Fairmount Elementary School

Fairmount Elementary School ca. 1905, photographer unknown. [Image: Herb Dillon]

6715 Redruth Street | Architect: William Hunt | Built: 1910 | Extant

Fairmount Elementary was built in 1910 to serve the West Duluth neighborhood of the same name that surrounded it, replacing a two-story, four-room wooden building constructed in 1890. A sketch of the earlier building that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune was captioned “Fairmont Avenue School.” “Avenue” was dropped from the school’s name long before Fairmount Avenue became Sixty-Sixth Avenue West in 1894, but local newspapers—and city officials—continued to misspell Fairmount as “Fairmont,” an error perpetuated to this day. An 1894 addition doubled the school’s size, but the neighborhood kept growing and was instrumental in the 1901 establishment of Fairmount Park along Kingsbury Creek, the community’s western border: the Fairmount School Alumni Association insisted the park should be named for the school.

In April 1908 a News Tribune editorial argued for the building’s replacement, calling the overcrowded school “nothing more than a fire trap.” The following October the school board declared the building safe; the next September it burned to the ground. The school board immediately decided to build a new school on the same site, and proposed that it be named for a prominent early resident, angering the Fairmount School alumni. The group rallied the neighborhood, which ultimately convinced the school board to retain the name Fairmount—despite the News Tribune’s repeated use of “Fairmont” while reporting on the issue.

As Duluth’s population continued to grow, the designs of its new schools became more practical. The school board asked
architect William Hunt to design a twelve-room building “of the modern type” similar to the 1909 Salter Elementary on London Road designed by German & Lignell—a rectangular, flat-roofed two-story Neo-Gothic/English Revival structure whose limited ornamentation includes arched doorways trimmed with stone, decorative brickwork along the attic level, and a pair of pediments resembling Flemish gables.

Hunt’s plans called for an equally simple two-story building faced in brick and trimmed in stone with a touch more character. It features five bays along its Redruth Street façade. The central bay contains rows of windows while the outer bays originally had none, their walls blank except for ornamental brickwork forming a large square. The two remaining bays feature wide doorways surrounded by arches in turn topped with stone-capped castellations. The protruding entry bays are capped by false Flemish gables, and a frieze below each gable carries the building’s name, “FAIRMOUNT SCHOOL,” literally carved in stone.

The building originally held ten classrooms and an auditorium, and the school board assured local residents it was “as fireproof as it is possible to make a school building.” The classrooms contained an innovation: cloak rooms—hidden behind chalkboards which doubled as the cloak-room doors—with a ventilation system to dry wet clothes. The school opened in 1910 under the direction of principal Frances Malthaner and served the West Duluth neighborhood until 1977. Duluth’s Johnson-Wilson Building Company purchased the building in 1980 and converted it into an affordable housing facility. They renamed the building Fairmont [sic] Apartments.