MacArthur meets the wrecking ballI’m just gonna be honest: I’m not one to put a lot of personal emotional investment into a building. I can appreciate beautiful old turn-of-the-last-century brownstone behemoths and theaters with cool art deco lobbies and whatnot, but, for me, a building is often just a utilitarian thing, a bunch of bricks and paint and wires organized for the purpose of giving people a nice place to go and do a certain designated thing.
By: Tony Bennett, Duluth Budgeteer News
I’m just gonna be honest: I’m not one to put a lot of personal emotional investment into a building. I can appreciate beautiful old turn-of-the-last-century brownstone behemoths and theaters with cool art deco lobbies and whatnot, but, for me, a building is often just a utilitarian thing, a bunch of bricks and paint and wires organized for the purpose of giving people a nice place to go and do a certain designated thing. And, while seeing something like the Palace Theatre in Superior being turned to rubble a few years back didn’t bring me any pleasure, I tend to have a Kurt Vonnegutian “so it goes” response to events like that.
That’s because eventually, the universe will collapse in the Big Crunch (or something), and everything ever built will be gone. In the end, the pyramids at Giza will become space dust. The Eiffel Tower will be recycled by nature. Not to get too cosmic on you or anything.
But a couple weeks ago, as I stood in West Duluth with the remains of my old elementary school at my feet, I wondered if my awareness of the inevitable fate of the cosmos and everything in it really doesn’t help me much. Because, as I smelled the dust and looked at the tangled clumps of old rebar and squinted into the gaping maw of the building, trying to identify the remains of an old classroom, an old stairwell, an old locker room,
I realized I was pretty bummed out. Because it’s one thing to know that a certain part of your life is over, and it’s something else to know a certain part of your life has been demolished with heavy implements and pulverized completely.
I’ve seen it happen here and there. Peterson Arena burned down. I used to spend lots of time hanging around in front of nets and scoring garbage goals in hockey games there. Home Market burned down, too. I can’t go in there, buy a plastic tin of beef jerky and then pretend it’s snuff. 8th Street Market closed up. I can’t get packs of baseball cards with loose change there. This is all stuff that makes me sigh, but I know change is inevitable. People close up shop for various reasons. Buildings burn down. But seeing a bulldozer perched triumphantly atop the remains of a huge part of my childhood, I felt like maybe the universe was taunting me, saying to me “You’re getting older, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Change is the only constant.” It’s a tough feeling to communicate, exactly, but it sorta felt like my whole family had forgotten my birthday: lonely.
And then, I started thinking about it a little less emotionally. Across the street, only a few short yards from the hand-painted eagle over the main Central Avenue entrance that had welcomed kids with open wings into the old school, there’s a whole new Laura MacArthur. It’s lovely. I haven’t been in it, but it’s pretty from the outside.
It’s right there, right in the same neighborhood. The buses drive the same routes to get there, probably. The kids still play at Memorial Park. And so I realized that, while the weird sawdust smell of the old MacArthur auditorium won’t get into any new kids’ nostrils, and while no kids will snap each other with towels and hear their laughter reverberate in the cavernous sound chamber that was the old locker room, and while no more children will ever slide down that wonderful banister heading to the Central entrance that let you get up to what felt like forty or fifty miles an hour before you practically shot right out the door, there’s got to be
new sounds, new smells, new railings in that new
And so this is what I’m left with: acceptance. My old school is gone. But their new school, it’s right there, and it’s lovely. And when all the rubble’s trucked away and a green field grows there for kids to play on, that will be great, too. I’ve got my childhood memories, and they’re making theirs. As it should be.
Tony Bennett is a
Duluth-based musician and freelance writer.