Chinese Lantern fire was 20 years ago

Flames erupt from the upper windows and roof of the Chinese Lantern shortly after 7 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1994 as firefighters pour water into the three-story structure from their hoses and aerial trucks. Twelve units and up to 50 firefighters were at the scene in downtown Duluth. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the landmark Chinese Lantern restaurant in downtown Duluth. The fire on Jan. 16, 1994, burned “one of the places – like the Aerial Bridge, like Glensheen – that comes to mind when people think of Duluth,” the News Tribune reported the next day.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the fire story that appeared in the Jan. 17 DNT:

“The Chinese Lantern, a landmark supper club popular among Northland residents and visitors for 30 years, caved into a shambles of scorches timbers and ice in little more than three hours early Sunday.

Up to 50 firefighters were called out in 18-below weather at 5:45 a.m., battling a downtown Duluth fire of unknown origin that started in the kitchen and quickly burst through the rooftop in a wall of flames that threatened the lives of a dozen firefighters inside. …

Owner Wing Ying Huie opened the Chinese Lantern in 1964 at the Superior Street level of the Palladio Building, immediately behind the structure that burned. He was following a Huie family tradition of serving authentic Chinese specialties that began when his father, Joe Huie, opened a restaurant near the entrance of Canal Park in the early 1900s.”

Go to this Attic post from 2008 for more of the story and additional photos: Chinese Lantern fire

Jan. 17, 1994: Workers remove heavy items from the wreckage of the Chinese Lantern a day after a fire destroyed the downtown Duluth restaurant. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

After the fire, the building was repaired and a half-dozen bars and/or restaurants tried to make a go of it at that location: Blue Water Bar & Grill. Bella Vita Ristorante. Champps Americana. Duluth Athletic Club Bar & Grill. Score Sports Bar & Grill. R Bar. None lasted for the long haul.

In late 2011, it was announced that the Minnesota WorkForce Center, Duluth Workforce Development and partner agencies would move into the entire vacant building, ending – for now – any attempts to try yet another restaurant at that location.

Share your memories of the Chinese Lantern – or any other long-gone Duluth restaurant – by posting a comment.

Remembering the Spalding Hotel

Today’s News Tribune features an article on the 50th anniversary of the demolition of the landmark Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth. The photo above, from the News Tribune files, appears to date from the late 1920s or 1930s. The hotel was demolished in 1963 as part of a larger urban renewal project.

The Spalding was the subject of several previous Attic posts, with a number of old photos. You can find them here, here, here and here.

Local authors and historians Tony Dierckins and Maryanne Norton featured the Spalding in their 2012 book “Lost Duluth.” You can find that information – and much more about Duluth history – at Zenith City Online.

Do you remember the Spalding? Do you have some memorabilia from the old hotel? Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

 

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)

Phillips 66 gas station on Superior Street, 1961

Here are a couple views of a then-new Phillips 66 gas station and the offices of Como Oil Company along Superior Street at Eighth Avenue East in 1961. This view is from April of that year:

And here’s a photo from November 1961:

Here are a couple of zoomed-in views of the signage in the November photo (including what looks like a Hires Root Beer ad):

This Phillips 66 gas station was located across Eighth Avenue East from what is now Sir Benedict’s Tavern (what was then another gas station). The station is listed in city directories through 1983, the year it and many other buildings along Superior Street in that area were razed to make way for the eastward extension of Interstate 35. That was covered in an Attic post last year, and you can see the Phillips 66 station in the photos with that entry.

Past Attic posts have included photos of several gas station chains, including Clark, Pure and Holiday, among others. What gas station chains do you remember? Share your memories by posting a comment.

Homegrown Music Festival photos

Duluth’s Homegrown Music Festival, which opened Sunday, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Here is a gallery of News Tribune photos from – or associated with – Homegrown Festivals of years past:

You may notice that the captions are pretty sparse on a few of these photos; if you can provide any names where they are missing, please post a comment.

Downtown Duluth’s Sunnyside Cafe, 1981

October 13, 1981

Here’s a story from the Duluth Herald files from 1981, profiling an old-fashioned downtown Duluth cafe and its proprietors. It’s kind of a long article, but it’s a pretty fun, charming story with some memorable anecdotes. Enjoy…

Art Rode mans the counter at the Sunnyside Cafe in downtown Duluth in October 1981. (Joey McLeister / Duluth Herald)

Cafe owners keep their Sunnyside up

By Lynnell Mickelsen, Duluth Herald

At 6:15 a.m. there are four regulars in the cafe, people who drove past McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Sambos and the 7-11 to get to this place. The waiter knows their names and their orders. He also knows their fishing stories, hunting stories, idiot boss stories and their political views. The cook knows all of this plus their dietary restrictions. This morning she tells a regular she will boil his eggs instead of fry them because his doctor has repeatedly told him to lose weight. “It will save you 55 calories,” she says.

The Sunnyside Cafe, 214 E. Superior St., has nine stools, four booths, no chrome and no cute names on the menu. It’s open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Owners Art and Marion Rode are also the waiters, cooks, dishwashers, busboys, buyers and bookkeepers. They have been in the restaurant business for nearly 40 years.

They have, in other words, a 30-year jump on Egg McMuffins, which came out in 1972 and sparked the Great Breakfast War among the fast-food franchises. McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Sambos and the others compete fiercely among themselves for the breakfast crowd. They can deliver the food faster and cheaper than the Rodes, although this suggestion raises a chorus of protest from Sunnyside regulars.

“They can’t give you ham that comes off the hog,” says one.

“They fire the waitresses so often … they don’t know what the hell they’re doing and it takes forever,” says another.

“They don’t even know what hash browns are,” says another.

Even so, the franchises seem to be winning and the Rodes’ nine-stool cafe and other ma and pa operations appear to be a fading phenomenon, dying off by attrition, because no businessman in his right mind would try to start one now.

Marion Rode, a cook with more nearly 40 years of experience, wraps up a sandwich to go at the Sunnyside Cafe in October 1981. Five days a week from this window, she watches the sunrise over Lake Superior. (Joey McLeister / Duluth Herald)

The Rodes, however, don’t think about the future of breakfast cafes. For one thing, they have to get up too early to be philosophical. They arrives at the cafe at 5:15 a.m. in order to have coffee ready and the stove hot for people who, either by neurosis or necessity, east breakfast at 6. They have risen so early for so long that even on weekends, back home in Duluth Heights, they are often up at 5 a.m., drinking coffee.

Getting up early is hardly glamorous, but it has its compensations. The cafe’s back kitchen window looks out over Lake Superior and, over the years, the Rodes have watched one superb sunrise after another.

“We watch it move with the season,” Marion says, cracking two eggs into a cast-iron frying pan. The sunrise moves from the left side of the window across to the right and, for three weeks in December, disappears behind the wall of the Muffler Clinic before emerging and switching directions. They watch the storms brew up over the lake and, in the winter, they say the spray from the surf nearly hits the window.

At 6:30 a.m., a regular, his limbs shortened by dwarfism, swaggers into the cafe. Before the man is two feet inside, Art orders a cheese sandwich to go and Marion is reaching for the bread. Art and the man banter over the counter.

“He’s always giving me grief,” the man says to another customer as Art walks back to the kitchen. “Someday I’m going step on him.”

“What’s that?” Art asks, coming back.

“You’re always giving me grief,” the man repeats happily.

“Bacon and eggs,” Art calls into the kitchen. Another regular has just walked in. Art has been serving breakfast to some people for 20 years, watching them go from scrawny to paunchy. Marion remembers changing the diapers on a man. (“I don’t bring it up because it would embarrass him to tears.”) Regulars need to order only if they are feeling talkative; otherwise, Art can do it automatically.

It’s one of the few automatic processes in the place. Outside of an electric mixer and the cafe’s technological hub, a Bunnomatic coffee maker, this is a restaurant devoid of gizmos and shortcuts. There is no microwave. No pastry steamers. No Cuisanart. No dishwasher. Two years ago they unplugged the Hamilton Beach blender because it was too distracting.

As Art points out, it came down to a matter of priorities: by the time he made someone a milkshake, he could have served three people meatloaf.

“That machine,” Art says, pointing to the forsaken mixer, still sitting on the shelf, “kept us from doing the work we were meant to do.”

A close-up view of the Sunnyside Cafe menu from the photo above. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The same spirit carries over to the kitchen. “Nothing here is artificial,” Marion declares. In the fall, they bring in apples from the tree in their back yard and make pies.

Marion got her start in the restaurant business in 1942, in a place where the Radisson now stands. It was during the war, the shipyards were busy and they served 1,000 people a day. She made $14 a week and worked with a crew of veteran cooks. “Real old-timers,” she says. “I mean, they were purists. One lady used to save up lard and make the soap herself.”

Marion saved her money, and after the war started a place of her own. Art was one of her customers. “I was hard-boiled then,” she says. “One day I was throwing a drunk out of the place and he landed on Art.”

Art was out of the service, working at the Duluth airport. He had no known aspirations for the restaurant business until the drunk fell on him and he fell for Marion. But he has taken to it well. A smooth breakfast-bartender, he pours coffee with an instinctive, generous hand. A well-informed man, he doesn’t read the newspaper because, by noon, the entire paper has usually been read aloud to him, interspersed with editorial comment and unpublished details. He knew by 6:15 a.m. that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had been shot.

Art comes back into the kitchen. He and Marion are trying unsuccessfully to remember the last names of veteran customers. The highest price on the menu is $2.95 and people don’t write checks. The only last names they know are for the doctors at the medical center who apparently never had first names.

The Rodes ran a cafe in the 500 block of West Superior Street in downtown Duluth for many years before urban renewal forced them out. This photo was taken in about 1954; Art Rode is behind the counter.

Marion glances up at the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining area. Someone’s waiting to pay the bill,” she says.

Art disappears. The cash register rings.

“You get to be able to feel that kind of stuff in your bones,” Marion says, shaping a meatloaf with her hands. She is a well-fed cook, the kind who “never eats” and must diet subsequently. She reads cookbooks “like novels” but doesn’t use them in the kitchen.

“When I was a girl, I wanted to be a research doctor. I wanted to find the cure for cancer. Never got enough education.” She now tests out various theories of the cause of cancer and finds them wanting. For example, she says she served bacon every morning to an attorney who not only did not succumb to cancer, but lived to 95 and died in his bed.

There are five calendars in the kitchen: odd decoration for a woman supposedly without a sense of time. Marion is vague on the years, vague on her age. Art, on the other hand, is 62, and can tell you the deer season starts in “four weeks and two days.” Every year they close for three weeks during deer season, but, by the third week, they are both restless to come back.

They don’t want to retire, but have heard the building will be sold in two years to make space for access across a planned freeway. “Urban renewal,” Art says, shaking his head. The Rodes have never sold quiche lorraine and their restaurants have never survived urban renewal. Urban renewal, according to Art, forced them out of their old restaurant about 12 years ago.

“We could never start up again today. Never. Too many health regulations,” Marion says. She sweeps her arm across the kitchen, pointing at the wooden shelves and countertops. “Now everything has to be stainless steel. Counters and booths have to be so far off the floor. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. You can’t be too careful. Eat off a low counter and it might kill you.”

– end –

The shelves behind the counter in the first photo stocked Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers candy bars, among other items.

The Sunnyside Cafe closed by the mid-1980s, and a few years later its building was gone. As alluded to in the second-to-last paragraph of the story, it’s now the location of an access point to Lake Place Park, next door to Perry Framing.

Art Rode died in August 2000 at age 80. Marion Rode died in July 2001 at age 89.

Do you remember the Sunnyside Cafe? Share your memories by posting a comment. Direct questions about the Attic to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Aerial views of Duluth

Old aerial photos always offer a lot of interesting opportunities to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. Here are a few aerial photos of Duluth from the early 2000s, from the News Tribune archives. Click on the images for a larger view:

This photo from October 2003 shows the area just east of downtown Duluth, prior to major expansion by what is now Essentia Health, and also before construction of the Sheraton Hotel. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

The reconstruction of Piedmont Avenue is under way in this view from June 2004. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

An aerial view over downtown Duluth and the Central Hillside in June 2002. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

A view of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in August 2003, before the addition of the Duluth 10 movie theater, Amsoil Arena and an additional parking structure. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

Share your memories by posting a comment.

120 years ago, ‘handsome and cultured’ Lakeside became part of Duluth

This detail from an 1890 map shows part of the village of Lakeside before it became part of the city of Duluth. (2007 file / News Tribune)

The end of one year and beginning of another can be a time of great change, as new laws and ordinances take effect. Such was the case 120 years ago, when the arrival of 1893 meant that the village of Lakeside became part of the city of Duluth.

As 1892 ended and 1893 began, “the new year was whistled in at midnight by all the mills and industries on the bay shore which had steam up,” the News Tribune reported on Jan. 1. There also was “a fusillade of revolver shots on Superior Street,” but police did not arrest the gun owner, “some license being allowed for exaggerated fun on such an occasion.”

And with the shots and whistles echoing around town, Lakeside residents found themselves living in Duluth. The News Tribune marked the annexation of “Duluth’s handsome, prosperous and cultured suburb to the east” in a Jan. 1, 1893, article:

“After about four years existence as a village under the general laws of Minnesota and with special powers since the legislative session of 1891, beautiful Lakeside, loveliest village on Superior’s shores, became at midnight, with the ringing of the new year’s bells, a part of Duluth, the solid and superb. As a bride to the altar, she came with good wishes and in rich attire. There was no formal marriage ceremony at this time, it having been performed by the legislature two years ago, to take effect on this New Year’s day, and by the mere striking of the clock she passed from an independent suburb to an inseparable part of the twinless city. …

Another detail from an 1890 map shows the village of Lakeside before it was annexed into the city of Duluth. (2002 file / News Tribune)

“In two years from today the whole head of the lake on the Minnesota side of the bay will be a single city stretching from Lester river to Fond du Lac, West Duluth coming in next New Year’s say and participating in the general municipal election of February 1894. Thus the several parts of the future great city are beginning to get together, and while congratulating Lakeside on the alliance it has made, it is equally in order to congratulate Duluth on this early exhibition of her magnetic powers. With excellent street car and steam railway service, delightful carriage drives, fine schools and churches, charming houses, beautiful and even romantic scenery, and a cultured, enterprising people, Lakeside is truly a gem of a city — an agate on a rock-bound coast. …

“With the mists of her own beautiful river as a bridal veil, with snow drops and snow drifts as flowers beneath her feet, we salute again the sunrise suburb, now our own, that has ever been a handsome frontispiece to Duluth.”

And so the village of Lakeside became the Lakeside neighborhood, and the city of Duluth took one more step toward consolidating various municipalities into the city we know today.

And, of course, the terms of the annexation agreement between Duluth and Lakeside stipulated that no bars or liquor stores were to be allowed in the neighborhood – and Lakeside remains “dry” to this day.

—–

Now here’s a little New Year’s bonus from the News Tribune of Dec. 31, 1912…

As Duluth prepared for New Year’s Eve 100 years ago, the Bridgeman-Russell dairy announced a special menu of its “velvet ice cream” to accompany celebrations to welcome in 1913. The flavors? Maple mousse, macaroon, bisque, almond, walnut and nesselrud. “Nesselrud” probably was Nesselrode, a mixture of preserved fruits and chopped nuts named after a 19th-century Russian statesman. The Bridgeman-Russell Co. advertised two locations — 13 E. Superior St. and 14-16 W. First St.

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

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Photo of Downtown Duluth, October 1966

This photo of downtown Duluth and the Hillside, taken by News Tribune photographer Earl Johnson, is dated Oct. 11, 1966. This pre-dates construction of the new Central High School atop the hill, and it’s interesting how sparse that upper hillside looks in this photo.

Click on the photo to view a much larger version, in which much more detail is visible…

As always, share your memories by posting a comment.