Superior Street 1963/2023 – Part One: Continuity

In 1963 an unknown photographer systematically photographed Superior Street, capturing downtown buildings and businesses on both sides. Ninety-five of these images have been preserved on the Minnesota Reflections website.

These images form a sort of early Google Streetview for downtown Duluth. But while Streetview is created through an automated machine, these photos were taken by a professional photographer, as I learned when trying to re-create them. The lines of the photos are almost impossibly straight given the building areas they cover. As I walked down the street with a print-out in hand, failing again and again to match the perspective of that 1963 photographer, I kept wondering what sort of camera and lens I would need to properly mimic it. And then, while under the awning of the Alworth building, the answer came to me: I needed a ladder. As I kept trying to move farther and farther back to match the way the awning covers nearly half the image in the 1963 photo, I realized that the photographer had been standing on a ladder. And not just that photo but every 1963 photo is centered one floor above street level. The photographer climbed up, took the photograph, moved the ladder a bit down the street, and repeated the process.

I didn’t have a ladder but I did have something that 1963 photographer did not: Photoshop. Taking photos at ground level, sometimes while hunched down to block a rising sun, resulted in a very different perspective from the 1963 images. I used Photoshop’s perspective warp tool to fix that. I straightened out the lines and then cropped the 1963 photos as necessary to match the visible area of my own images. So if you are wondering why some buildings look nearly the same as in 1963 other than a slight but noticeable shift in proportions, that Photoshop tool is the answer.

Before use of the perspective warp tool

I can only speculate why the 1963 photographer undertook this project, but I suspect it has something to do with Duluth’s Gateway Urban Renewal Program. The Spalding Hotel, at the location of the current Ordean Building, went down in 1963 and the photographer, or whoever commissioned the photographer, may have wanted to document what the street looked liked just before it underwent a period of transformation.

Replicating some of these photos 60 years later allows for an evaluation of that transformation. I attempted to recreate the 20 photos that I found the most interesting and have divided them into two categories: continuity and change. The first ten photo sets show locations that look much the same as they did in 1963. Not only are the buildings and their facades recognizable but some of them still house the same businesses. Going in to businesses like Minnesota Surplus and showing them the 1963 photo that I was trying to recreate was probably my favorite part of the project.

If you see a store name or discount sign from 1963 that you can’t quite read, the address line introducing each photo pair below contains a link back to the original high resolution 1963 image in the Minnesota Reflections database.

227-231 East Superior Street

1963

2023

207-213 East Superior Street

1963

2023

201-207 East Superior Street

1963

2023

7-1 West Superior Street

1963

2023

15-9 West Superior Street

1963

2023

31 West Superior Street

1963

2023

131-125 West Superior Street

1963

2023

200-208 West Superior Street

1963

2023

218-222 West Superior Street

1963

2023

The photos above show buildings on Superior Street that have changed little over the past 60 years. The photos in part two will show places where the changes over time are a bit more evident.

4 Comments

mnbeerdrinker

about 3 months ago

Thanks for doing this! I grew up in Duluth in the 1960s and '70s, so I really enjoyed looking at these.

Ghist1

about 3 months ago

I have stared at those 1963 photos so many times; it hadn't occurred to me that it was 60 years ago. You can see lots of similar "closed" signs in the windows; I wondered if there was an office handing them out, etc. (i.e. for the buildings that were slated to be torn down; maybe more in your next set).

Tony D.

about 3 months ago

Love the "then and now" approach, Matthew! I used several of these images in my books over the years. The photographer of the 1963 Superior Street photo series is L. Perry Gallagher Jr. Here's a brief bio of Gallagher and his father from "Duluth's Grand Old Architecture": 

L. Perry Gallagher Sr. (1875–1945) was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and came to Duluth in 1894 to work for Herman Brown. He left Brown for the Zenith View Company before establishing his own studio in 1898. L. Perry Gallagher Jr. (1912–1988) apprenticed with his father and eventually inherited Gallagher Studios. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Gallagher Sr. retired ca. 1935 and that Gallagher Jr. worked until shortly before his death in 1988. The Gallaghers photographed architecture and historic events and specialized in aerial photography.

Matthew James

about 3 months ago

Thanks for that clarification... that one piece of information now ties the post into dozens of others featuring the work of Gallagher Studies on Perfect Duluth Day through the now added tag. 

And I'm not at all surprised that the photos were taken by a professional. Even with all of my digital tools, I had a hard time matching the tonal balance that he managed to achieve with the right camera settings and some skill in a darkroom. Which gives me a bit more of an appreciation of all of his other Duluth photos.

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