Duluth Auditorium

The Union Rink, later known as the Duluth Auditorium, ca. 1911, photographer unknown. [Image: Herb Dillon]

302 East First Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1896 | Lost: 1979

The Union Rink Company was operating a curling and ice-skating facility at the southwest corner of Sutphin Street and South Lake Avenue in 1895 when the Duluth Curling Club commissioned it to build them a curling facility at the northwest coner of Third Avenue East and First Street. By the time the rink was completed in 1896, however, a contract disagreement had forced the curlers to find another place to play. The building, a two-and-a-half-story wooden structure with five curling rinks on the first floor and an open ice-skating rink on the second, opened in 1896 as the Union Rink. More than 350 enjoyed the facility’s first floor during an a unofficial opening on November 30, 1896. After manager Worth Preston unsuccessfully tried to organize a curling league, the first-floor rinks were reconfigured for ice polo—better known today as hockey. During warmer months, Preston opened both floors for roller skating.

The rink closed in 1900 and thereafter the building became the home of the Jacob Hammel Company, dealers of horses, carriages, and wagons. The business was managed by Hammel’s son, Louis, who took over the company several years later. In 1910, with automobiles beginning to displace horses, Louis decided to move his operations into the basement and remodel the upper floors, creating both a roller rink and an auditorium with seating for 2,500 for “dancing, indoor baseball, wrestling matches, and the holding of conventions.” He would call it the Duluth Auditorium and hired architect Frank Young to renovate the vernacular building, facing it with Princeton sand mold brick and adding adornments including large scalloped pediments resembling false Flemish gables and decorative arches above the second-floor windows.

The auditorium closed in 1919, after which the building became home to automobile repair shops beginning with the Auditorium Garage in 1920 and later the Brooks Garage, Moses Golberg Garage, and Duluth Garage. By 1935 it had become the home of the Duluth Car Exchange, an automobile dealership, and later Monson Motor Sales. Efforts were made to revive it as an entertainment facility in the 1940s, when it operated as All Sports Arena, and in the early 1950s, when it was home to the Duluth Rollerdome before becoming the Farm & Home Store. The building sat vacant for some years until 1965, when the Hemlock Garage moved in. In 1979 Krenzen’s Cadillac-Pontiac-Honda purchased the
building for storage, renting a portion of it to future Duluth mayor John Fedo for his car refurbishing business. At one p.m. on March 6, 1979—exactly three hours after Fedo announced he was going to run for mayor—the auditorium’s roof collapsed under heavy snows. Several cars were crushed, and the building was so badly damaged it had to be demolished. A parking ramp now occupies its location.