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Peerless Auto Body Fire

I woke up at 4am to pee and saw this blaze out my window. It was so huge, we thought it might be Prax-Air. As of 8 a.m., it’s still burning.

40 Comments

tom maloney

about 8 years ago

Is Peerless Auto Body the one that used to be right by Whoopee Wall near the Gospel Tabernacle?  If so, I hope that bad-ass jacked-up Corvette 4x4 is OK.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

From Duluth Fire Dept. Assistant Chief Erik Simonson:

At 2:47 a.m., the Duluth Fire Department responded to report of smoke coming from the Peerless Auto Body Shop. Initial arriving crews reported heavy black smoke coming from multiple locations of the large commercial building. The fire was well involved prior to arrival. Crews made entry to the interior three separate times before being driven back by the fire. Operations went defensive and stayed defensive for the remainder of the fire. The building is approximately 38,000 square feet in total size. A second alarm was called due to the size and complexity of the building and the difficulties involved with cold weather firefighting. Crews had difficulty with frozen hydrants and freezing handlines. At one point, there were five engine companies, three ladder companies, one rescue squad and one battalion chief, for a total of 28 firefighters. No one is believed to be inside the building, although firefighters have not been able to complete a thorough search as of yet. No firefighters were injured during the fire, and initial damage to the building is estimated at the total building value or $100,000. No estimate is yet available for the contents damaged, but again a total loss is anticipated. The origin and cause of the fire is under investigation by the Duluth Fire Marshal's office.

tom

about 8 years ago

My wife confirms it WAS the shop by Whoopee Wall.  I met the owner at World of Wheels last year -- a really nice guy who spent the day helping kids up to sit in that crazy 4x4 Corvette.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Peerless Auto Body moved earlier this year. The previous location was near Whoopee Wall and Point of Rocks at 1718 W. First St., as seen in the photo below.



The business was founded in 1914 as Peerless Auto Top & Body Co. It is sometimes referred to as Peerless Collision Center or Peerless Auto of Duluth these days.

For most of its history it was located at 532 E. First St. and run by the Usan family. Jacob J. Usan was its president for several decades.

The burning building is the new Peerless location at 2831 W. Superior St., which is on the same block as the Western Building. In the photo below, the Western is in the foreground, and the smoldering Peerless is in the background. It's a huge building -- nearly 40,000 square feet.



Below are two more up-close shots of the damage:



W.T.F

about 8 years ago

I hope everyone is okay. My truck got pounded by hail a few year back and they did an good and honest job on it for me.

year of glad

about 8 years ago

The building itself is only worth $100k? That's surprising.

baci

about 8 years ago

The stuff you see at a 4am pee.

Claire

about 8 years ago

Oh no! I had a minor hit-n-run problem and the nice people at Peerless fixed it right up. I dropped it off, went to lunch at Clyde Iron, came back and my car was ready to go. I hope they have insurance on that building.

Brittany

about 8 years ago

That is my uncle Rob Rabold's car shop. Everything is lost, even the big cars. Very sad day.

Stephanie

about 8 years ago

Brittany, is there any way you can get a message through to your uncle? My car was in there! Or, if anyone else has any bright ideas.

tom

about 8 years ago

@Brittany - sorry for your uncle's loss.

T444E

about 8 years ago

I was told by Rob that a guy broke in last night, stole a wad of checks and a car, then lit the place up. The police have arrested the s.o.b. 

The 4x4 Vette made it though. It was in the far east corner. Just smoke damage but minor. 

Sad day.

Bri

about 8 years ago

Unfortunately, it was not a perfect day. I am Rob, the owner's better-half, or so he calls me. I stumbled across this and had to comment. Today, was a very devastating day for our entire family, employee's and dedicated customers. Though items can be replaced, it is the time, effort and heart that was put into this business daily, that cannot be. Thankfully no one was injured, but unfortunately everything was a total loss. Even that beautiful Corvette 4x4, with the ghost flames, that was built so perfectly. Anyone who knows Rob and knows his work, knows he takes much pride in each car he works on, the Corvette was just one of many. You know, he built that thing just to make people smile.

To all Peerless customers, we will keep in touch. Contact the shop number. We are doing the best we can at this time. May we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and continue to fix cars to make people smile. Thank you again, for all of your support at this time.

Jim M

about 8 years ago

Was that building originally the Tastee bread factory?

Brittany

about 8 years ago

Hi Bri. You're so right. It was not a good day. Not a very nice birthday gift for me to wake up and see the shop that Uncle Rob worked so hard for burning. If the family needs any help with anything let me know. Tell Robby I love him and am very sorry for the loss of the shop and cars. Uncle Gary has my phone number; if you need me just give me a call.

rs

about 8 years ago

This is completely off topic, but why are they called Whoopee Wall and Point of Rocks?  Not familiar with all the insider knowledge of Duluth but I do find it interesting.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

A new PDD post provides some historic background on Duluth's Point of Rocks.

Tony D.

about 8 years ago

By the way, the building Peerless moved out of was once a Fire Hall. Adams school stood right in front of it (and its stairs and retaining wall remain). 

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Correct, Tony. Engine Co. No. 2 / Hose & Ladder Co. 2 lasted there until the 1980s.

Old PDD post: Adams School in Duluth's West End.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

In response to Year of Glad's comment regarding the value of the destroyed Peerless building:

The estimated market value of the building was $97,600, but the land's EMV is $239,000. The amount of equipment and vehicles Peerless must have had in there would also be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So, yeah, it's a much bigger loss than $100,000, but that was the building's estimated value.

Tony D.

about 8 years ago

Chuck Frederick has been doing some digging for a story in tomorrow's (or Thursday's) DNT about the Peerless Fire. The building was constructed in 1913 as the Zinsmaster Wholesale Bakery and served as such until the 1970s. I'll bet he'll have more info in tomorrow's piece.

Voula Heffernan

about 8 years ago

Glad to learn that there will be something on the history of Zinsmaster Bakery coming up in the DNT. Zinsmaster has quite a lengthy Duluth history and the owners were very prominent Duluthians with connections throughout the country. 

Jim was trying to pin down some of that history -- with not a lot of luck -- on his blog. 

Harry W. Zinsmaster, vice president of the local Zinsmaster business, owned the house that was used prominently in the Jessica Lange movie, Far North, shot in Duluth. It's really so sad though about the loss for the Peerless owner and for all of his customers. The damage is devastating and so senseless.

Bad Cat!

about 8 years ago

It sucks that a local business burned down, but I'm glad that no one was injured and that they plan on opening again. Good luck with rebuilding!

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago



It turns out Chuck Frederick, Jim Heffernan and I have been up to the same thing today. Harry W. Zinsmaster was the greatest thing since sliced bread, so I couldn't resist putting together some info on him.

Zinsmaster founded the Zinsmaster Bread Co. in 1913 in Duluth and remained active in it for 64 years. His bread was originally called "Butternut," but was changed to "Master Bread" in 1925. Zinsmaster holds the distinction of being the first baker in Duluth to sell sliced bread.

He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1885 and graduated from Amherst College in 1908. He partnered with R. F. Smith to launch what was initially called the Zinsmaster-Smith Bread Co.

Zinsmaster bought out Smith in 1918 and opened a second plant in St. Paul. He also bought the cracker-making Hol-Ry Co. of Duluth in 1931.

The list of boards, charities and clubs Zinsmaster was associated with goes on and on. He died June 14, 1977, at the age of 92. William Metz took over as chairman of the company, which later became Metz Baking. 

The Overhead Door Co. of Duluth occupied the old Zinsmaster/Metz building for much of the recent years before Peerless moved in.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

And yes, scenes from Far North were shot at the Zinsmaster house at 2 N. Hawthorne Road.

The Art-Deco house was built in 1925 and designed by architect Arthur Hanford.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Oh, and here's a fun fact:

The late Bill Johnson, founder of the totally awesome Johnson's Bakery in the friendly West End, worked at Zinsmaster briefly in the 1940s.

Voula Heffernan

about 8 years ago

Wow! Paul you really found lots of interesting info about the Zinsmaster family and business. Thanks for the sleuthing and great information. The bakery was still in operation when I moved to town and the whiff of bread baking as I drove by was heaven. Through Jim's blog responses we've discovered that Zinsmaster was a huge local employer, with everyone under the sun knowing someone who worked there. Did you find out if they originated the "Master Bread" name? It'll be fun to see what else turns up in the DNT article. Once again, I don't want to diminish the terrible tragedy for the Peerless owners in this. It's a real tragedy for all and very sad.

in.dog.neato

about 8 years ago

Paul's like PBS's History Detectives and Garrison Keillor all rolled into one fuzzy, cuddly, surly package.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Yes, Voula, the Master Bread name is a contraction of Zinsmaster's name. The company used to advertise that "Master Bread is made with rich malted milk."

I ran into Eric Swanson yesterday and he remarked about how, as a hippie in the 1960s, he hated the big eyesore Master Bread billboard on Point of Rocks. Here's a picture, courtesy of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center via the Minnesota Digital Library.



Zooming in on the sign:



Oh, and In.dog, I've actually always considered myself the modern-day Shirley Temple.

Tony D.

about 8 years ago

Does anyone have any older photos of Zinsmaster? Looks like we'll have to make another addition to Lost Duluth.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Do you mean the man, or the building, Tony?

You can't get a much older photo of the building than the one above -- it's from before it opened.

Tony D.

about 8 years ago

Paul: Both! (And am hoping to find one of better quality than above.)

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

From the Duluth Police Dept.:

A 25-year-old Duluth man has been charged in connection with the Dec. 27 fire that destroyed the Peerless Auto Repair building.

Kevin Michael Luick, age 25 of Duluth, was arraigned this morning in 6th District Judicial Court in Duluth. He was charged with the following: negligent fire; burglary in the third-degree; theft of a motor vehicle; theft; and tampering with a motor vehicle. His bail was set at $7,500. His next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 19.

Finnlander

about 8 years ago

Bri, 
If you see this post please give my best to Rob. I'm really sorry to hear about his shop. I just found out a few months ago from John R. that he was in Duluth and had hoped to stop in some time. Tell him I'll try to touch base after he gets through all the issues he will need to deal with now.
Todd-(Finnlander)

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

The Duluth News Tribune has reported that Peerless will reopen soon in a new location -- 2901 Morris Thomas Road. Customers can call Peerless at 218-722-5851.

Peerless finds new location

Bri

about 8 years ago

Todd (Finnlander),
This is to you from Rob: It is very nice to hear from you, I think about you often! Everytime I'm in Rapids, I drive by your parent's house, and remember many good times! So great to hear from you. Hope to keep in touch, and for sure will have to make a trip to Duluth sometime to see me!Take care~Rob

Bri

about 8 years ago

Todd..Thank you for thinking of us at this this time. Rob & Bri

Les Nelson

about 8 years ago

I had an uncle, Rudy Nelson that worked there back in the 1940s. I think he was an executive. He passed away in 1949.

steven peterson

about 8 years ago

Whatever happened to Artie Van Husen (sp?)?

reg

about 8 years ago

There is a benefit for Rob and his family at Mr D's 4-6-11.

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