10 years ago tonight: Zamboni explodes, Peterson Arena burns

Tonight – Dec. 19, 2014 – marks the 10th anniversary of the night a Zamboni exploded and sparked a fire that destroyed Peterson Arena in West Duluth. Thanks to Perfect Duluth Day for the reminder of the anniversary.

Here’s a look back at some stories and photos from the News Tribune files, starting with this story and photos that ran the next day – Dec. 20, 2004:

Duluth firefighters run hoses to battle a fire at Peterson Arena after a Zamboni exploded on Dec. 19, 2004. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)


By Christa Lawler, News Tribune

A Zamboni exploded Sunday night inside Peterson Arena in West Duluth, starting a fire at the ice rink at Wheeler Fields.

About 30 people — two broomball teams and a handful of fans — were inside the building at the time of the explosion. One player was taken to the hospital. The extent of his injuries was not known.

A small blast at 9:40 p.m. was followed by a larger explosion, which knocked the doors off the boards surrounding the ice surface onto the ice.

Spectator Cade Ledingham, who was in the arena and witnessed the explosion, estimated that four players were thrown from the ice by the blast.

The building was quickly evacuated and the players watched the fire from a small warming house about 30 yards away. Both teams confirmed that all of their players and fans were accounted for, but all of their belongings — including street clothes, keys and even shoes — were inside the burning building.

The Duluth Police Department blocked off busy Grand Avenue as fire crews struggled to battle the fire. The temperature hovered near zero at the time of the explosion.

Duluth firefighters battle a fire at Peterson Arena after a Zamboni exploded on Dec. 19, 2004. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

By 10:15 p.m., the fire had engulfed the north side of the building, at 3501 Grand Ave. Police cleared out the warming house when it looked like the fire might reach nearby power lines. Power was cut to the area at 10:25 p.m. A Duluth Transit Authority bus was brought in to pick up the players.

Joe Buckley, the Zamboni driver, said he was sweeping up when the blast occurred. He thought propane tanks had caused the explosion.

A Zamboni is a vehicle used to resurface ice.

Player Ryan Ringsred, who was bandaged, had picked small pieces of Plexiglas from the back of his neck. He was on the ice when the explosion occurred.

“I was facing the boards when they blew up,” Ringsred said. “I was on the ice and the Zamboni blew up behind me. I was flat on the ice.”

Even his helmet was dented.

“It’s brand new,” he said. “It did its job, I guess.”

There were about seven minutes left in the broomball game between the Rapid Fire and Budweiser teams when the blast occurred.

“These are two teams that battle every year for the league championship,” said player Dave Reyelts, who was in the penalty box at the time. “It puts things in perspective. When it happened, guys from both teams were grabbing each other. Even in rivalry, the guys were looking out for each other.”

Brandon Kolquist, another player, also had small cuts on the back of his neck.

“I just got blown over the boards with the explosion,” he said. “It was crazy. Everybody was trying to hit one door at the same time.”

Here’s a follow-up story and photos that ran Dec. 21, 2004:

Duluth firefighters inspect the interior of Peterson Arena on Dec. 20, 2004, after a major fire the night before. (Bob King / News Tribune)


By Mark Stodghill and Scott Thistle, News Tribune 

The loss of one of its two indoor hockey arenas is a major blow to the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association.

“We’re down a facility, and this is the prime time of the season,” DAHA Executive Director Clarke Coole said. “This is going to impact our program enormously.”

Coole met with Duluth city officials Monday to discuss the explosion and fire that destroyed Peterson Arena on Sunday night in the midst of a broomball game.

DAHA serves more than 800 youth hockey players, and tournaments were scheduled every weekend in the building through January, February and two weeks in March, Coole said.

The building’s loss also creates a hardship for Duluth high school boys and girls hockey teams, who practiced at Peterson, Coole said.

“Right now, we’re looking for a short-term fix to salvage this year,” Coole said. “We’re going to need a lot of city officials’ support for the kids.”

Coole’s organization will try to get ice time from the University of Minnesota Duluth and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Other area youth programs have already offered to help.

“There’s been tons of support from area associations — Cloquet, Proctor, Hermantown, Superior and Mars Lakeview Arena,” Coole said. “They’re asking if there’s anything they can do to help out with bits and pieces (of ice time). The support has been awesome.”

The Duluth Central-Denfeld girls high school hockey team had four practices scheduled at Peterson that must be rescheduled, coach Shawna Davidson said. She’ll talk with DECC officials to see if there are any times available. The team normally practices at the DECC, but had several Wednesdays scheduled at the West Duluth arena because the DECC ice wasn’t available until after 9 p.m.

Kevin Smalley, the Denfeld boys hockey coach, has rescheduled his team’s Peterson practice dates to before school at the DECC, Davidson said.

Exterior view of Peterson Arena in West Duluth on Monday morning, Dec. 20. 2004, after the fire. Broomball players and friends of players (right) leave after looking through the equipment bags for anything salvageable. There was little worth keeping. (Bob King / News Tribune)


On Monday night, the Duluth City Council wasted no time in weighing in on the loss. City Attorney Bryan Brown told councilors he was still investigating whether the arena is insured. Although two buildings at the Wheeler Fields athletic complex are insured, the policy is somewhat unclear as to exactly which two, he said.

“We have reported the loss to the insurance company,” Brown said. “I am hoping that the reply is that there is no problem with coverage.”

City Administrative Assistant Mark Winson said that, if necessary, the city could shift some money from next year’s capital improvement budget to help rebuild the arena.

Because of the fire, Councilor Neill Atkins said he would like the city to take another look at what facilities the city insures.

Construction workers with Advanced Restoration and Construction begin work after their lunch break on a protective roof that will cover the fire damage at Peterson Arena on dec. 21, 2004. The protective roof is for insurance purposes. (Amanda Odeski / News Tribune)

DAMAGE $850,000

City fire officials said Monday the blast was probably the result of leaking propane from a Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine. Damage was estimated at $850,000 by city officials, according to a release issued by Mayor Herb Bergson.

Propane used to fuel the Zamboni built up in the resurfacing machine’s storage room. It was eventually ignited by the flame of a gas-fired water heater and exploded, Duluth Fire Chief John Strongitharm said.

Broomball players and fans, who escaped serious injury, said the initial blast blew the doors to the storage room across the rink, injuring some players. Others were injured by shards of Plexiglas, blasted into their skin. But most of the players were at the opposite end of the rink from the explosion, Strongitharm said.

“I would think it is very fortunate that the explosion happened when the people were away from that door, and they all had the sense to drop their broomball sticks and get out,” Strongitharm said. He said calm, quick thinking by players and fans probably saved lives.
After the initial blast, there were at least two other explosions, which Strongitharm believes may have been caused by empty propane tanks stored in the arena.

Another view of the interior of the Peterson Arena on Monday morning, Dec. 20, 2004 after the devastation of Sunday night’s fire caused by a Zamboni explosion. (Bob King / News Tribune)        


Propane is the fuel generally used by resurfacing machines, although some are operated by electric batteries and others use natural gas, said Walt Bruley, who has operated resurfacing machines for more than 30 years.

Bruley, a district representative for the Minnesota Ice Arenas Managers’ Association, said all DAHA resurfacing crews regularly attend safety training.

“They’re one of our star groups when it comes to that,” Bruley said.

It would be highly unlikely that the Zamboni would actually have exploded by itself, he said. The machines are built with safety valves to contain potential propane leaks, he said.

“These things don’t just blow up,” said Bruley, who was on his way to drive a Zamboni at the DECC on Monday afternoon. “There were many things in that room that probably could have blown up besides the machine.”

Propane is generally considered a safer fuel than gasoline because it doesn’t ignite as easily and it has an additive that gives it a distinct smell, making leaks easily detectable. Propane, which is heavier than air, generally sinks to floor or ground level, where it can easily be vented, Bruley said.

“If there was a leak, it would have been something that could have been smelled,” Bruley said. “This is a very, very rare occasion.”

He said Sunday’s explosion was truly a freak incident. “In my 30 years, I’ve never heard of another situation like this,” he said.

Lynn Skafte (left) and Steph Truscott, good friends of the adult broomball team whose equipment was smoke and water-damaged by the Peterson Arena fire, pick through the equipment bags hoping to find some salvageable items on Dec. 20, 2004. (Bob King / News Tribune)


Firefighters weren’t injured by subsequent explosions, Strongitharm said. A second blast occurred just after a frozen fire hydrant prompted firefighters to seek an alternative water source, Strongitharm said.

“It’s hard to say what impact the frozen hydrant had,” Strongitharm said. “It was freezing cold and it was fully involved when we got there. They did run out of water . . . but right after they ran out of water, the explosion took place.”

Extreme cold and a slope made containing the blaze difficult. “There were a number of falls because we were fighting on a hill, but no major injuries,” Strongitharm said.

The speed at which the fire spread and the heat were remarkable, he said. “It was a surprise,” Strongitharm said.

The fire was so intense that the building’s steel framework bent in places, which may make it unsalvageable. The arena had just been outfitted with new rink boards, which were destroyed in the inferno.

“It doesn’t look good for the building,” Strongitharm said.

The arena’s days may have been numbered anyway. It was proposed to be leveled with other neighboring structures, including a closed gas station and the athletic complex tennis courts, to make way for a proposed $55 million sports complex and community center.

The city project hinges on funding from the $1.5 billion estate of McDonald’s restaurants founder Ray Kroc and his wife, Joan Kroc. They left the money to the Salvation Army to build sports and community complexes nationwide. Salvation Army is expected to announce by spring which communities will get the money.

Staff writers Chuck Frederick, Chad Thomas and Nikki Overfelt contributed to this report.

Peterson Arena was razed and not rebuilt. After a number of years, western Duluth finally got another ice rink when the Duluth Heritage Sports Center opened.

Here’s one more view of Peterson Arena from before the fire, during a horseshoe tournament on July 7, 2001:

Donald Stangland (left) and Tom Warneke, class G horseshoe pitchers participating in the 38th annual Duluth Open Horseshoe Tournament, split hairs determining points during their match Saturday afternoon, July 7, 2001, at Peterson Arena. Stangland beat Warneke, 29-22. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

Share your memories of Peterson Arena by posting a comment.

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.

Explosion at Laura MacArthur School, 1982

Story printed September 28, 1982

Apprehension and excitement show on the faces of first-graders outside Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School following a boiler explosion on September 27, 1982. They’re waiting with teachers Gail Olson and Evelyn Clancy. Click on the photo for a larger version. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Boiler room explosion rocks elementary school; 2 injured

By Barbara Kucera, News-Tribune & Herald staff writer

More than 700 pupls will stay home today from Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth after an explosion in the boiler room rocked the school Monday.

The school will remain closed at least two days, said Franklin Bradshaw, director of elementary education for the Duluth public schools.

Two men were injured in the explosion, which occurred about 11 a.m. Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer, and Lyle “Butch” Seeley, an employee of General Heating and Engineering Co., were reported in satisfactory condition Monday in Miller-Dwan Hospital. They suffered first-degree burns on their faces and hands.

No pupils or teachers were injured in the blast.

Two boilers, located in the former West Junior High School at 725 N. Central Ave., provided heat for both the West and MacArthur buildings. The boilers were rendered inoperable by the explosion.

“At this point, we’re assuming that after a couple of days, we’ll have that boiler fixed,” Bradshaw said.

Firefighters prepare to remove windows damaged by the boiler explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The two men were working on the boilers when “apparently there was some kind of a malfunction,” said LeRoy Moore, director of physical plant for the school system.

The explosion occurred in the stack connecting the two boilers with the chimney, Moore said.

Fire officials said the blast occurred because of a buildup of gas in the stack, but they do not know what ignited the gas. An investigation was continuing Monday. Neither fire nor school officials had a dollar estimate of the damage.

After the explosion, the fire bell sounded and the school was evacuated. Three engine companies, two ladder trucks, two rescue squads and an assistant chief responded to the alarm, but no fire followed the blast.

About 45 minutes later – after firefighters checked the blast scene – pupils and school employees were allowed back in the school.

Richard Meadowcroft, a school engineer at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School, winces as distilled water is poured over burns on his head by paramedic Ken Danelski, Firefighter Rick Raimo assists. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune & Herald)

Damage was confined to the basement and an entrance to the school located on the floor above the boiler room.

The blast caused some cracks in the walls in adjoining rooms, and shattered windows at the school entrance on the next floor.

Bradshaw said school officials are not sure the boilers can be fixed in two days. Parents will be notified when they can send their children back to school, he said.

“We can’t have the children sitting in a classroom without heat,” Bradshaw said. Busing to other schools isn’t possible because not enough space is available to house the 710 MacArthur-West pupils, he said.

The hall next to the boiler room was damaged by the explosion at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on Sept. 27, 1982. Two people were injured. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

The boiler room was extensively damaged by the explosion. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)


Demolition is under way at the former Laura MacArthur School in West Duluth, which closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The new Laura MacArthur Elementary School stands across Central Avenue.

Here’s some information about the school’s history, from a May 2011 issue of the News Tribune: The original 1914 wing of the old school was the original Denfeld High School. When the present Denfeld opened in 1926, it became West Junior High. The elementary wing opened in 1957; it shared a cafeteria and administrative offices with West Junior High and was named Laura MacArthur after a longtime Duluth educator. West Junior High closed in the 1970s, and the entire complex became an elementary school.

Here are some more Laura MacArthur photos from the News Tribune files:

Laura MacArthur Elementary School, as seen from Central Avenue in 1959; click on the photo for a larger version. (News Tribune file photo)


Community Schools students at Laura MacArthur work on a mural on July 16, 1979. The students were working with artist Mary McDunn of Duluth. Click on the photo for a larger version; note the use of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets as paint pails. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


High fashion at Laura MacArthur-West: Modeling can be a tough business, as second-grader Jeremy Hagen found as he wrestled with a sweatshirt while trying to take it off to show a shirt underneath during a fashion show at the school on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Mary Holz helps her daughter Mandi Anderson, 7, put on a pair of dainty gloves prior to her getting on stage for a fashion show at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School in West Duluth on March 17, 1986. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Students at Laura MacArthur-West Elementary School listen to the Duluth Accordionaires perform in the school auditorium on March 7, 1986. (John Rott / News-Tribune)


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Vintage view of Gary-New Duluth fire and police hall

This undated view shows the fire hall and police station on Commonwealth Avenue in the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about cars can date the photo based on the police squad parked in front:


And, when this photo was taken the building didn’t just house a fire station and police station – it had a branch of the library in the basement:

The fire hall still stands, and still serves as a fire hall. The police station portion of the building now houses the Gary-New Duluth Community Center.

Share your memories by posting a comment.

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.”


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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Duluth’s most flammable building?

This view from the 11th floor of the Medical Arts Building shows the extent of the damage to scaffolding on the Northwestern Bell building after a fire on Nov. 27, 1983. (Jack Rendulich / News Tribune)

This is a “best of the Attic” post – something I originally posted on this blog more than four years ago, but which many of you may not have seen yet.

In the early 1980s, the Northwestern Bell building in downtown Duluth was plagued by never-ending repairs that left it sheathed in scaffolding for years. And then, twice, that scaffolding burned in what were described as “spectacular” fires. The photo above is the aftermath of the first; here’s a photo of the smoke plume from the second:

Thick, black smoke rises from the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. in downtown Duluth on Wednesday after scaffolding on the building caught fire on Jan. 16, 1985. (Joey McLeister / News Tribune)

Read more about the fire in this previous post. And read about the construction of the building in this previous post.

The Northwestern Bell building became home to Qwest, and now CenturyLink, as companies merged and changed names. It seems to have mostly shed its flammable ways, though if I remember correctly a power transformer exploded under the sidewalk in front of the building a few years back.

So would these two big fires place this building among Duluth’s most flammable? Perhaps it would be competing with the Kozy Bar and Apartments. Or is there another, more fire-plagued structure in town?

Share your thoughts and memories by posting a comment.

Miller Hill Hardee’s destroyed by fire, 2001

July 8, 2001

Duluth firefighters battle a fire that destroyed the Hardee’s Restaurant near Miller Hill Mall on July 8, 2001. No one was injured in the fire, which a manager said started in an office. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)



By Elizabeth Gudrais, News Tribune, July 9, 2001

Now there’s one less place to get fast food in Duluth.

A fire destroyed the Hardee’s Restaurant near Miller Hill Mall Sunday afternoon, leaving 30 workers jobless.

Twenty-four firefighters spent more than two hours fighting the blaze with three high-powered ladder hoses, using about 250,000 gallons of water.

No one was injured in the fire. Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mattson called the restaurant a total loss.

Hardee’s general manager Melissa Moretto said she suspected the blaze was an electrical fire, though she wasn’t sure.

The fire began in an office in the back of the restaurant, which is at 1201 Miller Trunk Highway.

Moretto said electrical appliances started freezing up in the front of the store about 1 p.m., prompting her to go back to the circuit board and check the circuit breakers. When she did, “I heard them going pop-pop-pop,” she said.

That’s when Moretto looked into a nearby office and saw flames. The fire was too big to try to extinguish, she said, so she just called 911 and evacuated workers and customers.

Mike Schrage had come to Hardee’s for lunch after doing some Sunday morning shopping at Gander Mountain. He was enjoying a two-piece chicken dinner and reading the newspaper when he noticed the smell of smoke.

“Right about the time I thought, ‘That smells funny,’ they said, ‘Everybody out,’ ” he said.

Schrage, 34, of Cloquet, said customers and employees evacuated calmly. He and most of the other customers immediately moved their cars into other nearby parking lots so they wouldn’t be blocked in by fire trucks.

When the firetrucks arrived, what they found didn’t look good.

“When I got here, there was already yellow smoke billowing out of the attic,” Mattson said. “That means backdraft conditions are present.”

Firefighters arrived hoping to save the building, Mattson said, but soon saw that it wouldn’t be possible. “Once it went through the roof, we pretty much knew we were in trouble,” he said.

Upon arrival, firefighters entered Hardee’s and tried to put out the fire from inside. Soon after, the ceiling of the room where they were working collapsed.

The hole in the ceiling allowed the fire access to the space between the ceiling and the roof — an open corridor through which it could easily sweep, causing the rest of the ceiling to fall, along with heavy air conditioning units above the ceiling.

Because there was a risk of these units falling on firefighters, they were forced to switch from an offensive to a defensive approach and fight the fire from outside the building instead of inside.

The blaze at the Hardee’s Restaurant near the Miller Hill Mall required the efforts of two dozen firefighters and more than 200,000 gallons of water. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)

The fire drew curious onlookers, about 200 around 1:30 p.m., who lined the ridges above the restaurant’s parking lot, watching as orange flames and black smoke poured out of the structure.

“It’s terrible,” said Karen Nyberg.

“We lost our lunch spot,” said her husband, Denny.

When the Duluth couple received a call from their daughter on their cellphone, they drove over to see the spectacle.

The Nybergs, both 58, retired two years ago and have eaten at Hardee’s two or three times each week, usually after playing golf.

The irony of an electrical fire in a restaurant that uses vats of hot grease provoked some amusement.

“I think everybody probably thought it was grease, in a place like this, you know,” said Karen Nyberg, laughing.

Meanwhile, the employees who’d been on duty gathered at a picnic table in the back parking lot to watch their livelihood go up in flames.

“It’s going to be a long night of cleanup,” Moretto joked to her employees.

Hardee’s crew member Aaron Ronning watched the blaze in dismay, wondering what would come next for him. Ronning, 21, was about to be promoted to crew trainer.

Moretto said Hardee’s would help the employees find work, either at other Hardee’s franchises in the area or at other fast food restaurants.

“We’ll take care of them,” she said. “There are other restaurants. It’s no problem there.”

Property records indicate that the restaurant was built in 1978 and expanded in 1992.

The franchise is owned by North Central Food Systems Inc., a company that owns most Hardee’s restaurants in the region, and a total of 97 across the Upper Midwest. Based in Irvine, Calif., North Central also has offices in the Midwest.

Mattson had no official theory about the fire’s cause Sunday afternoon but said the Fire Department would be investigating the case.


Damage from the fire was estimated at $1 million. About a month later, investigators labeled it a case of arson. “We ruled out ignition sources throughout the store, like mechanical or electrical equipment, until we came up with the conclusion that there was no cause for the fire, other than human,” Officer Jim Christensen, Duluth Police Department arson investigator, told the News Tribune. From what I can see in the archives, no one was ever arrested in the case.

The restaurant was rebuilt and reopened about a year later, in June 2002. A few years later, it was demolished to make way for a new Walgreens store at the corner of Trinity Road, Central Entrance and Miller Trunk Highway.

Other Northland Hardee’s locations have closed in the past decade – on Arrowhead Road and on Grand Avenue in Duluth, and in Two Harbors, among other places. A Hardee’s on London Road in Duluth closed back in 1996. As far as I know, the only Hardee’s that remains open in the area is on Belknap Street in Superior.

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A look inside UMD’s Old Main, 1980

April 3, 1980

Old Main on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s lower campus, April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Weathered Old Main silent, almost empty

By Doug Smith, News-Tribune

The long, dark halls of UMD’s Old Main are mostly silent these days.

Footsteps echo down the high-ceilinged hallways only occasionally. Most of the classrooms are empty.

The four-story brick and stone building, built in 1901, sits solemnly in disrepair, a victim of old age. The building, the oldest at UMD, is one of four on the lower campus on Fifth Street.

Outside, its once-handsome brick face and stonework are crumbling. Wooden snow fences keep students back a safe distance in case something falls off the building.

Inside, plaster from crumbling ceilings lies on classroom floors.

“It’s going to pieces,” said Ernie Anderson, UMD maintenance and operations supervisor.

Few Old Main classrooms are in use. This is one that has fallen victim to the ravages of time. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


Anderson, 60, has coddled the building for 33 years – since it became part of the university system.

“It’s where I started,” he said Wednesday, peering down an empty hall.

Old Main and the other buildings of UMD’s lower campus once housed Duluth State College, Duluth State Teachers College and the Duluth Normal School. Ernie remembers the exact day the campus became UMD: July 1, 1947.

Now Old Main contains some federal and county offices as well as overflow university offices. Some slightly remodeled classrooms also are used, Ernie said.

Although in disrepair, Old Main retains some of its pride. Oak wainscoting, as shiny and solid as when students traipsed by decades ago, still graces hallway walls. There is an aura of dignity about it all.

Halls in UMD’s Old Main no longer see the traffic they did during most of the building’s history. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


But there is major work to be done if Old Main is to live again.

“The windows are all in bad shape,” Ernie said, unlocking a door to one room. “The wind blow right through. The roof is leaking and the brick needs repair.”

Washrooms and radiators might need replacing. Said Ernie, “The money involved to fix it up would be fierce.”

Because of a pollution problem with the existing heating plant, the university must first decide if it will continue to use the lower campus. The other three lower campus buildings, the Research Laboratory building, Torrance Hall and Washburn Hall, are used more extensively than Old Main.

“What are you going to do with (Old Main)?” Ernie asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a big decision.”

Ernie said he isn’t sentimentally attached to Old Main, although hundreds of former students may be. “I’ve got a lot of other buildings to worry about,” he said.

But strolling around the building Wednesday, Ernie couldn’t help but admire it.

“It’s a pretty building,” he said.

Sunlight reflects off an upper window at UMD’s Old Main in April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD maintenance and operations supervisor Ernie Anderson in front of the coal-fired furnaces at Old Main in April 1980. (Photos by Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)


UMD closed and boarded up Old Main in September 1985, and officials announced their intent to tear it down. Within a few months, however, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the next few years various deals and discussions about the building made the news, interspersed with timelines for its demolition.

Old Main in January 1989. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

In 1989 there were talks about swapping Old Main with the Duluth school district for the Chester Park Elementary School building adjacent to the upper campus; the school district intended to raze Old Main and build a new elementary school on the site.

Other ideas called for keeping the building, and converting it into senior housing or a community college.

In November 1992, Duluth’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a plan to develop Old Main into a 49-unit apartment building, with a 100-car, two-level parking ramp built into the hillside behind Old Main. Developer George Hoene had an option to purchase Old Main and adjacent Torrance Hall from UMD for $1.

Then, three months later, on Feb. 23, 1993, Old Main went up in flames….

Developer George Hoene looks in a rear window of the gutted shell of Old Main on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1993. He had planned to convert the building into apartments. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Redevelopment plan goes up in smoke

By Anne Bretts, News-Tribune

A friend with a police scanner called developer George Hoene minutes after the first fire alarm came in at 12:32 a.m. Tuesday.

Hoene could see the flames as he dashed the few blocks from his home to the scene. He stayed most of the night, one of more than 100 onlookers who watched helplessly as fire raged through Old Main, the landmark that formed the heart of the former University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

As the others saw the past go up in smoke, the 31-year-old developer saw the future disappear in the flames.

“God, we were so close,” he said later Tuesday, returning to the site to see what was left of the massive brick building at 23rd Avenue East and Fifth Street.

As he walked around the charred brick skeleton, Hoene explained how he was about a week away from a formal ceremony launching a $3 million effort to turn the abandoned college classrooms into 45 apartments.

Concentrating on the massive walls that were still standing and ignoring the twisted wreckage inside them, he talked about the detail in the stonework, now blackened by smoke and dripping with ice. …

Tuesday’s fire left the interior of Old Main gutted, and the exterior walls charred. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Hoene said he first talked with university officials about renovating Old Main in 1988, but the idea was put on hold while UMD unsuccessfully tried to sell the building for a public elementary school and later a community college.

By the time the university was ready to move ahead, the financing had been stalled by the recession, Hoene said. Three months ago Tuesday, Hoene toured Old Main once again and decided the timing was right.

“Interest rates were down,” he said. “This was the year to do it.”

On Tuesday, Hoene called the prospects for continuing the renovation very unlikely. …

Hoene agrees with fire department officials in suspecting arson as the cause of the fire, which they believe started in the west end of the building at least an hour before it was reported.

“It was seriously burning when we got here,” assistant Fire Chief Donald Kivisto said Tuesday.

“It was frightening,” said Paul Osterlund, a neighbor who watched as the inferno spewed ashes and burning debris over rooftops and cars for several blocks. Osterlund credited the snow cover with keeping the airborne debris from touching off any more fires.

The 31 firefighters, five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks and two rescue units did save three other university buildings on the 7.5-acre campus, including one just 30 feet from the west end of Old Main. Two of the buildings are used for research facilities, while Torrance Hall, a former dormitory, is closed. …


Trying to decide the fate of fire-ravaged Old Main on Feb. 26, 1993, are Duluth Mayor Gary Doty (far right) and UMD Vice Chairman for Finance and Operations Greg Fox (facing camera). They were part of a group that toured the exterior of the building to decide if anything was salvageable or worth saving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

After a few days’ delay, during which city officials tried to find a developer who would make use of Old Main’s still-standing walls, the structure was razed with the exception of several arches, which were preserved and reinforced – and which still stand on the site, which was turned over to the city to become a park.

Three men were arrested and pleaded guilty to setting the fire.

Demolition crews started at the rear of Old Main on March 1, 1993. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


A bulldozer operator removes debris from the front of three main arches that remain standing at the site of Old Main on March 3, 1993.

For more about Old Main, the University of Minnesota Duluth has information about the building here. Also, there was a discussion about Old Main’s later years – and some unauthorized expeditions inside the then-abandoned building – a few months back on Perfect Duluth Day.

Share your memories of Old Main by posting a comment.

Duluth Fire Dept. gets a new home, 1965

June 1965

The old and the new in Duluth firehalls stand across First Street from each other at Sixth Avenue West. At right is the new structure featuring fire-engine red glazed bricks on its facade. On the left is the old Fire Department headquarters, which will be razed as part of the Gateway Urban Renewal project to make way for a new main post office. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

A little more than 45 years ago, the Duluth Fire Department moved into a new headquarters building – the same one they occupy today. The move took place in late November 1965. It was a short trip – the old headquarters building, as you can see in the photo above, was just across First Street. It dated back to 1894, and the days of horse-drawn firefighting equipment.

Here are a couple more shots of the old building:

Old Duluth Fire Department headquarters, Oct. 7, 1965. (News-Tribune file photo)


Larry Bushey eases the Duluth Fire Department’s rescue squad from the headquarters building in April 1965. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Here’s a photo of the new (current) headquarters building while nearing completion in October 1965:

The building was paid for with a $600,000 bond issue, and was built to include communications facilities for both the police and fire departments; they formerly were housed out on Park Point.

There were some glitches with the new building. Shortly before opening, fire department officials raised concerns about the floor of the garage – namely, cracks that appeared before the building was officially opened, and low spots in the floor that collected water instead of draining it away, as seen here:

Puddles of water in low spots on the floor of Duluth’s new fire department headquarters are observed by fireman Gerald Pechacek in early November 1965. The water did not drain off after the floor was hosed down. (News-Tribune file photo)

The contractor, United General Constructors, pledged to fix the floor after a meeting with city officials.


You may have noticed in the caption for the first photo that the site of the old fire headquarters, back when it was slated for demolition in late 1965, was slated to become Duluth’s new main post office. Another article referred to a “proposed $3 million Post Office building.”

Obviously, that new main post office never was built at that location; the site of the former DFD headquarters is a parking lot. I assume there must have been a change along the way that resulted in the main post office being built at its present site in the West End – Lincoln Park neighborhood.

If you have any information about that, or any stories about the old fire department headquarters, please post a comment.

Kolar Buick Toyota fire, 1984

July 18, 1984


Heavy smoke wafts from the Kolar Buick Toyota dealership in Duluth in the early stages of a fire that later raged out of control, consuming the building and its contents. Early reports estimate 35 to 40 cars were destroyed. (John Rott / News Tribune)

Fire ravaged the Kolar Buick Toyota dealership on the night of July 18, 1984, in Duluth.

The building, which resides at 1402 E. Superior St., was spared, and the business continued to operate its Duluth dealership from that location until 1998, when the business moved to its current spot — which opened in 1997 — in Hermantown.

The building at became home to the Duluth Detoxification Center on Aug. 20, 2001.

From a Sept. 27, 1998, News Tribune story:

Kolar leaving Superior Street auto dealer to move business to its Hermantown location

By Kate Warkentin Bramson
News Tribune staff writer

In what Kolar Auto World’s co-owner Peter Kolar calls "strictly a demographic decision," the Duluth car dealership will move from its East Superior Street location to Hermantown.

The Nov. 1 relocation is in line with what major automobile manufacturers want their dealerships nationwide to do — locate in the main retail hub areas of their communities. And locally, Kolar joins the ranks of several auto dealerships that have opened or relocated in recent years along the Miller Hill corridor.

A regional economic development specialist says the car dealership’s move is indicative of the pressures Detroit auto manufacturers are putting on their dealers.

"Detroit is saying, ‘We want high visibility,’ " said Jim Wrobleski, the northeast regional representative to the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development.


Flames rage above the showroom on the Superior Street side of Kolar Buick as part of the roof has collapsed on a car. (Jack Rendulich / News Tribune)



Duluth firefighters Dave Ostazeski (left) and Ernie Butler take a break from fighting the blaze. (Jack Rendulich / News Tribune)



Kolar Buick Toyota salesman Tom Bruce (left) walks between a new and charred Toyota van at the new-car lot by the burned-out building Thursday, July 19, 1984. (Jon Rott / News Tribune)

The new van on the left is almost exactly like the one my parents purchased in early 1985 from that dealership. I remember going with them to pick it out. Former UMD hockey great Keith "Huffer" Christiansen sold it to us — one of my oldest memories. I was 3.