Discover Duluth: The Armory, Vol. I-III*Throughout its nine-plus decades of existence, the Armory has played an integral role in many Duluthians' lives.
By: Matthew R. Perrine, Budgeteer News
For more than half of its nine-plus decades of existence, Duluth’s Armory manufactured memories a-plenty.
OK, that’s a gross understatement. From trivial (flea markets, proms) and pretty cool (the Minneapolis Lakers basketball team, now in Los Angeles, once played an exhibition game there) to vastly important (military training and funerals), the building was a bona fide epicenter of community events for much of its life.
And that’s not even counting the exhaustive list of legendary acts that have graced its stage: Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys and Sonny and Cher, the Supremes, the Guess Who — all the way down to the Zombies.
Then, of course, there was the granddaddy of all historic concerts: Back in 1959, shortly before “The Day the Music Died,” Buddy Holly brought his Winter Dance Party tour to the beloved Duluth institution.
In the crowd that evening was a young Bob Dylan, who would go on to immortalize that time and space in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for album of the year: “When I was about 16 or 17 years old,” he said before an internationally televised audience, “I went to see Buddy Holly play at the Duluth National Guard Armory, and I was three seats away from him, and he looked at me and ... I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.”
But the bubble had to burst sometime. When the city took over the building in the late ’70s, conditions inside quickly started to devolve.
What was once a source of pride in the community became, quite literally, a dumping ground for the city. In addition to using it to store fleet vehicles, city officials actually poured raw materials onto the main room’s open floor — there’s a big stain right about where Dylan was sitting that fateful night.
The Armory’s cleanliness was the least of preservationists’ worries, though, at the turn of the millennium. The building was actually slated to be demolished Sept. 1, 2001.
“It has some major structural failure and weaknesses in the superstructure,” Duane Lasley, the city’s chief building official, told the Duluth News Tribune a few months before that deadline (which he set).
Though Lasley had condemned it for demolition, Duluthians with a sense of history rallied around the troubled Armory.
“My number one priority is that the building itself, or at least the majority of it, be saved from demolition,” Duluth City Councilor Russ Stewart said at the time.
As you’re now sitting in front of three photo galleries worth of new images taken inside the Armory, obviously Lasley’s order was never honored; a nonprofit group is now in control of the building and has plans to return it to its former glory — as a mixed-use space. (Read the attached story for more details on that.)
*The historical nuggets sprinkled throughout this piece were obtained from www.armorycenter.org, which has a comprehensive collection of past news articles about the Armory. If you want to learn more about this Duluth landmark, I highly suggest you peruse that site.
“Discover Duluth” is an ongoing photo essay series by Matthew R. Perrine that highlights points of interest in and around the region. For more photos from this set, click on the accompanying photo galleries.