Irving Elementary

Irving Elementary School photographed ca. 1915 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

101 North 56th Avenue West | Palmer, Hall & Hunt, Architects | Built: 1895 | Closed: 1982

As the Village of West Duluth grew in the early 1890s, Oneota and Longfellow schools became crowded. A small wooden school named for author Washington Irving was erected in 1891, but it did little to take the pressure off its neighboring institutes. In 1894, ground was broken for a new Irving school, and when it opened the following year the News Tribune called it “the pride and joy of West Duluth.”

The building was one of the first designed by Palmer, Hall & Hunt after draftsman William Hunt made partner. The two-story, T-shaped Renaissance Revival building has a raised basement/foundation of rough-hewn Lake Superior brownstone while the rest of the building is faced with cream-colored pressed brick trimmed with buff-colored sandstone. Its main, southern façade features five distinct bays, with the outer bays protruding like wings. Its main entrance is marked by three large Roman arches. Directly above the main entrance, circular bull’s-eye windows rest above four Roman-arch windows along the second floor. They are in turn flanked by two more arched windows whose surrounding brickwork emulates rusticated panels. Low, intersecting pitched roofs cap the building.

The first floor originally held ten classrooms, while the second floor contained eight classrooms, a library, a principal’s office, and an assembly hall featuring a stage and seating for three hundred. It was the first Duluth elementary school to include an assembly hall, establishing a model for schools throughout Minnesota. The principal’s office was outfitted with a fire alarm that sounded in each room. The attic was called a “foul-air chamber” and worked as part of the building’s ventilation system. The building was outfitted with oak woodwork, marble drinking fountains, and toilets that flushed “automatically.” Local newspapers praised the building as the “best looking and mostly completely arranged school building in the state.”

In 1904 beloved Irving principal Laura Kennedy died unexpectedly. The next year a commemorative stained-glass window was installed near the school’s entrance to celebrate her life of “self-denial and kindly sympathy to all about her.” Paid for by teachers, students, and alumnae and made by Duluth’s St. Germain Glass, the four-by-twelve-foot window is a reproduction of Abbott Thayer’s Caritas, a painting of a winged woman whose outstretched arms protectively hover over two naked children, a girl and a boy. The Duluth News Tribune said it represented “the highest type of American womanhood.”

Irving served as an elementary school until 1905, when the school’s focus turned to vocational training and it was referred to as Irving High School or West Duluth High School. Its mission shifted again in 1914, when it became a junior high school, and in 1926 it returned to serving elementary students. Irving Elementary closed in 1982, and ten years later it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The following year several property companies joined forces, purchasing the building and converting it into forty-four apartments.


Irving Elementary School. (Image: Zenith City Press)