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Historic heart of Superior’s East End faces changes

Walter Haugen stands outside the former East End Drug store his father operated for almost 70 years in Superior. The set of buildings on East Fifth Street are planned for demolition this spring.

Walter Haugen stands in front of buildings on the 2100 block of East Fifth Street, all planned for demolition this spring.

Walter Haugen stood inside an old corner pharmacy his father operated for close to 70 years on Superior’s East End. A junk pile was pushed near the plate glass front windows. Empty shelving units displayed old merchandise tags. A pungent mercurochrome smell filled the dusty store.

He pointed through a hole in some foam panels overhead. The hole exposed a tin ceiling most likely installed when the building was constructed in 1878. Dozens of silver, square tin tiles decorated the ceiling.

Haugen said someone could be hired to take down the tin, which could be sold for a hefty price to antique dealers or architectural salvage specialists. But it won’t be done.

“It would be like gutting a relative,” he said. “It would be like if you had a pet deer that you raised and someone asked you to chop it up and sell them the meat. You just wouldn’t do it.”

The East End Drug Store, on the corner of Fifth Street and 22nd Avenue, anchors a collection of storefront buildings in the oldest business district in Superior. The 19th Century buildings are expected to meet the wrecking ball in the coming weeks, opening a prime corner to commercial redevelopment.

The changes have left those with deep neighborhood roots upset and frustrated while city leaders are excited about giving the corner a fresh new look.

The city of Superior placed a raze order, a process similar to condemnation, on the East End Drug Store in 2015. The structure also housed the Office Bar, which closed last October, and East End Radio, a repair shop that occupied the building since the 1940s.

The corner of East Fifth Street and 22nd Avenue in Superior's East End as it looked in 1975. (Photo courtsey of Superior Public Library)

The corner of East Fifth Street and 22nd Avenue in Superior’s East End as it looked in 1975. (Photo via Superior Public Library)

The adjacent Shear Power Hair and Tanning Salon, at 2125 E. Fifth Street, and the former Holmes East End Bakery to the north are also being slated for demolition. The bakery building, longtime home to Pesark Grocery, was deeded to the city in February and a raze order was placed on the former hair salon earlier this year.

“It’s a block with a lot of activity going on,” said Superior Commercial Building Inspector Peter Kruit.

Kruit said the four structures on three properties are in various states of disrepair and pose serious public safety threats. “The problems all have to do with age, deterioration and lack of upkeep,” he said. “They will all be coming down soon.”

The city has started work on two of the three buildings, removing asbestos and selling salvaged materials from the bakery and drug store. Negotiations between the city and property owner are continuing for the sale and demolition of the now vacant hair salon.

Superior Planning, Economic Development and Port Director Jason Serck said the corner has no pending plan. He said the property is zoned for commercial use and could also take on multi-unit housing. Developers would need to present plans to the city.

The first step, he said, will be to clear the property.

“It would be nice to do it all at once,” said Serck. “Then we can determine how we want to market the property. All together makes more sense than apart. I’m sure developers would like to start with a clean slate there.”

New East End development, including the 2014 opening of a 60,000-square-foot Super One grocery store off Highway 53, has spurred interest in the neighborhood, said Serck.

Rick Livesey, owner of the Shear Power hair salon building, is the final holdout in the Fifth Street project. Livesey is not happy with the order to raze his building, saying the order is a form of eminent domain.

The Shear Power Hair and Tanning Salon closed in 2014.

The Shear Power Hair and Tanning Salon closed in 2014.

“They’re kind of being mean to me right now,” he said. “I put a lot of money into it, a lot of sweat and now they want me to tear it down.”

Livesey said his 1892 building passed city inspection in 2015. But drug store and bakery demolition on both sides of his property will create new structural issues. Livesey said the city inspected the building again in 2016 and ordered impossible improvements.

“I’m wondering why all this is happening now,” he said. “Is somebody interested in that corner?”

Livesey has hired an attorney and negotiations are ongoing. The city offered to pay $10,000 for the property and $60,000 in demolition costs, he said. Livesay bought the property five years ago for $110,000.

“If I agree to that I’m facing bankruptcy,” he said, “and I’m not going to file for bankruptcy.”

Haugen said his brother Arthur, who owns the corner buildings, spent $450,000 on structural improvements to the old pharmacy and bar. Steel birders were installed to stabilize the facade, he said, but it wasn’t enough to save the family building.

“(The city) wants to have the neighborhood look fresh and new,” said Walter Haugen. “They want to be progressive. My brother put a lot of steel into that building but that’s not what they wanted. I guess he should’ve done more cosmetic work instead.”

“In the end he just gave up. The city always wins. They always do.”

Walter Haugen restored the historic Northern Block building and Pudge’s Bar, both just down Fifth Street from the old drug store. Pudge’s regularly hosts an informal gathering of East End historians and life-long residents. Haugen said most are troubled by the changes.

“There were so many businesses in the East End. Everything you needed was out here. It was a strong community out here. Then stores like Walmart opened up and that destroys the small businesses.” he said. “It’s a changed world.”

Typed and signed pharmacy records from the 1930s still survive in the East End Drug Store basement.

Typed and signed pharmacy records from the 1930s still survive in the East End Drug Store basement.

Superior Public Library librarian and city historian Teddie Meronek agreed. She grew up in the East End and worked her way through college at the East End Bakery.

“The East End used to have everything,” she said. “I remember the drug store. My father and I would go there every Sunday after mass and sit at the counter. … It’s sad.”

8 Comments

Jeff Klein

about 2 years ago

Wow, what a shame. Plenty of garbage and empty lots in Superior and instead they target the only particularly historic block, even buildings that have been stabilized by their owners, offering to underpay with no actual plans in sight. Apparently it's still 1960s urban renewal in Superior. If history teaches us anything, best case is they install an Applebees. More likely case is they're surface parking lots for the next fifty years. Really awful.

Kristine Krenz

about 2 years ago

My heart is really breaking thinking of those tin ceiling tiles going to waste in a demolition!! And all the historic memorabilia that must be in all those buildings! As a local artist, I'm certain there's gotta be a better use for them. I don't think of using the remnants from the building at all the way Mr. Haugen does, but if course I have the luxury of not being so deeply personally invested. However, what if we look at it like a loved one who's been in an accident, God forbid. But now decisions must be made on what to do. Do you let them pass as they are, or do you give multiple other families a reason to believe in miracles by gifting them a liver, lungs, a heart...? Is it morbid? Yes, to a certain extent it is. Death of a loved one always is. And that's what Mr. Haugen is going through; the death of a loved one of more than 70 years old. Even in human terms, 70 is a respectable run. And if this version of the drug store's life must come to an end, at least it will live on with the people who are blessed to have a piece of what it once was.

thevm666

about 2 years ago

Between the refinery, the supermarket, and the need to have one convenience store for every man, woman, and child in Superior, me thinks that the demolition and gentrification of East End is FAR from complete.

Chad S

about 2 years ago

Wait, so the city doesn't even have a plan of some sort in place for when the buildings are torn down?  Way to go, Superior.  How about focusing on the big empty parking lots and boarded up retail buildings on Tower first.

Special K

about 2 years ago

I had to look up where these buildings were ,and I honestly can't see why they're a priority. Who is ever going to even see this part of the neighborhood that doesn't already live there? Coming from out of town, unless it's off Tower, Belknap or Hammond, most visitors wouldn't even know this neighborhood exists. The city is putting all this money toward fixing up Tower Avenue and put a fresh face forward, so where is the push to condemn and tear down or fix up some of the junk on that stretch?

schmood1971

about 2 years ago

Seems to me that every time the City of Superior tears something down, they tout it (or rationalize it as the case may be) as a "prime development opportunity." There is so much "prime development opportunity" in Superior it is poised to be the Abu Dhabi of the upper midwest. Pretty soon the city will be reduced to 14 Qwik Trip stores surrounded by 6,000 acres of gravel parking lots.

Paul Lundgren

about 2 years ago

superior-building-demolition-wdio

WDIO-TV Eyewitness News reported demolition of the buildings began Oct. 3.

Len Moskalyk

about 4 months ago

Very sad. I live in Thunder Bay and we stumbled across this old building a few years ago. We popped into the bar next door for a beer and some of the local people gave me a bit of history on the building and the owner.

I also asked about the East End Radio sign that was still on the building. They gave me the phone number of Mr. Haugen, I called to no avail. Does anyone know what happened to that old sign?

It would have been nice to bring it back to life.

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