Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can Bob Dylan save the county jail?

By Jim Heffernan
Taken from the county jail
By a set of curious chances;
Liberated then on bail,
On my own recognizances;
Wafted by a favouring gale
As one sometimes is in trances,
To a height that few can scale,
Save by long and weary dances;
Surely, never had a male
Under such like circumstances
So adventurous a tale,
Which may rank with most romances.
– W. S. Gilbert, “The Mikado”
So, Duluth preservationists have six months to save the old St. Louis County Jail in the Civic Center. Find another use – and user – or the wrecking ball will drop on the venerable lockup in November, decrees the Duluth City Council.

Daunting assignment. Experts say it would be enormously expensive to rehabilitate the former hoosegow because, news reports state, the entire building is held up from the inside by the jail cells installed when it was built in 1923. Remove the jail cells and, the story goes, the four walls would tumble.

Potential investors who might consider turning it into a hotel or apartment building say the cost is prohibitive: Millions upon millions of dollars – more than it would cost to build a new structure of similar size.

Hmmm. It’s a problem, that’s for sure. And only six months to solve it, or the jail is turned into a pile of rubble fit for Del Zotto’s Pit in Gary-New Duluth. I don’t know if they still dump building refuse there, but somewhere beneath the overburden in that western Duluth neighborhood lie the old Lyceum Theater, Spalding Hotel and other buildings preservationists would have liked to save if there had been preservationists when they were torn down.

I’m all for saving the jail – I’d miss it rounding Second Street in my car. And it is handsome on the outside. Looks like it could house offices for important government officials or deliberative legislative bodies or the Lord High Executioner who sings the song at the top of this treatise.

Clearly drastic measures must be taken to save the building.

I have a suggestion that has worked in the past and can be stated in two words: Bob Dylan. (I’m going to dispense with explaining who Bob Dylan is because everybody knows.)

Who has saved the old Minnesota National Guard Armory on London Road in Duluth from being razed? Bob Dylan. He has admitted attending a rock ‘n’ roll concert there in 1959 featuring singer Buddy “That’ll Be the Day” Holly and two other famous musicians a few days before the performers were killed in a plane crash. Save the Armory folks have used that one influential night of rock‘n’roll history – Holly and Dylan, together once – as the raison d’etre for preserving the historic building. Never mind that Liberace also performed there. (I’m going to dispense with explaining who Liberace was because nobody cares.)

Surely preservationists could come up with some link of Dylan with the old St. Louis County Jail. As with the Armory, it wouldn’t take much.

Of course, we can’t have Dylan arrested and held there overnight on a wild Duluth visit as a teenager in the late 1950s. That could stain the reputation of this revered singer-songwriter, although it didn’t hurt the late Johnny Cash to seem like he was a county jail kind of guy.

But what about the night Dylan and his buddies sped down to Duluth from Hibbing to see a movie that hadn’t made it to the Range yet (maybe “Blackboard Jungle” featuring the anthem “Rock Around the Clock”), after which a Dylan pal who shall go unnamed got hold of some rotgut, caused a ruckus at the Coney Island and was hauled off to the stately St. Louis County Jail and held overnight.

And wasn’t it great that Bob Dylan went to the jail the next morning and bailed out his buddy, who was actually a good lad who had just this one bad experience? What a friend he had in Dylan.

It could have happened. Just think, Bob Dylan inside the portals of the architecturally and historically significant St. Louis County Jail in Duluth.

Save that building, for heaven’s sake!

Oh, and while they’re at it, save the Norshor Theater, where Dylan and his buddies might have seen “Blackboard Jungle.” You can’t let a movie house Bob Dylan once might have attended go to wreck and ruin.

And save Clyde Iron. Surely Bob Dylan… Oh, never mind. They already saved it without him.

No comments: