A step back in time: Remembering the Old Main campus

It’s another Monday morning, and that means the start of another week of school at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). You grab your backpack and start walking to campus, only to realize that it’s not there. A recent graduate of the time, Beatrice Ojakangas, and current student at the time, Jim Heffernan, inform you that you have time-lapsed back to 1958, and they take you to the Old Main campus. As they show you around the campus, you realize how different campus life was compared to today.

Old Main Park, located at 2305 E. Fifth Street, was where UMD’s campus used to be. According to a 1993 Statesman article titled “A Look at Old Main’s Past,” Old Main was built in 1901 and served as a Normal School. According to “UMD Comes of Age” by Ken Moran and Neil Storch, Old Main officially became part of the University of Minnesota chain in 1947.

You go with Ojakangas first. She tells you that she was a home economics major who attended UMD from 1952 to 1956. She takes you through the halls of the Old Main building where all of her classes were held.

“This was one of the four majors offered for women,” she says. “The other three options were nursing, English and teaching. I would have loved to learn to write, but I didn’t have that option.”

From there, she takes you back to her old dorm room in Torrance Hall. This all-girls dorm was watched over by a strict housemother. The girls had to check in and out of the building, could not be out later than 10 p.m., and boys were not allowed.

“We would play pranks on each other and at night, and some girls would use the fire escape to sneak in and out of the building,” Ojakangas says. “The housemother didn’t even know.”

It’s about lunchtime, so the two of you head to the cafeteria in the

basement of Torrance Hall. You take notice of all the students eating and hanging out. Ojakangas tells you she worked in the cafeteria, washing dishes for 79 cents an hour.

Over lunch, Ojakangas tells you about the Marriage Ball, a UMD dance hosted by the Engineer Club. The dance was held off campus at Hotel Duluth. “Big bands” such as Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington came to accompany the swing style of music. Couples had to stand in a big ring and kiss in front of everyone.

“I was ‘dragged’ there by my boyfriend Dick,” Ojakangas says. “I had never kissed him before, and I was forced to in front of everyone. He says it was the best dance, while I say it was the worst.”

After lunch, Heffernan takes over. He tells you that he is currently a sophomore at UMD.

“Students are starting to spend more time at the upper campus with the addition of Romano Gym, the library, and Kirby Student Plaza, but all of my classes are still at Old Main,” Heffernan says.

Heffernan takes you back in the Old Main building to show you where his classes are. You notice kids congregating and smoking by ashtrays outside of classrooms.

“Everyone seems to smoke,” he says. “The nerds and professors smoke pipes while the cool kids smoke cigarettes. Sometimes, young women are hired to come to campus and hand out free cigarettes to kids.”

Heffernan takes you to Old Main’s auditorium and tells you about all the marvelous student productions that he has seen there so far. But you don’t spend too much time there because you have to catch a basketball game at the new Romano Gym.

Outside, the gym is packed with students waiting to get into the game. The school spirit level is comparable to what you notice at the hockey games from your time. At halftime, Heffernan takes you to the small gym behind Romano.

“This is the women’s gym,” he tells you. “We don’t have girls varsity sports yet.”

Since you’ve seen everything worth seeing, Heffernan and Ojakangas send you back to your own time zone. Once back in 2012, you rush to the Old Main campus to see what the building looks like today. Disappointment falls over you when you see the building is no longer there.

You get in touch with the Duluth Preservation Alliance and talk with a member named Dennis Lamkin about what happened with Old Main since the late ’50s.

“By the late ’60s, when I attended UMD, everything was at the upper campus,” Lamkin says.

He goes on to tell you that Old Main was vacated in 1985 due to maintenance costs and issues.

“The building burned down in February of 1993 due to vandalism,” Lampkin says. “Luckily, nobody was hurt.”


BY ROSY BRAY brayx102@d.umn.edu

Biden travels to Superior

Student sets sights on future