Duluth Amphitheater

The Duluth Amphitheater’s southern façade along London Road, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Dale Johnson]

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

When the Duluth Hornets first formed in 1920 to play in the United States Amateur Hockey Association, they held their games in the popular Duluth Curling Club. The team went professional in 1924, the same year its new home rink, the Amphitheater, was built between Superior Street and London Road along Twelfth Avenue East, not far from the Curling Club. The building was financed by Gordon Hegardt, Marshall Gebert, and William Grant, described by the Duluth News Tribune as “men with connections with local banking and retail institutions” who enjoyed the support of “a group of businessmen,” including the Chamber of Commerce. The trio, officials of the Duluth Hockey Club, thought of the building more as an auditorium than a hockey rink and were confident that the facility could work in tandem with the planned Hotel Duluth to draw large conventions to the Zenith City.

Designed by architect Frederick German, the brick-and-stone vernacular building measured 150 by 300 feet. Its
one-story-tall entrance vestibule, which ran the length of the building along London Road, included pediment-capped entries at the eastern and western ends and nine tall Roman-arch windows in between. The main building, supported with tower buttresses, was two stories tall, but its arched roof raised the building another story higher. Inside, the bleachers surrounding the rink could hold five thousand spectators. The News Tribune pointed out that “other ice palaces…have been built more elaborately, but none will compare” with the Duluth facility, which it called “the most modern artificial ice skating rink in the world.” Unlike the Curling Club, which relied on cold weather to make ice, the sheet at the Amphitheater was made with “refrigeration and ammonia machines.”

The facility was used mainly by the Hornets and the Duluth Amatuer Hockey Association. The Hornets dissolved in 1934. Two years later the Duluth Zephyrs organized and joined the International Amateur Hockey League—and were crowned champions of its inaugural season. Everything came crashing down for the Zephyrs on February 12, 1939. Literally. That day the Amphitheater hosted an exhibition game between Duluth policemen and firefighters from Virginia, Minnesota, before a crowd of three thousand, including many children. During intermission loud cracks were heard throughout the building, and the roof began to sag. Spectators panicked. Police and firefighters 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.

Officials determined that the building’s roof trusses were too weak to bear the extra weight of snow that had piled atop the structure. The Zephyrs 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 Amphitheater.