The friendly West End
My dad was a West End boy who lived in a lot of places in that neighborhood, which until 1894 was the actual west end of the city of Duluth. I always loved when he pointed out some of these places; as he talked I imagined scenes that grew from hi...
My dad was a West End boy who lived in a lot of places in that neighborhood, which until 1894 was the actual west end of the city of Duluth. I always loved when he pointed out some of these places; as he talked I imagined scenes that grew from his words. To this day I revisit those stories, now layered with my own, whenever I pass those old friends: apartment buildings, houses, old school sites, storefronts. Some of them are now vacant lots and most have changed appearance or purpose, but the soul of the narrative is still there.
When he went into business for himself as a painting contractor, my dad’s shops (workshops) were in the West End. As a high school student I did some of his occasional office work at the shop on First Street, a small building with two storefront windows and a false front. Upstairs was a little apartment rented to a newlywed couple our family knew, for $30 a month. The elderly lady next door told us that the shop building had been a blind pig during the 1920s, a place where illegal liquor was sold. Sitting at the desk figuring out tax deductions and stamping out paychecks on an ancient check-writing machine, I imagined the excitement of illicit activity from decades before. In my fanciful mind’s eye were cigar-smoking gangster-type men in suits and flapper-style women in fur coats, their cigarettes in long ivory holders as they wisecracked with the tough guys.
In my real life of the 1960s, however, any Prohibition-era excitement, real or imagined, was long gone and the building was pretty quiet. I remember the sounds as I worked in “the shop”: the clock ticking, the radio, the time-softened wooden stairway to the apartment upstairs sighing as the light-footed newlyweds arrived home from work. And I remember the smell of the shop: paint, the sawed wood of scaffold planks, Pine-Sol in the little bathroom, burgers and fries in a white to-go paper sack from Jim’s Hamburgers on Superior Street. The building itself had its own perfume of all it had been since it was built and all of the living that had come and gone over the years.
There is in the foundation and construction materials of some of these old West End buildings an essence that is a shared history of that part of town. I remember it fondly from the waiting room of the doctor’s office above the old Lion Drug on 21st Avenue, at the cashier’s table in Morterud-Konezny’s Men’s Store, at Beck’s Furniture where Denfeld’s girl graduates went to pick up our complimentary miniature cedar chests.
Several decades ago the West End Business Association added the word “friendly” to the name of the business district, which became “The Friendly West End.” It suited the area, I thought. Sometime during the 1990s the entire neighborhood added another identity, “Lincoln Park” which is a nice name, too: the park itself is beautiful and a little rustic, like the West End. My dad told me, however, that it would always be the West End to him.
I love the place no matter what it’s called. Our two older daughters were born when we lived on 24th Avenue and Eighth Street. When I was a little girl we lived on 26th and Second. When my youngest daughter’s son was born they lived right across the avenue from the house, which is still there and has its own happy memories (and essence, I am sure).
A few days ago my husband (who lived on 24th and Third Street) and I, on the recommendation of my brother John, went out to eat at a new restaurant on Superior Street in the West End/Lincoln Park, the OMC Smokehouse. We remember the place as the White Front and the new owners have provided a history of the building on the menu. The food was terrific, the renovation was interestingly historical and the waiter used to live on 21st Avenue West! This is a wonderful addition to the West End/Lincoln Park, but to me there is more to it. Walking through the door was a heady sensation (love will do that to a person). I whispered to Tim, “It smells like the shop in here!” He said, “I smell barbecue, maybe a little drying varnish (he was a painter, too, with my dad, so he would know), new stuff … “
He took another breath of the essence of lives and stories. “Oh, you mean the building! It’s the West End!”