Looking through the concrete at Morgan Park's past
Cruise through Morgan Park in 2008, and you'll see lots of concrete-block homes that hint at happier times. It was an era of street cars and steel workers, all existing in part or entirely thanks to a decision by U.S. Steel to set up a plant in M...
Cruise through Morgan Park in 2008, and you'll see lots of concrete-block homes that hint at happier times.
It was an era of street cars and steel workers, all existing in part or entirely thanks to a decision by U.S. Steel to set up a plant in Morgan Park.
Arnold Alanen, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written a 320-page book with 180 pictures about Morgan Park, which debuts later this month. He tried to capture life in Morgan Park from the start of the U.S. Steel era in town until today.
While the book "Morgan Park: Duluth, U.S. Steel, and the Forging of a Company Town" delves into the obvious story of U.S. Steel's impact on Morgan Park and Duluth, it also tells two other stories.
The famous concrete houses -- built in an era when concrete was thought to be the future building material of choice across the nation for the blue-collar crowd -- and the larger architecture of the neighborhood completely built by U.S. Steel are explored throughout the book.
"Morgan Park just stands out as the most outstanding example of company town planning," Alanen said.
The heart of the book is the richer story of the people who made up U.S. Steel's Duluth work force, and their tales of living in a company town.
"When I write something, I want to tell a story or stories, and Morgan Park was just so prime for that interpretation," Alanen said.
Isobel Rapaich, who grew up in Morgan Park beginning in 1933 and still lives there, was one of many in the community interviewed for the book.
Although she found it a fantastic community to live in, the book does show how U.S. Steel could squeeze silence from its tenants.
"In the book he printed one little section referring to the control that U.S. Steel had on the employees and families," Rapaich said. Her tale includes complaining about an issue at the Good Fellowship Club -- which served as the central hub of community activity in Morgan Park.
The next day, her husband was warned by his boss that Rapaich had better quit complaining, or he'd be fired.
"If you didn't do things like shovel the snow or mow your lawn, the company would do it and then take a fee from your paycheck," Rapaich said.
At the same time, no more than 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 employees lived in Morgan Park, and those who did were mainly the skilled workers and upper-level employees who chose to, Rapaich said.
Many workers lived in neighboring Gary-New Duluth -- where taverns were allowed -- and would either walk or ride street cars to work, Alanen said.
What made living in the community so grand, Rapaich said, was having so many amenities located in one central building: a clinic, drug store, grocery store, dry goods store, barber shop, post office and dentist.
At the Good Fellowship Club, residents could use the swimming pool, running track, a gym, handball courts, a bowling alley and community rooms.
Every Tuesday for 10 cents you could catch a matinee movie in the auditorium, Rapaich remembered.
More than shopping and activities, U.S. Steel's presence created an unusual bond, Rapaich said.
"It was just a unique situation," she said.
That oddity has drawn other writers to Morgan Park before, but never someone who has written so exhaustively on the community, said Morgan Park residents, local librarians and historians.
"He is writing the definitive history, the comprehensive history, with layers of detail," said Pat Maus, curator of manuscripts at the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
She has assisted Alanen with his research on this book and other research topics about northern Minnesota off and on since 1981.
Alanen had written articles about Morgan Park, and was asked by the University of Minnesota Press in 2001 to begin writing a book about the neighborhood. It has taken him since then to complete the book, because he still teaches full-time.
Alanen will give a presentation on his book and sign copies at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at United Protestant Church in Morgan Park, 88th Avenue West and Arbor Street in Duluth.
Copies of the book are expected to be available at the event, or at local bookstores and online about the same time.
PATRICK GARMOE can be reached at (218) 723-5229 or firstname.lastname@example.org .