Architecture that holds up

Crystal chandeliers in the Hibbing High School auditorium (PHOTO: Steve Moses, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Last night I hosted my radio show at the newly restored Hibbing High School auditorium. Workers spent months renovating this town’s “castle in the woods. Now it looks as resplendent as when it first opened nearly a century ago.

I can assure you that words did the scene no justice. Some high school auditoriums are nicer than others, no doubt. Technically speaking mine was a gym, a lunch room and a tornado shelter.

But about 100 years ago here in Hibbing some forward-thinking people sent a message to the kids in their town, and a century’s worth of kids to follow. That message was, “For you, only the best will do.”

Those words live on today even though people who thought of the idea are long dead. That’s probably for the best. The people who have to dust these quarter-million dollar Czechoslovakian chandeliers might have some choice words for them.

It’s a lot easier to mop the tile floors of a steel sided pole building than to maintain great architecture. And that’s the reason modern architecture looks the way it does.

Architecture is one of those jobs that most kids imagine doing at some point in their lives. It’s the logical extension of building a LEGO city or a sandcastle taller than your reach. It’s a career that at first blush seems fitted for imagination, originality and even a touch of whimsy.

What kids find out when they get older, however, is that architecture is mostly just lots and lots of math so the roof doesn’t cave in. Architects are all too happy to point this out. Dreams of gables and gambrels quickly give way to the realities of load-bearing walls and limited budgets.

Cost per square foot, they cry. The more marble and hardwood you add, the higher the cost per square foot. Murals and carved moulding. Cost per square foot.

What if we used styrofoam instead? Pipe organs come precious, so how about a cassette player and a pair of tinny speakers strapped to the stage?

This is the same argument people use for buying a 24-pack of Busch Light rather than a growler of craft brew. Think of the unit price. Think of how much more you would have if you valued it less.

It’s a logic that only fails when you speak it aloud.

For the children of Hibbing, only the best for you. That’s the promise you were given, delivered in a building that lasts.

So we sit here in the Hibbing High School auditorium. A room that quietly inspired Bob Dylan and thousands of other sons and daughters of the Iron Range. Enjoy the upholstery. It could have been plastic, but they went for comfort and class. Look at the meticulous detail of the ceiling art and trim. A drop ceiling would have been cheaper, for sure.

In fact, you could throw out the whole place, brick by brick, replacing ever facet with something cheaper and more temporary. But this town would fight you every time. You can’t throw this place out; it’s who we are. Sometimes we have to fight for beauty. We have to pay to build. And when money is tight, we have time to spend. We can do it ourselves.

Only the best for you. Why would we ever want less for the next generation?

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. For such an ostentatious building, makes one wonder what the legal immigrants were thinking when they passed the $4 million bond referendum.

  2. Veda Zuponcic says

    A beautiful article, Aaron. We must continue to fill all the great halls on the Iron Range with great music!

  3. Garrett Orazem says

    So I’m sitting next to my dental chair on Martha’s Vineyard, south of Cape Cod and the guy in my chair told me he was a retired music professor from Los Angeles, but had grown up in New York City. He was pretty old, so I asked if he had ever been to the Capitol Theater there and he said he knew it well. Like a good Hibbing High graduate I leaned over to get the pictures of the auditorium, never out of reach. He looked at them and confirmed it looked just like the Capitol Theater.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article I used to want to be an architect myself back in 5th grade. I settled in as a residential real estate agent to get my architecture fix. I can’t tell you how often I hear the question about cost per square foot.

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