Amanda & Ole O. Kolstad

The street sign for Duluth’s Kolstead Avenue, named for Amanda and Ole O. Kolstad. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Ole O. and Amanda Kolstad played prominent roles in Woodland real estate and later repurposed many of Duluth’s old mansions. Ole was born in Norway in 1878 and started his working life in Duluth in 1900 as a conductor for the Duluth Street Railway Company on the Woodland line. In 1906 he purchased property in Woodland, and in 1909 the first notice appeared in the Duluth News Tribune advertising a four-room house for rent in Woodland by O. O. Kolstad, who at that time was working as a clerk for the Sundby Tea Company. He also clerked for Bridgeman-Russel for a year, was sometimes listed as a farmer in directories, and in 1912 returned to his job as a streetcar conductor.

By 1918, Kolstad operated a real estate office out of a building between Grew’s Grocery and the hardware store on Austin Street and Woodland Avenue in Woodland Park. In 1921, he invented an innovative locking mailbox designed for use in apartment buildings. If you’ve ever lived in an apartment, you’ve probably seen his handiwork: his mailbox allows the postal worker to use one key to unlock and fold down the entire front panel, rather than one box at a time, making for a much more efficient delivery.

Just before the Depression, Kolstad sold his share of the mailbox business and the couple bought the first of many large old houses they would convert into multi-unit housing. This enterprise had its ups and downs due to the obviously troubled economy, but the pair eventually made good, transforming many grand old mansions into fashionable apartments.

Amanda acted as both the interior designer and primary director of all renovations. She was known to say, “When I walk into an old house, I can see just what needs to be done.”

Eventually, the pair built a “luxury motel” on London Road called the Lakeaire Motel, located where The Edge Water Park and Hotel now stands. Amanda drew up the plans herself before turning them over to the architect. Ole died in 1955, leaving his widow to run the motel on her own. Amanda died in Duluth nearly 20 years later at the age of 88.

Before the 1960s and the Women’s Liberation movement, it was very difficult for the female half of a couple to gain recognition outside of the newspaper’s society pages. Even your first name was invisible: Ethel Colman was known as Mrs. C. Francis Colman, and Amanda Kolstad as Mrs. Ole O. Kolstad, until the days they died. Their obituaries did not make it into local clippings or genealogy files at the Duluth Public Library.

Story by Heidi Bakk-Hansen. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Heidi Bakk-Hansen.