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In Response: Sweet memories of Chester Park tinged with regret

Longtime Duluthians still recall the toboggan slides added to Chester Park in 1928. Two slides started from “just south of the Kenwood car line,” the News Tribune once reported. The slides crossed Chester Creek and took riders 600-700 feet, finishing on the athletic field. A third slide traveled 800 feet “along the west side of the ravine ending up at the old ski jump and just west of the skating pond.” (Photo courtesy of Tom Kasper and Zenith City Online, zenithcity.com)

A column last Sunday headlined “Demolishing Duluth” was wonderful — even if 50 years late, though that wasn’t the fault of its writer, News Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick.

Chester Bowl has been in the news lately. I played there daily as a child. There was a wooden toboggan slide at the west end. Torn down. There were two ponds where I swam in the summer and skated in the winter. Filled in. There was a gravel pit facing College Street that went for apartments instead of being included in the Chester Bowl property. Gone. There was forest at the end of the road. Bulldozed for a baseball diamond.

Across from the upper pond there also was a sizable building with public access on the main floor for warmth and refreshments and an apartment upstairs. For years, a nice old man (to a kid, everybody is old) lived there and was park caretaker. In the 1960s, University of Minnesota Duluth students replaced him and lived there. Now the building is history. So are the many trees that have been cut down. And the steep hill above the upper pond has been partially leveled.

The city has decimated many wooded parks in the same manner, it seems to me. In the 1970s I lived near Portland Square east of 10th Avenue East and below Fourth Street. I counted more than 200 large trees. The city cut down more than half of them and put up a sign.

Destruction also seems to be the modus operandi with buildings in Duluth. Butler Square in Minneapolis is so indicative of what can be done with old buildings. DeWitt-Seitz in Duluth is similar on a smaller scale. Some warehouses elsewhere in Canal Park have been used for condos and shops, but by and large the city seems to encourage demolition without being able to figure out that the charm of old gargoyles and cornices are its beauty.

There is currently a vast wasteland below Interstate 35 between downtown and Rice’s Point. It would be perfect, high-priced real estate if the old Superwood property were torn down and tall buildings overlooking the harbor were corralled there, obstructing nobody’s view from above. The buildings could be built with a skywalk extension to connect with downtown. Superwood is the one complex that should be razed yet isn’t due to shortsightedness.

It truly has been amazing watching all the old school buildings in Duluth that absolutely could not be used any longer, according to the school district, getting purchased by private parties and put to new use.

Duluth keeps doing what has not worked for the last 100 years and keeps asking why our city fails to go anywhere.

James Slabodnik now lives in Duluth Township.

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