June 4, 1948: Fire destroys Rudolph’s Furniture, 47 other businesses affected

On this day in Duluth in 1948, fire of an unknown origin destroyed Rudolph’s Furniture store at 302–308 West First Street. According to Duluth Fire Department historian Jarry Keppers, the fire started in the basement of the four-story building and soon every available Duluth firefighter was called to the scene, assisted with more apparatus supplied by the Superior and Proctor fire departments. After dumping 2.5 million gallons of water on the building, it was a total loss and did considerable damage to  adjacent buildings, including Elks’s Hall, the Center Building, the 1894 Duluth Board of Trade Building, and the Wolvin Building, known today as the Missabe Building, which lost 216 panes of glass that exploded under the intense heat. Nearly 50 businesses were affected by the blaze, including Daugherty’s Hardware Company, Commercial Electric Co., Arrowhead Bowling Alleys, Ground Gripper Shoe Store, I. Cohen Tailor Shop, and Romaine’s Photo Shop. Six cars were also destroyed by flames, heat, and falling debris, yet only three people, including one firefighter, were injured, and not seriously. Losses were estimated at $1.7 million, over $17 million in today’s dollars. The furniture store was a total loss, and the Board of Trade’s losses were estimated at several hundred thousand dollars and its ornate cornice had to be removed following the blaze. Duluth’s Y.M.C.A. now stands on the site of the Rudolph’s furniture store.

Firefighters battling the Rudolphs Furniture store fire of June 4, 1948. (Image: Zenith City Press)