Old Morgan Park Apartment Houses

Former Duluthian Ina Wesenberg contacted Perfect Duluth Day with the hope that someone can provide information about an old apartment complex she lived in as a child in the 1950s. She recalls it was on the western edge of the Morgan Park neighborhood, away from the concrete homes of the planned community.

She said the area of land between the apartments and Morgan Park homes had sidewalks and unmowed grass. The apartments were long wooden structures, painted a light gray. Each building had three floors with two apartments on each floor. There were large wooden boxes of coal in front of each building; the coal was used for heating and Ina remembers kids used to climb on the boxes. She also remembers the rent was $25 per month.

She has many fond memories of those days, which she shared in an email:

It was in Morgan Park, at the Goodfellowship Club, where I learned the song “Solidarity Forever,” and so much more. They had activities for kids for every occasion — especially Halloween and Christmas. The movies on Saturday were so wonderful, we all wanted to be cowboys and girls. The continuation of the stories and cartoons was so exciting; it’s where I was introduced to so many different ways to live. We met different kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds.

Our family came to Duluth from Hinckley. My father grew up in Red Wing. Both of our parents were first generation Norwegians from large farming families. During World War II my parents lived in California. We also lived in Sandstone. I went to a one-room school in Fresland for kindergarten and first grade. The excitement of living in an apartment, attending a “real school” was so exciting.

Riding the bus to get to Downtown Duluth was a true adventure. The Duluth Public Library and my first-ever library card is a strong memory. The building made me think that this library might be a castle. Plus our parents took us to see “The Lift Bridge.” We went to see the ore boats come in, watched the grain elevator flaps fill the boats. I loved going to Park Point, learning about cold Lake Superior first hand. It was more sand and more water then I had ever imagined. These boats my parents said could be somewhat like the kind of big boats that brought my grandparents to America. We had lots of information about the Old Country shared with us, but it didn’t live up to our excitement about living in an apartment with all these families, all these new friends and things to do.

I would just like to confirm my memories about my short time in Morgan Park, and my questions about this housing location. I could walk from the apartment and meet up with other kids and we all were on our way to school together. At some point the kids who went to the Catholic School said goodbye and went their way.

Perhaps one of your readers would remember those apartments, or have some information about the apartment houses? Why were they there? Why such cheap rent? Why did we get what my mother called “food from the government.” We thought it was great. Perhaps one of your readers would know the origins of the buildings or what they were called? Why were they there? Our parents didn’t remember or want to remember. We have photos of our time in Morgan Park but little else. I had many perfectly great days in Duluth, especially in Morgan Park.

I am looking forward to someone knowing about this large group of apartment houses in Morgan Park, not far from the Good Fellowship Club and “downtown” Morgan Park.



about 3 years ago

Two places might fit the description in the post. They are marked in red and blue in the image at the bottom of this comment. The Morgan Park map that shows the original layout of the community has been rotated by 90 degrees so that north is at the top of the map.

The first possible location, outlined in red, is the set of Nenovan Club buildings that were first built for single men and later housed some female employees. The structures are three stories but made of concrete and not wood. The buildings are currently in use as rental units in Morgan Park under the name Nenovan.

A better fit seems to be the collection of buildings outlined in blue on the southwestern edge of Morgan Park. They don’t appear yet in a 1939 satellite image of the area, but they can be seen in this 1948 satellite photo and seem to fit quite well with the description and the time period given. In the next available satellite image of the area, in 1961, these buildings are already gone. This at least suggests that they might have been intended as temporary structures, which would explain why little information about them seems to be available.

For the cultural questions (and possibly some more information about those buildings), an excellent resource is Arnold R. Alanen’s 2007 book Morgan Park: Duluth, U.S. Steel, and the Forging of a Company Town. It’s a richly illustrated work that contains quite a bit of information about daily life in Morgan Park throughout its history.

Paul Lundgren

about 2 years ago

Originally this blog post was titled "That Part of Morgan Park that No Longer Exists," but it's been changed to "Old Morgan Park Apartment Houses," after some follow-up back-and-forth with Ina by email led to the sense that Ina's childhood home still exists. I think we've zeroed in on the area just east of the blue zone in the map above, shown in the Google Maps image below.

There are 14 structures of a similar style on 89th, 90th and 91st avenues west and two more on Hilton Street. They are about 1,000 feet from the former Morgan Park School and right on the border of U.S. Steel land, and were built circa 1920. 

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