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Locking up a Preservation Success Story After Years of Effort

The former St. Louis County Jail in Duluth has been rehabilitated and will start its new life as affordable and market-rate apartments. We at Rethos are thrilled to see this historic building being reused as the Leijona—a preservation win! As with any undertaking of this size it took a village, as Sen. Tina Smith was quoted as saying at the grand opening of this new housing project. And some of the "villagers" have been at this for years.

Back when Rethos was known as the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, the St. Louis County Jail was included on PAM's annual "10 Most Endangered Historic Places" list three times - in 2004, and then back-to-back listings in 2008 and 2009. That was our multi-pronged (and ultimately exhausting) advocacy program to bring attention and preservation solutions to places that were under threat of demolition. We had some great advocacy partners for this place in particular - members of the Duluth Preservation Alliance and Heritage Preservation Commission rallied and made the case for preservation behind the scenes, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation also played a key role. It might have helped that the Trust's president at the time, Dick Moe, was from Duluth.

We ended the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program in 2013. Thankfully, by that time the jail had been purchased by a private developer, although it would take another 10 years for a viable project to emerge. Grant Carlson secured the future of the jail building by purchasing it from the city in 2010, and his eventual development partnership with Jon Commers and Meghan Elliot from New History brings us to where the jail building is today.

As units in the reimagined structure are rented, as families move in, as furniture is arranged, it's important to remember the efforts of those who laid the foundation to ensure the survival of this piece of Duluth's heritage. The opening of the Leijona housing project presented us with an opportunity reflect, and we found a treasure trove of memories both good and bad in our files - although now that we know the happy ending, the bad ones aren't so painful. Here are a few of the photos, article clippings, and letters that help explain how the St. Louis County Jail got from almost-demolished to wonderfully rehabilitated.

Interior of Leijona
Leijona interior hallway, from @liveleijona Instagram


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