November 11, 1918. World War One ended. The world was at peace. Armistice Day, marking the cessation of hostilities, became a solemn holiday to remember those who had suffered and died in “The War to End All Wars.”
During World War Two, many countries changed the name of this day. Member nations of the Commonwealth, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, adopted the name “Remembrance Day.” America chose Veterans Day. On this day people pause to thank our veterans, living and dead, who sacrificed for their country.
Hibbing has a long history of men and women who have proudly served in the Armed Forces. Wishing to do something special for these veterans, plans began as soon as the town’s move to the south of its original site was underway.
The following article details the story of Hibbing’s Memorial Building. This article originally appeared in the June 29, 1946 special expanded edition of the newspaper which celebrated Hibbing’s 50th anniversary and the Victory of America in World War Two.
Also incorporated into that article is information from the 2017 - 3rd Quarter Newsletter of the Hibbing Historical Society.
George Fisher, Managing Editor of the Hibbing Tribune at this time, wrote an editorial to introduce the special edition of the newspaper in 1946. His editorial reads, in part, “Not only was Hibbing’s war toll one of the heaviest in the state, but the number of men and women who served is likewise near the top of all Northwest communities. It was a war record that displayed the caliber of the ‘iron men’ who left their loved ones to enter war. Many of these young ones were decorated for their valor; a big percentage of them, estimated as high as 22 percent, received commissions. Many of them were among the state’s war heroes.”
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
Memorial Building Dedicated to Veterans
A permanent memorial to veterans of World War I, who fought that democracy might live, was built in 1925 to benefit servicemen and every fellow citizen of Hibbing’s soldiers and sailors and airmen. Located near Hibbing’s proud new high school, the memorial building would also have a classic design.
Ground was broken for the first memorial recreational building in 1924, following the passage of an enabling act in the State legislature permitting Hibbing to construct a memorial to veterans of the Great War.
A bond issue was floated by the Village to defray the cost of more than $400,000 (over $5.5 million today) for the recreation center which would include servicemen’s organization headquarters, civic group meeting rooms, and sports facilities.
John Gannon was mayor of the Village when the project was launched. John Golob was recorder for the Village and Harry Brownell, Edward Micka, and James Madden were trustees. The Gorman Construction Company of Virginia erected the building. The building was dedicated on September 18 and 19, 1925. More than 5,000 people attended the events and a fine parade was held.
The inscription on the front of the building read, “Let us keep alive the spirit of America as exemplified by those whose service we honor.”
The tragic loss of this fine building happened in the early morning hours of December 28, 1933, when the building was engulfed in flames. Firefighters from Hibbing and Keewatin and hundreds of volunteers fought the flames for 12 hours in the bitter cold. People were taken to the hospital with frostbite. With temperatures of 33 below zero, the firefighters’ hoses froze and despite the best efforts of all involved, the building was destroyed.
The building’s loss left such a marked void in community life that immediate plans were laid to replace the veterans memorial. With the $330,000 insurance fund received for the burned building, plus a federal Public Works Administration grant, a new Memorial Building was erected to honor those who had served their country. (Also, $100,000 worth of steel scrap was salvaged from the building’s ruins.) The new building was built on the same parcel of land as the building which burned.
Dedicated in 1935, the new building is an impressive structure designed in severe modern style with a curved roofline by architect E.R. Erickson. Built primarily as a stadium for the use of the general public, it was also designed to be, like its predecessor, a home for Hibbing’s ex-servicemen, their auxiliaries, and other civic organizations.
(The Hibbing Daily Tribune of November 19, 1935, reminded all citizens: “Let us ever remember that the building was originally built to honor those who gave their lives that democracy might live. This beautiful new structure should be known to every one of us as the Hibbing Memorial Building. It should not be referred to as the ‘Rec.’ It is first and last a memorial, consecrated and dedicated to the men and women who served their country.”)
Plans were developed with a view toward satisfying needs and demands of all Hibbing citizens and the new building is a composite of a memorial hall, the arena, soldier quarters, civic quarters, a curling rink and labor quarters.
The Memorial Hall is the reception hall first entered through the main doors. It has a capacity of 1,000 people and is more than three stories in height.
The Arena, with a ceiling height equal to that of a six-story building, makes it one of the largest in the country. In this arena, ice hockey, ice shows, wrestling matches, boxing matches, circuses, conventions, dances, indoor football, basketball, and other sports events have been staged. Showers and rub-down rooms for teams are provided.
Veterans quarters are located in spacious rooms to the east side of the building. Facilities are found here for the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and Spanish American War Veterans. Civic quarters located below the main floor include a Little Theater, a large dining and dance hall, a fully equipped kitchen, club rooms and committee rooms.
Accommodations for First Settlers, the Red Cross, and labor organizations are also found in the building. The curling rink is in a separate building and includes seven sheets of ice.
Daily use of this building by the community’s civic organizations and Hibbing’s citizens means the Memorial Building has, once again, become the recreational and activity center of the Village and surrounding area.
It is a daily reminder of the brave veterans for whom this beautiful edifice was built.