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Filmmakers invited to explore old St. Louis County Jail

Several filmmakers and musicians will be jailed June 1 during the Duluth Superior Film Festival. That's what Grant Carlson is banking on. The owner of the former St. Louis County Jail on West Second Street in Duluth has teamed up with festival pl...

Several filmmakers and musicians will be jailed June 1 during the Duluth Superior Film Festival.

That's what Grant Carlson is banking on.

The owner of the former St. Louis County Jail on West Second Street in Duluth has teamed up with festival planners in creating an invitation-only reception at the jail that has sat empty for 18 years. The goal is to inspire artists to use the unusual space for film shoots.

Carlson is friends with film festival producer Rick Hansen and the pair, along with other festival supporters, moved from talking about a party at the space as a "fun thing to do" to a reception with purpose -- urging filmmakers to consider the historic jail for projects.

"The biggest assets are the jail cells," Carlson said, though he can envision all types of film projects in the space. Not much has changed on the inside, Carlson said, as the stark jailhouse amenities remain as well as the institutional paint.

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"We went over to check it out and it was -- Whoa," said Bob Monahan with Chaperone Records. The Duluth label will be providing musical talent for the reception.

Monahan's early interest in the jail was for a cool place to have concerts. The conversation then turned toward the film festival.

"There's lots of space and lots of options," Monahan said.

The film festival brings members of the film industry from across the country.

Hansen said any filmmaker wanting to do a scene from the inside of a real jail has to go through a lengthy permit process and other stipulations. The former jail would be an easy location to use, he said.

"We're going to let people get a look inside," he said.

"We have a gem of a location within our midst right here in Duluth," said Riki McManus, director at the Upper Minnesota Film Office. "Duluth is a very film-friendly community and this certainly adds to the strong arts scene here."

Carlson has changed his idea of use of the jail from office space to living space since he bought the jail for $54,000 in 2010. The slow economic recovery has kept demand low for commercial use, and a dearth of quality apartment space in the city turned the plans. Carlson wants to pair up with a developer to complete the build after spending $500,000 to fix the roof and other exterior faces.

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He said in March that part of the plan could include artist space on the main floor.

"That's clearly one of the end uses," Carlson said, and the event next Saturday could be the kick start.

"It's a unique space and an opportunity for a filmmaker," he said.

The festival is calling the reception "A Night in Burnham's Jail" in honor of Daniel Burnham, the designer of the entire civic center district of Duluth. The jail sits outside the county and city buildings and the federal courthouse.

The five-story jail was part of the Duluth Civic District and built in 1924. At one time it housed up to 200 inmates. It was scheduled to be torn down before area historians got involved and stopped it. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota had named it one of Minnesota's most endangered historic places.

The Duluth Superior Film Festival begins Wednesday and runs through June 2. It will feature films at venues across the Twin Ports.

"This is a perfect opportunity to showcase the jail as a film shoot before the structure is renovated for its next use," Carlson said.

"It's neat," Hansen said. "It's cool to look at."

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St. Louis County Jail
The exterior of the old St. Louis County jail (2010 file / News Tribune)

Related Topics: MOVIESMUSIC
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