut the boom and get it off the building. Then it will have to be repaired.”

“I would say the outrigger (a support leg) went into the ground,” he said. “It sure wasn’t the weight.”

Taubert said he will probably be out about $1,000, “mostly for the crane time.”

“I’ve already got more into it than it’s worth,” he said. “I had the option of insuring it before I took it off, but it was $1,000 deductible.”

When the boom toppled, it knocked out some adjacent electric and phone lines, resulting in a power outage in that section of Superior for two hours. Residents were without power in an area bounded by North 12th and Belknap streets on the north and south, and the Soo Line tracks and Catlin Avenue on the east and west, said Dick Kennedy, a Superior Water, Light & Power Co. official. Power was restored by 12:30 p.m., Kennedy said.

Wisconsin Telephone Company representative Kendall Nelson said the accident affected only two phone customers.

The steeple of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Superior crashed to the ground after a crane toppled on Sept. 2, 1982. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

The 67-year-old church currently awaits the wrecking ball. It was closed because of a shortage of priests and teachers in the Superior Diocese, Joe Butler said.

The school was shut down in 1968 because sisters were in short supply and no money was available to hire lay teachers. When the cornerstone was laid in 1915 the church boasted 450 families in its membership. By 1982, that number shrank to 150, according to Joe Butler, who was president of the church council.

“All my life I was in the parish,” Butler recalled, his eyes fixed. “I was baptized here, married here, my mother and father both had funeral services here.

Sophie Butler watched the cleanup operation from a yard across the street. “It’s a weird feeling because we were parishioners for so long.”

Across the street workers had started the lopsided crane and were feeding out cable that was still hooked to the steeple. What was left of the structure snapped and creaked slightly as it settled to the ground.

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As you may have noted, the steeple-crane accident happened almost exactly 30 years ago, on Sept. 2, 1982. Less than a week later, crews moved ahead with the razing of the main church building. Here are some photos of that:

A wrecking ball crashes into the remainder of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church at 1414 Birch Ave. in Superior on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1982. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Florence Bozinski (left), Sandy Anderson (center) and Sandy’s son Wayne, 11, all of Superior, watch as crews demolish St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Superior on Sept. 8, 1982. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Cliff Anderson (foreground) and Ron Johnson, both of Duluth, watch as St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Superior is razed on Sept. 8, 1982. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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Archive aerial views of the Twin Ports

I came across two (and was e-mailed a third) old aerial photos of the Twin Ports. Here they are (click on the photos for a larger view):

View over the West End and the Rice’s Point rail yards toward the Blatnik Bridge, 1970. (News Tribune file photo)

This photo shows construction of Interstate 35 (and I-535), including parts of the “Can of Worms” interchange, in 1970. The Blatnik Bridge, seen in the distance, had already been open for several years at the time of this photo; its traffic was directed onto Garfield Avenue (where you can see part of Goldfine’s-by-the-Bridge Department Store).

The photo also captures a sliver of the West End business district. Here’s a closer view of Superior Street:

From left to right, you can see a DX service station / car wash; Enger & Olson furniture (with J & J Phillips 66 service station across Superior Street); 19th Avenue West; and the West End Liquor Store, with a billboard on the side that reads “Scotch Scotch” (perhaps Ron Burgundy could have shopped there back in the day).

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Here’s a view of the Burlington Northern ore docks in Superior from 1977. The Mesabi Miner is berthed at the ore dock on the right. On the left, the nearer boat has “Inland Steel” on its side; I can’t make out the ship name, but it looks like the distinctive Edward L. Ryerson, which currently is in long-term layup at Fraser Shipyards just a few miles from where this photo was taken. The name of the third boat can’t been read in this picture.

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And courtesy of Gary Androsky over at the Superior Telegram, here’s an image from the Telegram’s files of Interstate 35 being extended through downtown Duluth in the 1980s – the tunnels are under construction in this view, which also provides a good look at much of downtown; click on the photo for a much larger image.

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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.

A building in Duluth shaped like a shoe?

Has Duluth ever been home to a house shaped like a shoe?

A reader wrote to me, saying she had once seen an old postcard of a shoe-shaped building that said it was in Duluth’s Piedmont Heights neighborhood. She had never heard anything else about such a structure in Duluth, and I never have – so I’ll put the question out to you.

If you have any information about a shoe-shaped building in Duluth, please post a comment. And, while we’re at it, did Duluth ever have any other of those kinds of structures – buildings built to look like something else?

Archive aerial views of Duluth

It’s fun to look at aerial photos in the News Tribune Attic – when you look up close, they can show so many things that have changed or still are the same.

Here are three aerial photos of Duluth from the archives; as with most photos I post here, click on these images to access a larger view:

The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and surrounding area, August 2003. This is before the addition of the Duluth 10 movie theater, the new parking ramp and Amsoil Arena. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

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St. Mary’s Medical Center and the surrounding area in October 2003, before construction of SMDC’s First Street Building. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

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The Technology Village / Soft Center building under construction along Superior Street in downtown Duluth, May 1999. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)——Share your memories and observations by posting a comment.