I’m happy enough to admit when I’m half-wrong.
The best thing about being a journalist is that I get to learn things, too.
I received more than a dozen emails and comments after last week’s Northlandia column about the first skywalk in Duluth, and a few of you schooled me.
So, let’s take a break from new questions and talk skywalks for another week.
For the record, last week I attempted to identify the first span that was officially part of downtown Duluth’s public skywalk system.
City officials, including some who were there at the time, told me it was the passageway across Superior Street between what is now the Holiday Center and what is now the Wells Fargo Bank building that was the city’s first official skywalk.
The span became part of the Northwest Passage walkway between the Holiday Center and what is now the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
The passage, and indeed the skywalk system, were the result of city leaders’ recognition in the early ’70s that a connection was needed between a struggling downtown shopping district and the economic progress happening on the harborfront.
The Northwest Passage included several spans between the Lyric Block complex and the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. So, when the span over Superior Street opened in 1978, the Northwest Passage, as it was planned, was complete. Duluth had its first finished skywalk.
Today, though, we typically use the Northwest Passage name to refer to a long span across what is now Interstate 35. That span itself was slightly older, opening in October 1977, and I think it’s fair to say that this passageway is the Duluth skywalk system’s first.
None of you mentioned the Northwest Passage in your emails and comments, but you did mention a few other noteworthy walkways.
Several of you pointed to a skywalk across Michigan Street between First and Second avenues west that connected the old Glass Block department store and the Town Park ramp. This walkway certainly predates the Northwest Passage.
I spoke with Assistant Duluth City Attorney Bob Asleson, who wrote a chapter about how the skywalk system came to be for the book “The Will and the Way.” He said there actually were three such early “bridges” across Michigan Street.
In addition to the Glass Block span, there were walkways connecting First American National Bank (later First National Bank, Norwest Bank and now Wells Fargo) as well as Northern City National Bank (later home to Republic Bank and now National Bank of Commerce) in the Alworth and Lonsdale buildings.
However, these were privately built passages for bank customers and Glass Block shoppers and employees. They were not part of the city’s public skywalk system when it opened. That said, it’s fair to include them as we dig a bit deeper.
Jim and Bruce both mentioned the walkway over 10th Avenue East between First and Second streets. This is a particularly wide passage that connects St. Luke’s hospital and one of its clinic buildings. According to St. Luke’s spokeswoman Melissa Burlaga, it was built in 1950. It’s not part of the downtown skywalk system, but again, it bears mentioning.
Tom mentioned the walkway over Kirby Drive on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus that connects the Kirby Student Center and an adjacent residential dining hall. This dining hall and its connection to the student center were completed in 1974.
Tom also mentioned the old Duluth Fire Station No. 1 at Third Street and First Avenue East, which features an elevated walkway between the engine hall and what was once a stable. According to the National Register of Historic Places, this was added sometime between 1925 and 1940.
Finally, Rick on Facebook noted the span across an alley in Lincoln Park that connects the Caddy Shack Indoor Golf & Pub and the Duluth Auto Parts & Machine building behind it. (I mentioned these last week, too.)
Rick, whose brother owns the auto parts store, said the walkway probably was built about 100 years ago when one of the two buildings was used as a dairy. I’ve asked Rick for more information.
In any case, identifying the first skywalk in town — or even defining a skywalk — has been a tricky task. Thanks for bearing with me and for sharing your thoughts.