This question comes from a colleague and has been on my list for some time.
Question: Which is the first skywalk in Duluth?
Well … that depends.
If you're talking about our modern skywalk system, built to shield pedestrians from the elements, then the first official skywalk segment in Duluth is the span that runs across Superior Street between Second and Third avenues west, according to the city.
It opened in 1978, connecting what was then called the Normandy Inn and the First National Bank. The span was part of the eventual Northwest Passage to what is now the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
The Normandy, which was a Best Western property, opened in December 1977. Rooms ran between $36 and $60 a night, according to a promotional brochure I found online, and you could browse more than 30 shops in the Normandy Court, part of the larger Lyric Block shopping center.
Today, we know the shopping complex as the Holiday Center, renamed after the Normandy became a Holiday Inn in 1982. Meanwhile, according to the Minnesota Historical Society, First National Bank became a Norwest Bank in 1983, and Wells Fargo Bank after a 1998 merger.
Since then, of course, the skywalk has grown, with 3½ miles of walkway that stretches from the Duluth Public Library to the Duluth Technology Village — some of which, amusingly, runs underground — and from City Hall to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
So, that seems to be the official answer.
But there could be another contender.
Today, the building at 132 E. Superior St. is home to Wasabi Japanese Cuisine and the Rathskeller. But in 1909, it was Duluth's City Hall, and it was seriously short on space, according to Duluth historian Tony Dierckins.
Next door, at 126 E. Superior, was Duluth's police headquarters and the city's jail.
On the other side of the jail was the Service Motor Co. building, at 124 E. Superior. After it opened in 1909, the city quickly leased space on its second floor to alleviate the crunch at City Hall. The Duluth Municipal Court operated there until about 1928.
A passageway was carved between these two buildings, allowing prisoners to be quickly moved between the court and the jail. Because the buildings' second floors were at different heights, a short, enclosed bridge was built to connect them, Dierckins wrote.
Unofficially, could this have been Duluth’s first "skywalk"? That's up for debate.
The two buildings abutted one another, which means that this "skywalk" wasn't suspended above an outside passage but rather served as more of an internal ramp — certainly not a skywalk as we think of them today.
Some point to another second-floor connection that extended from the police headquarters east to City Hall. This one did cross an outdoor walkway — it's still visible today — and it would have made sense; before the municipal court was in the Service Motor Co. building, it was at City Hall. However, historians suggest this walkway wasn’t added until the 1920s, Dierckins wrote.
Really, it's impossible to know for sure; the records aren't there, Dierckins told me. Moreover, at various points in Duluth's early years, there could have been countless doorways and ramshackle passages between all sorts of structures. So, we're just guessing here.
The old police station and jail building has been home to Architectural Resources Inc. since 1968, while printing company ShelDon has called the Service Motor Co. building home since 1989.
If anyone can pull some strings, I’m dying to know what these Superior Street passageways look like today and whether they're still used at all.
I’m also intrigued by another small, elevated walkway across an alley in Lincoln Park. It appears to connect the building at 2023 W. Superior St., which houses the Caddy Shack Indoor Golf & Pub, and the Duluth Auto Parts & Machine building behind it.
Consider me an interested skywalker.