Arena-Auditorium opening program, 1966

It’s grand opening week for Duluth’s Amsoil Arena.

While the News Tribune is going to have lots of coverage of the new arena (look for an awesome 16-page special section included with Thursday’s paper), the News Tribune Attic is going to spend this week looking back at the history of the DECC Arena, opened as the part of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium complex in the summer of 1966.

Our first item is courtesy of News Tribune artist Ted Heinonen, who just in the past couple weeks unearthed a mint-condition program from the 1966 grand opening celebration of the Arena-Auditorium. Apparently it had been hiding in a file cabinet at the DNT for the past 44 years; the colors are pristine.

The program includes the full schedule of events for the long grand opening celebration, including all the celebrities who came to town. I’ve scanned in the program in its entirety; all 18 pages are included in the gallery below. Click on each page to see the full image:

Much more about the DECC Arena to come this week. Share your DECC Arena memories by posting a comment.

Early vision for the DECC, 1962

May 23, 1962

The previous post featured photos from the opening of the Arena-Auditorium (later the DECC) in 1966.

Also found in those files was this photo, which ran in the News-Tribune on May 23, 1962, showing an early vision for the arena-auditorium complex:

Examining a model of Duluth’s proposed arena-auditorium building complex and site are George Barnum Jr., left, finance chairman of the Citizens Advisory Arena-Auditorium Committee, and William S. Johnson, site chairman. Johnson built the model, which will be on displaay at a committee meeting tonight. (Earl Johnson / News-Tribune)

So this model was home-built, and not a professionally designed concept. I’m assuming Mr. Johnson constructed it to spur further discussion about the project. Here’s a close-up look:

The proposed arena is the large building with the spiky features sticking out the top. To the left are buildings labeled "auditorium" and "little theater."


The photo is taken in an office located in a building, if I had to take a guess, somewhere around the corner of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue West. But I’m not sure. There are a few clues visible in the background, including this hotel sign (it kind of looks like the one on the Holland Hotel in this post:


Also visible, a sign for the "Dutch Coffee Room" (there may be another word, not visible, before Dutch):

I tried to find "Dutch Coffee Room in a 1961 city directory, with no luck.

Can any of you figure out where this photo was taken? Post a comment if you know.

– Andrew Krueger

Arena-Auditorium grand opening, 1966

August 5, 1966

In August 1966, Duluth hosted an 11-day mega-celebration combining "Portorama" with the grand opening of the Arena-Auditorium (what we now know, in expanded form, as the DECC).

Local, state and national political leaders joined Hollywood stars in town for the festivities – perhaps the biggest assemblage of "big names" ever found in Duluth (if you can come up with other examples to rival this event, please post them in the comments).

Here are a few shots from the day of the Arena-Auditorium dedication ceremony:

Comedian Buddy Hackett, master of ceremonies at the dedication program of the Arena-Auditorium, describes the fish he caught while in Minnesota’s north woods last week to Manley Goldfine, president of the Arena-Auditorium board. (News-Tribune file photo)


Lorne Greene (left), star of NBC’s "Bonanza," arrived at the Arena-Auditorium with Joanie Hall, Bill Armstrong and Hi Busse – the Frontiersmen and Joanie. They were accompanied by Robert Rich (center), general manager of WDSM-TV and Radio. (News Tribune file photo)


The "Hello World" theme of the Arena-Auditorium grand opening celebration looms above Vice President Hubert Humphrey as he speaks at the dedication program. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Share your Arena-Auditorium and celebrity memories by posting a comment.

– Andrew Krueger

Loverboy comes to town, 1982

February 15, 1982

A screaming contingent claiming to be half the city of Virginia joined several thousand other rock fans crammed into the entrance of the Duluth Arena on Monday, February 15, 1982, before a concert by rock groups Loverboy and Quarterflash. Tickets for the concert sold out faster than any show since Elvis Presley, and the doors opened an hour and a half early to handle the crush of the 8,000 fans. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Quarterflash, Loverboy bring good rockin’ to Duluth Arena

By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer

Quarterflash was good at the Duluth Arena on Monday night. Lead singer Rindy Ross threaded her alto sax and appealing voice through 40 minutes of material sure to make Pat Benatar more irritable than she must be already. The sellout crowd of 8,000 was swaying and yelling for more after the group’s climactic hit single, "Harden My Heart."

So return Quarterflash did, to end things with a lark. They brought out the Byrds’ "So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star," shining with a touch of chrome from Patti Smith’s version, and left the crowd wanting more.

Quarterflash was good, all right.

But the headline act, Loverboy, simply blew them out of the water.

Two or three songs into the Canadian quintet’s set, it was clear they were an exceptionally good live band – an hour later they’d blasted out the best night of rock at the Arena in a long, long time.

They exhibited qualities you just don’t expect to find in stadium acts. Technically, they sounded as good as their records. Lead singer Mike Reno’s voice got stronger as the night wore on. They kept the songs short and didn’t dink around between them. Best of all, they worked as hard onstage – as joyfully – as anyone I’ve seen since Springsteen.

From the first notes that jumped out of group leader Paul Dean’s guitar, the crowd was in his hands. But he and Reno never played down to their audience, or played hard to get. They just worked their butts off to wring even louder screams out of the hoarse mass that jammed the Arena floor, and the seats up to the rafters.

Much of the group’s material is standard hard rock fare. The rhythms are re-hashed, the lyrics typical, and the slower numbers, especially, sound shamefully close to Foreigner, But just when you’ve written off a plodding synthesizer waddle, keyboard maan Doug ("Doctor J") Johnson pulls out a saxophone and blows a bluesy sixteen-bar solo melody that seems to come from nowhere. He weaved a lot of delightful moments like those Monday night, using everything from electric piano to gravelly organ.

Dean, too, is intelligently flamboyant on his instrument. And Reno was so sexy I thought the girls in front would faint with ecstasy when he stuffed a bandana down his tight black Levis.

The group did 15 songs in a solid 90-minute set. The big crescendo started about 9:30 p.m., with "Turn Me Loose," and increased with "The Kid Is Hot Tonite." The place went nuts, absolutely nuts, with "Working for the Weekend." It’s a great party song, and as mentioned, Reno’s voice seemed to be getting more powerful all the time.

The kid in front of me, who looked to be about 14, could only mutter, "Excellent. Excellent." The Bic lighters flared through the gloom like the biggest planetarium you ever saw.

Right-o, kid. There was good rockin’ Monday night in Duluth.


Loverboy returned to Duluth for a concert in the summer of 1983, and again on March 30, 1986. The group played the Head of the Lakes Fair in Superior in 2002, and performed at Grand Casino Hinckley in 2004.

Here are some early-1980s publicity shots of Loverboy from the News Tribune files. The first photo is from 1980, the second from 1982:


And here are a few close-ups of that crowd photo at the start of this post:


Were you at the 1982 concert? Do you recognize anyone in the crowd? Share your memories by posting a comment.

– Andrew Krueger


Pancake Day, 1980s

The Duluth Lions Club held their 53rd annual Pancake Day on Thursday, once again drawing big crowds to enjoy breakfast all day at the DECC. Here are a couple of photos from Pancake Days past:

Duluth Lions Club pancake flippers Stan Walczynski, Chuck Chairs and Bob Rockwood are ready for the 1985 Pancake Day at the Duluth Arena. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Duluth Lions Club Pancake Committee members Bill Bradley, Roy Mattson and Stan Walczynski pose with one of the griddles before the club’s 1987 Pancake Day. (John Rott / News-Tribune)

Share your memories of Pancake Day by posting a comment.

– Andrew Krueger

Copperfield magically appears at the DECC

He didn’t make Duluth disappear, but David Copperfield did visit the Twin Ports twice in the 1980s. The showman who brought magic back to the mainstream masses performed at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in 1986, and again in 1988.

David Copperfield entertains a crowd with his magic at the Duluth Auditorium. Here he’s loading a small cannon with a duck he calls Webster, who will be shot through the air and will land in a caged box covered by an assistant. (1986 file / News Tribune)

In his November 1986 show, a News Tribune review of the event said: "Copperfield’s illusions are like magical music videos. They are skillfully choreographed, keenly lit, well-paced performances that keep audiences asking the proverbial question: ‘How did he do that?’ "

About 1,800 people attended the 70-minute show in which Copperfield levitated an unsuspecting member of the audience, performed a vanishing act and employed a duck named Webster for various other magic tricks.

Anyone out there remember attending the show?

Copperfield’s vanishing act was one of his more popular feats. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Copperfield had several television specials devoted to his magic. One in 1983 featured Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear. And KBJR news anchor Michelle Lee magically appeared in a promotional photo for the TV program. (OK, it’s not really Duluth’s Michelle Lee, but rather the "Knots Landing" actress of the same name. You might need to do a double-take, though.)

1983 file / News Tribune

Copperfield retuned to Duluth in December 1988, this time for two shows. His gimmick for these performances was escaping from padlocks and chains binding his arms and legs before the "Death Saw" cut him in half.

Below, Copperfield’s perfectly styled hair is about to get a taste of "THE SAW." He seems unconcerned that death is near.

1988 file / News Tribune

According to the review of his 1988 performance, Copperfield’s other feats included cracking a live canary out of a chicken egg; changing a $100 bill into a $1 bill; making a person vanish, then appear in a box the size of a portable TV; and getting some woman in the audience to give him her telephone number. (The guy was engaged to Claudia Schiffer, did he really need to put his magic spell on a … oh wait, I bet that’s how he got the supermodel.)

David Copperfield gave instructions to Michelle Lindberg of Duluth as he performed a trick of reading her mind and gaining her telephone numbers telepathically. (1988 file / News Tribune) 

Before making it big with supermodels and CBS specials, Copperfield was just a blip on the magic radar when this photo was taken in 1978. Does anyone think he bears a striking resemblance to Sascha Baron Cohen, particularly Cohen’s alter-ego "Bruno"?

1978 file / News Tribune

Duluth Arena-Auditorium construction, 1963-66


Duluth Arena

Project foreman Buz Beechler (left) and William Colt work on construction of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. (1964 file / News Tribune)

This week’s groundbreaking of the $57 million DECC expansion may elicit memories of construction of the then-Duluth Arena-Auditorium in the 1960s. Groundbreaking of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium took place on Dec. 20, 1963, and construction neared completion in July 1966 for the August 4-14 grand opening. Construction of Pioneer Hall, an addition to the arena, began in 1975.

Now the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, the DECC has been home to a number of events from Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey to rock concerts and trade shows for 43 years.

The expected opening date of the new arena is Dec. 31, 2010.

Dec. 20, 1963


The groundbreaking ceremony in 1963 (File / News Tribune)

May 21, 1965


Workers pour cement during construction of the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. (1965 file / News Tribune)

Waiting for UMD hockey tickets, 1985

January 11, 1985

Hockey season is over for Minnesota Duluth fans, so it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for the next game — like these Bulldog hockey fans are doing in this photo from Jan. 11, 1985, during the season after UMD lost in the national title game. The fans are (from left) Anne Kelly, former All-American UMD golfer Tom Waitrovich and Joe Jay Jackson — also known as the Maroon Loon mascot — and they’re set up to spend the night in the Duluth Arena-Auditorium concourse waiting to buy tickets for the following weekend’s UMD-Minnesota hockey series. The tickets went on sale the next morning. Jackson got into games free as the Maroon Loon, but he needed to get tickets for his parents, he told News-Tribune photographer Joey McLeister. (*note… apparently the photo caption info was wrong; the Maroon Loon was Jay Jackson)

What were they snacking on? Let’s take a closer look:

Mister Salty pretzels (with the little pretzel-man I remember on the boxes), and…

…Red Owl popcorn!

For a view of the Maroon Loon in costume – though it probably was not Jackson, but instead a later Loon – look at this News Tribune Attic post from earlier this year.

DECC Zamboni driver, 1989

I had planned to take a few days off… but this nice tie-in appeared for Sunday’s front-page story on the 60th anniversary of the Zamboni. So, one more entry:

November 5, 1989

Non-hockey playing celebrities at the DECC: Zamboni driver Walt Bruley gets some help from the Loon, a UMD mascot. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Mommy, the Zamboni man!

Grooming the DECC rink has its rough, smooth spots

By Tom Dennis, News-Tribune staff writer

Walt Bruley has gray hair and can’t skate. But now and then at Duluth’s college hockey games, he gets the biggest cheer of the night.

Bruley, 43, is the senior Zamboni driver for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. For 13 years he has piloted a boxy, funny-looking machine around the center’s ice rinks, resurfacing the ice between periods at University of Minnesota Duluth games.

And that gives him a certain measure of celebrity in a hockey-mad town.

"Kids see you in the shopping mall and they say, ‘Mommy! Mommy! The Zamboni Man!’ " he said. Good ice makes for good hockey games. So when the ice Bruley makes has been smooth and trouble-free, restaurant owners recognize him: "Ahh, Mr. Zamboni!"

Bruley smiled. "Of course, when the ice has been bad, it’s ‘Mr. Damn Zamboni,’ " he said. "But you do the best you can."

Driving a Zamboni is tougher than it looks. Steering with his left hand, Bruley uses his right to work levers regulating blade depth, water spray and other functions. The job is something like driving a truck and operating a crane at the same time. On ice.

And without being able to see, thanks to the awkward position of the driver’s seat. maybe that’s why Bruley, on his very first drive, smashed the Zamboni through the sideboards of the rink.

Then there’s "Zamboni elbow," the strain from working stiff right-hand levers. Drivers even have peer pressure to contend with. You’d be surprised how closely they watch each other, nodding with approval when one completes a resurfacing pattern right next to the exit gate.

But over the years, Bruley learned his trade. He learned to listen to the ice, to the noise that skates make. Good ice "chatters" more than bad ice does, he said.

Color and brightness count, too. "Every sheet of ice has its own personality," he said. "If it’s tough going in – if you have a hard time freezing it, say – it’ll be trouble the whole way through."

Just when you think you have it down…

"It was several years ago, UMD vs. the University of Minnesota, I think," he said. A championship rested on the game’s outcome. UMD was ahead as a period ended, and the crowd roared.

"So I was getting into it myself," he said. "I was driving around; people were yelling, cheering, giving me ‘high-fives.’ I was really excited.

"Then somebody threw a shoe in front of the Zamboni."

The machine choked. The stall that resulted was witnessed by thousands and delayed the game 10 minutes, he said.

Bruley learned his lesson that day. Driving a Zamboni is fun, he said. "But as soon as you let yourself enjoy it – bang! – something happens."

Today he takes pride in his work, but keeps a low profile. "When you don’t notice me, I’m happy," he said. "When you don’t notice that the ice is there, that means I’ve done a good job."

The same goes for the transparent shields that separate the crowd from the rink. That’s why Bruley and others clean the shields before every game, wiping away rubber streaks with a unique product called Puck Off.

Bruley sometimes works until 1 a.m., caring for the ice between late-night youth hockey games. Summer skating means that ice maintenance is a year-round job, too. No wonder people stare at Bruley in downtown Duluth in July: He’s usually wearing Sorels.

As a recent UMD hockey game was about to begin, Bruley punched the ignition and his Zamboni roared to life.

The machine lumbered out onto the ice. Bruley followed the classic Zamboni pattern: clockwise around the edges first, then up the middle, then around and around in ever-decreasing spirals.

Smoothly, professionally, Bruley left neither skid marks nor slush puddles in his wake. He made it look easy as he finished his last row right next to the gate.

Then he spun his Zamboni around in a racecar-like turn.

"OK, sometimes I like to show off a little bit," he said with a grin.