Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Armory Breaks Ground On Drill Hall Floor Restoration

Mark Poirier gets media moment in the drill hall.
At 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday December 5 members of the Armory Board, representatives from Gardner Builders and LBH, and news teams from the local media gathered to "untie the ribbon" that would set in motion the interior floor restoration of the Duluth Armory. Mark Poirier, executive director of the Armory Arts & Music Center, shared a few words in a brief ceremony to kick things off.

Calling the Armory "one of the most important buildings in Duluth, Poirier cited just a few of the people have graced this stage, including Liberace, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny Cash among others. He mentioned how the memorial service for Albert Woolson, the last survivor from the Civil War, brought dignitaries from all over the world to Duluth to honor the old veteran, whose home was just around the corner from where the Zimmerman's lived on Duluth's Central Hillside. (In mentioning this memorial service, one couldn't help but think about the memorial service taking place at this very moment for George H.W. Bush in Washington D.C.)

The shovels are, naturally, symbolic. The floor is concrete.
Joellyn Gum and Michelle Bredin tie the ribbon on the robo-jackhammer.
Poirier went on to note the importance of places. It was 100 years ago when the destructive Cloquet fire swept through our Northland, wiping out 35 small communities. The Armory served as a shelter, a place where separated family members could reconnect and burn victims be treated. Preserving buildings like the Armory is an important undertaking as these places connect us to our past, he said. "Buildings like this are a repository of our history. We all stand on the shoulders of people who came before us," Poirier explained.

The official moment... like a starter's pistol
Another aspect of this renovation project has been the evolving plan for future use. "Ultimately it has to be economically sustainable." The drill hall floor project is the last of five major issues that needed to be addressed before moving into the full-fledged development phase. He noted that the area is now an "Opportunity Zone" which will also have benefits. "It's a mission with many components and we coulbdn't have done it without help from many sources," he said as he thanked LHB, the Historical Society ad Gardner Builders.

The star of the show prepares to demonstrate its power.
Bob Gardner spoke next, sharing how there has been a lot of work involved to make this happen. In addition to the financial piece, there are some technically challenging aspects of the project as well, such as breaking up and removing 20,000 square feet of concrete. "It's been a team effort," Gardner said, noting that he was grateful to be part of it.

Joe Litman from LHB then shared briefly, stating that this is a unique structure. "I take my hat off to the Armory group" for all they have done. "Not everyone gets it, but the Armory Board has achieved something special here."

It may not have been planned this way, but the ceremony took place near the very spot where young Bob Dylan (17-year-old Robert Zimmerman) stood as he watched Buddy Holly and the Winter Dance Party of 1959 here. Some of us were aware, though, and it only heightened our sense of the moment's significance.

From the start it has been an ambition project. Tremendous obstacles have already been overcome and there is a sense in which it will become apparent to all that the sacrifices have been worthwhile.

Related Links
About the Armory
The Cloquet Fire of 1918
Drill Hall Stabilization Underway (Business North)

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