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Old Duluth Central High School contains history, memories

By CORY CLAESON
DCN Correspondent

RELATED CONTENT: A look back in time with old Central High

The old Duluth Central High School is considered a magnificent building. The school remains a prominent part of Duluth because of its unique design and architecture. But that is not the only reason the building is significant. The pleasant memories students have made over the years have contributed to the school's history.

The building, now known as Historic Old Central High School, stands above most of the city with its burgundy walls and clock tower. The school is distinguishable because it takes up an entire city block on the corner of Lake Avenue and Second Street. The tower stands some 230 feet in the air, according to Cities Architecture.

“The clock is the most unique part of the school and the structure is [historic] looking,? said Mary Cameron, a 1969 Duluth Central grad and current school board member.

The building, although well maintained, has some blemishes that may be visible to the average person. Throughout the inside and outside part of the tower you may find writings and signatures of the last graduates to attend the school. The tower itself was supposed to last 200-300 years, but you may spot on-going repair here and there.

While the blemishes may be minor nowadays, there was a concern back in the late '60s that the building would not hold up and therefore, the district decided to build a new Duluth Central.

“I would have never supported the new building and preferred they renovated the old building,? said Cameron.

The last class of the old high school was the class of 1971. After students moved out of the old and into the new, the debate started on what the school district should do with the empty building. Several ideas bounced around, but four stuck as main candidates: an administration building, a tourist showpiece, a St. Louis county welfare and social services department or a luxury apartment building, according to a 1971 Duluth News Tribune article.

“I loved it, I was very sad to see it go as a high school,? said Cameron.

Ultimately, the school district chose to use the high school as an administration building, but what would the school look like if they used it as a tourist center?

The tourist showpiece would have been very different in appearance from the structure that is still standing today. The main entrance would have been completely remodeled into a tourist information center and contained souvenirs for visitors. The parts of the building outside the tower would have been turned into plaza areas and possibly demolished. The only main piece of the school that would have remained intact would be the clock tower, which the Duluth Herald referred to as the “Big Ben? of Duluth, but even that would be modified to support an elevator that would bring people to the top. The top of the tower has a view of the Lake Superior shores.

It is hard to imagine the school being just a tower, but many people never wanted the school to be demolished. With the school board setting aside $85,000 to take out the school, people stood up and fought against the demolition. The building was saved so generations of Duluthians can have something to look back in the past at, according to the St. Louis County Historical Society.

The school board finally decided to make the school an administration building for the school district. Since the building was so old, the renovations were expensive and the price was close to $2 million, according to the school district.

Some of the observations of students from the last yearbook of the school stated that at times the pep band wasn’t allowed to stomp because the ceiling might cave in. Other features of the old school needing renovation were bats swooping down in auditoriums, no heat during subzero temperatures and a distinct smell of the hallways, according to the 1971 Zenith yearbook.

“High school is a very positive experience that builds lasting friendships,? said Chris Johnson, a 1981 new Duluth Central graduate.

Many Duluthians today wonder if it was necessary to move to the new school if they ended up renovating the old building anyways.

The current administration building at the old Duluth Central high school presently contains an alternative learning center, school board meetings, Indian education, and administration offices. There could potentially be classes at the school after floor, window, and circulation improvements were completed years ago.

The words “Central High School? still appear imprinted on the front of the school.

Comments

I love this piece; it answers questions every newcomer has...

...and yet I wonder whether there isn't some other agenda worth plumbing. Our visitor's center was, for a while, in Canal Park. Now, it is largely the Depot, although VisitDuluth has offices on Superior and W. 1st.

Isn't the school just too far up the Hillside for a Visitor's Center, in the pattern that economic development / gentrification has taken in Duluth?

To the tourist, Duluth is bounded by the Lake on one side and Superior Street on the other, no?

I love this building!! I was glad to read this article to learn a bit more about it. I think it should never be torn down! It is magnificent! Are people allowed to ever tour the building? My husband and I stopped to take pictures (I am very interested in photography) and I just couldn't get enough of the place! Terrific!