Lakeside/Lester Park & Liquor

Unfortunately this grainy photograph of Myrtle Marshall, c. 1963, is the only image of her we could find to share with readers. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

In 1892, Duluth attempted to annex the city of Lakeside, including Lester Park, which had become another “streetcar suburb,” but the city would have to make the village a promise. When Lakeside became a city its charter prohibited the sale or manufacture of alcohol within its borders. So when Lakeside joined Duluth, the city had to make a promise to the village, and it did so with this piece of state legislation:

“The common council of the city of Duluth is hereby prohibited from ever granting any license to sell or dispose of any wines, spirituous or malt liquors within the limits of the territory hereby constituted as the city of Lakeside, after the same shall have been annexed to the said city of Duluth in accordance with the provisions of this act.”

The Lakeside then became two Duluth neighborhoods: Lakeside and Lester Park. Throughout all of the changes to Duluth’s liquor laws, no one suggested allowing liquor in either neighborhood. In September 1973, the city council finally completed the redistricting efforts that began in 1960 by passing an ordinance that opened all of Duluth’s commercial districts to liquor sales, “Except,” as the Duluth News Tribune reported, “for the statutory sacred cows of the Lakeside and UMD areas.”

State laws governed both the UMD district—an area within a one-mile radius of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Kirby Student Center where liquor sales were banned—and the communities of Lakeside and Lester Park, whose 1893 annexation agreement complied with an 1891 state law prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol within its borders  The UMD matter was taken up by Senator George Perpich, who attached a provision to lift the ban surrounding the campus to a bill authorizing the city of Virginia to grant a liquor license to a motel. It passed on March 28, 1974.

Lakeside would be another matter entirely. In 1960, Duluth City attorney Harry Weinberg had upheld 3.2 liquor licenses in the community’s grocery stores and at Lester Park Golf Course, citing the difference between intoxicating and non-intoxicating malt liquors and stating that the 1891 law banning the sale and manufacture of liquor in the community “undoubtedly meant intoxicating liquors.” Weinberg also described the geographic boundaries of Lakeside/Lester Park as between 40th and 75th Avenue East from the lake shore to one mile inland.

Prior to the September 1973 city council decision to open all commercial districts, Duluthians within the community’s boundaries made certain that city council members knew of their opposition. Roughly 60 Lakeside and Lester Park residents attended a city council meeting in late August, and nine of them spoke before the council to express their belief that their community should remain dry. They were led by Myrtle Marshall, a tireless booster of both Lakeside and greater Duluth. Duluth’s 1963 Woman of the Year, Marshall and her husband Lyman opened Lakeside’s Marshall Hardware in 1939, and it remains a family-run business to this day.

The Duluth News Tribune wrote that Marshall—who was well-known by Duluthians throughout the city for her civic leadership—summed up the beliefs of her fellow Lakesiders when she called the 1893 annexation agreement that made Lakeside a Duluth neighborhood a “sacred trust which should not be violated.” Marshall also claimed that every one of Lakeside’s 16,000 residents “have upheld the annexation agreement by paying taxes to the city of Duluth, serving as good community citizens, and participating in the development of the city.”

Marshall’s efforts and those of her fellow Lakesiders were enough to convince city councilor John Sheedy to add a provision that the council would only request the law’s repeal if a majority of residents of Lakeside and Lester Park voted for the repeal in a referendum election the following November. The council voted 5–2 (two councilors were absent) in favor of Sheedy’s referendum addition, and then passed a resolution for the limited referendum on a 6–1 vote. Marshall and her compatriots had not yet won their fight, but they had put control of the issue in their own hands. All they needed was a majority vote among their neighbors to keep the 1891 law in place.

Duluth Mayor Ben Boo’s official mayoral portrait. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Instead, Mayor Ben Boo—who considered himself a friend of Marshall’s—vetoed the city council’s resolution. Boo explained that he vetoed the resolution not because he disagreed with the views of the Lakeside/Lester Park opposition, but rather out of a need for more legal research on the issue and—citing the results of the citywide 1967 vote overwhelmingly against liquor redistricting by precinct vote—his belief that “precinct voting on liquor issues is ‘contrary to the wishes of the majority’ of city residents.”

But while Lakesiders lost their opportunity to vote on the issue, those opposed to liquor sales ultimately won, as the Duluth Herald reported, “The council never pursued the issue after Boo’s veto.” If passed, the resolution would have directed Duluth’s 1974 legislative delegation, including Duluth’s Democratic representatives Sam Solon and Ralph Doty, to introduce a bill to change the 1891 law. The law, it seemed, would remain in place.

But even without a referendum vote or a city council resolution, the Duluth delegation went ahead and made an attempt to repeal the law on its own. During the 1974 Minnesota Legislative Session, Solon sat on a subcommittee of the Labor and Commerce Committee, which had introduced a bill that would give Minneapolis the “authority to disregard any charter or city ordinance in issuing liquor licenses in commercial and industrial zones.” Solon and his fellow committee members amended the measure to include St. Paul and Duluth.

Sam Solon. (Image: Minnesota Historical Society)

Solon argued that “Fragmentation of [city regulation of liquor laws] creates artificially inflated prices for liquor licenses and treats people of various parts of the city differently. Everyone should be treated by the same local ordinance.”

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Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.