January 22, 1943: Fire guts the Duluth Athletic Club

On this day in Duluth in 1943, fire gutted the Duluth Athletic Club at 402 West First Street. The six-alarm fire was reported just before midnight, and fire-fighting efforts were hampered by winds and thick smoke, acrid enough that several of the 160 responding firefighters collapsed under its affects. Unable to reach the fire from street levels, firefighters climbed atop the building and began chopping through the roof in order to get to the flames. The Athletic Club was built in 1908 as the Duluth Commercial Club, a predecessor of today’s Chamber of Commerce. It became the Athletic Club in the early 1940s, offering members workout facilities, courts for handball and other sports, and even a restaurant. After the fire, the building was reconstructed, its brick façade covered with concrete and aluminum. In 1976 the building became home to the Chinese Lantern restaurant and Brass Phoenix nightclub. Fifty-one years after the fire, on January 16, 1994, the building was once again gutted by flames. Since then several other restaurants have opened and closed in the building’s lower floors, including one that revived the name of the Duluth Athletic Club.

Firefighters Eldon Westrom, Captain C. A. Borgeson, and Jack Cosgriff coated with ice at Duluth’s January 23, 1943, Athletic Club Fire. (Image: Duluth Public Library)