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October 8, 1907: The first look at the “Burnham Plan” for Duluth’s Civic Center

On this day in Duluth in 1907, officials got their first look at plans by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham—famous for his design of the “White City” at the 1893 World’s Exhibition in Chicago—for a “civic center” grouping of municipal buildings in Duluth. They called for grouping the courthouse with new city and federal buildings and placing them on a new site along Fifth Avenue West between First and Second Streets. The courthouse would span the avenue, taking up a half block on either side of it. A Federal Building would eventually stand south and west of the courthouse, and the old Federal Building along 5th Avenue West between First and Second Street would be used as City Hall until a larger facility was needed, and that building would stand east and south of the courthouse. All of the new buildings, Burnham declared, would be designed in the classical style, “with the best tradition of ancient Greece and Rome.” Most of Duluth loved the idea. The Duluth News Tribune called the plan “a magnificent gift,” and that not grouping city, county, and federal buildings together would be “the height of folly.” On October 17 the plan was accepted, but with some changes. The 1923 St. Louis County Jail, a later addition to the plan (its site was selected by Burnham) was built in 1923, Duluth City Hall in 1928, and the Federal Building in 1929.

This postcard was made from Daniel Burnham’s final plan for the Duluth Civic Center in 1909, although the final building wouldn’t be constructed until 1929. (Image: Zenith City Press)nham