Duluth Amphitheater

The Duluth Amphitheater. Two of its walls are now part of the Plaza shopping complex between 12th and 13th Avenues East at Superior Street. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

1202–1206 East Superior Street | Architect: Frederick German | Built: 1924 | Lost: 1939

The Duluth Hornets first formed in 1920 to play in the United States Amateur Hockey Association. The team went professional in 1924, the same year the Amphitheater at 1202–1206 East Superior Street was built as the team’s arena. Designed by Frederick C. German, the brick-and-stone building measured 150 by 300 feet and held 5,000 spectators. The facility was used mainly by the Duluth Amateur Hockey Club. The Hornets dissolved in 1934. Two years later the Duluth Zephyrs formed and became the first team to join the International Amateur Hockey League. The Zephyrs won the league’s inaugural season.

On February 12, 1939, the Amphitheater hosted a hockey game between Duluth policemen and Virginia firemen. A crowd of 3,000 gathered to watch, including many children invited as special guests: local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, school police patrol members, and residents of children’s homes. During intermission loud cracks were heard throughout the arena, and the roof began to sag. Spectators panicked. Police and firefighters in attendance helped get people out of the building as large sections of the roof began collapsing. Organist Leland McEwan continued to play throughout the evacuation in an attempt to calm the crowd. Everyone got out safely minutes before the entire roof crashed to the ice. At first it was thought that heavy snow alone caused the collapse, but it was later determined that the building’s design included roof trusses too weak to bear the extra weight of snow. When the roof collapsed in 1939, so did the Zephyrs; they folded the same year. The Amphitheater was damaged beyond repair and left vacant until it was partially demolished in 1941. The Plaza Shopping Center was built on the location in 1951; two of its walls are part of the old Amphitheater.