Duluth Normal School

Duluth Normal School ca. 1948, photographer unknown. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

2205 East 5th Street | Old Main | Architects: Palmer, Hall & Hunt | Built: 1898 | Lost: 1993

The Minnesota State Legislature authorized the creation of the Duluth State Normal School—essentially a two-year teachers college—in 1895, but construction on a school building didn’t begin until 1898 and was delayed when a 1901 fire gutted the unfinished building. Built on sixty-five acres donated by the city, the school finally opened in September 1902 with ninety-one students and ten faculty members lead by president Eugene Bohannon. In 1905 it became the Duluth Normal School.

Architects Palmer, Hall & Hunt modeled the facility’s design after their 1895 Irving Elementary School. Faced with orange brick with terr-cotta trim, the three-story Normal School building’s style is described by its National Register of Historic Places nomination as a “Beaux Arts interpretation of the Renaissance Revival style.” Its main entrance included three semicircular keystoned arches, Doric pilasters, and a balustrade. The third story featured Roman-arch windows set with stone quoins while the attic level included cut stone and patterned brick along with a mix of circular and rectangular windows and a bracketed cornice supporting a low hipped roof clad in red tile. This central building housed offices, a library, laboratories, classrooms, an auditorium, and a gymnasium.

William Hunt was called upon to design two wings to increase the building’s capacity in 1909 and 1915. Hunt’s additions complemented the building’s original design, but he used Corinthian pilasters rather than Doric. In 1926 another wing housing a new auditorium and library was added to the rear of the building.

The Normal School became the Duluth State Teachers College in 1921 and, in 1947, the University of Minnesota Duluth. The first building for a new “upper campus” was constructed in 1948, and in the 1950s most classes were moved to the new campus. The original central building,which had become known as “Old Main,” was used for offices and as the university’s theater until the Marshall Performing Arts Center was constructed in 1974. In 1985 the building closed and vacated as it awaited renovation into apartments. On February 23, 1993, vandals broke into Old Main and set the building on fire, completely gutting the landmark. Three segments of the building containing its large Roman-arch entryways were bolstered in place after the school was demolished. Those remnants of Old Main are now part of Old Main Park.