Duluth couple will turn Park Point fire hall into their home

Laura and Bob Goewey had their eye on the old Park Point fire hall long before the city of Duluth put it up for auction in December. "We thought, 'Wouldn't that be a great place to live? ... Wouldn't that be cool?' " said Laura Goewey. "Never dre...

Inspecting the building
Bob Goewey describes the old fire hall's original insulation to his banker, Ross Peterson (left) of Frandsen Bank & Trust, and friend Howard Carlson, who will help Goewey renovate the building. Photos by Bob King /

Laura and Bob Goewey had their eye on the old Park Point fire hall long before the city of Duluth put it up for auction in December.

"We thought, 'Wouldn't that be a great place to live? ... Wouldn't that be cool?' " said Laura Goewey. "Never dreaming it would come true."

They thought their vision of turning the 1930s fire hall into their home was just wishful thinking. Then, in July, the city closed the fire hall at 2138 Minnesota Ave. and put it up for auction.

"Instantly, we knew that was for us," said Laura, whose grandfather was a Duluth firefighter a century ago.

The couple's $235,000 bid beat two other serious bidders.


The pair, who have lived on Park Point for eight years, intend to restore much of the building, retaining its period character as they renovate the inside to live in.

When they're done, the exterior will sport new cedar-shake siding painted white with green trim, a mint-green roof, and the garage doors will be replicas of the originals. The new windows will be energy-efficient versions of the original paned ones. When it's done, the couple will hold an open house to show the community how they've combined modern living with the fire hall's vintage past.

The news of their plans was a godsend for local preservationists who feared buyers would raze the building that has been an integral part of Park Point history. Built in 1930, with a 1936 addition, it was designed to complement the homes around it.

"It's wonderful," Carolyn Sundquist said of the Goeweys' plans.

She and other members of the Duluth Preservation Alliance heard that the Goeweys had won their bid for the fire hall on Dec. 14, the day of the organization's holiday party.

"Everyone broke into applause at the news," she said, recalling the party's high point. "It's a wonderful adaptive reuse. The basic tenet of historic preservation is to encourage adaptive reuse if the original use is no longer viable. We encourage adaptive reuse and retaining as many of the historic details, the character-defining features, as possible."

The work begins

The Duluth City Council unanimously approved the sale in late January, and the sale closed March 1. Within hours, the Goeweys were at the fire hall, giving visitors a tour and talking about their plans to renovate the entire 3,120-square-foot building.


They have their work cut out for them.

The building, long neglected, has gone without needed repairs and general upkeep for some time. The cedar shake siding is weathered, its paint peeling profusely. The roof is due for replacement. Much of the inside is faded, dingy and worn from the decades of use by city firefighters and other city staff.

But Laura, 54, and Bob, 60, see beyond needed repairs to the potential for a unique living space.

"Moving into the fire hall will allow us artistic freedom to decorate in a quirky, fun way," Laura said. "We want to have in it the things that we really love: antiques of the era, pictures of firemen, things that we really, really love."

But it's more than that.

"I feel like we're doing something for the community," she said. "It's something we can refurbish and restore, and it's going to be there a long time. It has a sense of history to it. It's kind of like, 'If these walls could talk.' It feels like a place of permanence."

The old panel doors with period hardware are keepers. So are the built-in cabinets in most rooms and the pantry-like lockers in the still-cheery kitchen area. They'll keep the basic layout of the one-story structure the same but add a hallway and alter some closet and storage areas to enlarge the bathroom and create a bookcase wall and a bedroom closet.

They'll turn the firefighters' sleeping room into Bob's game room. The "boot room" where firefighters' gear was kept will be transformed into Laura's office/hobby room. The dining area will double as a cozy sitting area. And the firefighters' workout room will become their bedroom. The fire engine garage will become Bob's workshop. The mechanical room will get a new furnace with an added wine cellar and staircase to the attic.


The entire one-story building will be rewired. Plumbing will be upgraded as Bob goes along. And the heating system will be changed to hot-water, in-floor radiant heat.

Burst pipe, more work

Of all the rooms, the firefighters' front sleeping room -- destined to be Bob's game room or "man cave" -- originally needed the least amount of work.

Now it requires the most work.

That changed during the sub-zero cold spell in late January. A water pipe that runs up a wall and across the room's ceiling to a spigot in the adjacent fire engine garage burst.

A neighbor noticed water pouring out of the ceiling light fixture and called Laura at her Canal Park business, Blue Lake Gallery/Fig Leaf's Clothing.

Laura Goewey immediately called her husband, who called the city.

"A city crew came out," Laura said. "They were fabulous to work with. They stopped the water flow."


But there was damage.

"They had to strip down all the Sheetrock, remove insulation and one of the doors," Laura said. "So that first room, which we really intended not to do a lot with, has been stripped down to the studs."

All this happened before they closed on the sale. Because of the damage and the additional work needed, the city reduced the purchase price by $12,000, to $223,000, Bob Goewey said.

Turns out, because the fire hall was shut down last summer, no firefighter was on site to turn off the water to that pipe in the fall as they usually did, Laura said.

But without that call from the neighbor and quick action by the city, the damage would have been much worse, the Goeweys say.

Hidden finds

While the city crew was removing the damaged drywall, Laura stopped by to find out if they found anything interesting in those walls.

They hadn't.


But the Goeweys had been told that somewhere in the fire hall, there was a medallion embedded in the floor, possibly reflecting the time when firefighters, police and a communications center shared quarters there.

They believe they found it.

During another visit, Laura Goewey kicked a rug in the side vestibule and noticed the tile underneath peeled back. Curious, she pulled it back farther and discovered a white star embedded in a circle of blue linoleum surrounded by red linoleum.

"I think that's it," she said. "But is that the only medallion, or are there more? We'll find out."

Then there's the trap door in the old "boot room." When they raised it, they found a crawlspace beneath with a stash of old city traffic signs in the sand from the days when the fire hall's side garage was used as the city's sign shop.

Those signs won't go to waste.

"We're going to put them up on the wall, maybe in the fire truck bay, maybe the (game) room," Laura said. "We'll dig them out of there and put them on the wall for sure."

15-month timeline


Bob Goewey -- who will do most of the work himself -- said he's up for the makeover challenge. He's been a professional builder and has built two of the couple's homes himself and remodeled others. He co-owns the Cloquet Home Center, a full-line lumber yard, so he has easy access to the materials he'll need.

Moreover, he's been looking for a barn, church or other unique structure to renovate for more than 20 years.

"This kind of work is fun to me," he said. "It's pleasurable to see something evolve and change."

He hopes to have the building's makeover done by late spring or early summer 2014. First up is enlarging and remodeling the bathroom, then creating a bedroom so he and Laura can live there while he works on the rest of the structure. Replacing insulation in the attic also is high on the list, while the exterior restoration will begin in May, he said.

He expects the renovations will total about $100,000, including landscaping costs.

So confident are the couple of their timetable that they put their current 1,440-square-foot house in the 3600 block of Minnesota Avenue up for sale a week before they closed on the fire hall.

Fire hall makeover series
This is the first in a series of stories over the next year or longer, following Bob and Laura Goewey's efforts to renovate the old Park Point fire hall into their home.
During the process, the Goeweys will have an open-door policy, welcoming interested parties to stop in and take a look. But, Bob Goewey good-naturedly warns, he may hand visitors a hammer and put them to work.
Part of the couple's plans include a 1930s- to 1940s-themed kitchen, a bathroom that sports pinup art from the 1940s and a history wall with old pictures of the Park Point fire hall and its firemen. For that wall, they are seeking pictures and other memorabilia from the community. A Facebook page for Fire Hall No. 5 also will post updates.

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