Feature: Dylan synagogue for sale in Hibbing

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

HIBBING — Item No. 8 on the official Bob Dylan Walk tour is a white building with four golden stained-glass windows and a three-color circle with the Star of David at the south peak.

What was once Agudath Achim Synagogue, at 2320 W. Second St., was the site of 13-year-old Bobby Zimmerman’s bar mitzvah. Bobby Zimmerman grew up to be Bob Dylan, and current owners Brenda Shafer-Pellinen and her husband, Eric, are hoping this bit of history piques the interest of one of Dylan’s hardcore fans, who might be interested in buying it.

“People who like Dylan, love Dylan,” Shafer-Pellinen said. “They have an unusual level of devotion to his music — more so than other musical groups or artists.”

Shafer-Pellinen said she posted it on the website Craigslist a few months ago, and that she also has reached out to Dylan devotees on websites such as expectingrain.com and dylanradio.com. The property is being shown by Perella & Associates as a possible single-family home or duplex, and the asking price is $119,000.

Even though it is the place where Dylan celebrated a religious benchmark, it hasn’t been a synagogue since the 1980s, when the congregation disbanded and the building was turned into apartments. Shafer-Pellinen and her husband bought it in 2001. They were looking to live in an old church — not necessarily one with a connection to Dylan, although Shafer-Pellinen is a fan, she said. The plan was to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, but the Twin Cities-based couple has been unable to move north.

This address is a midway point in the almost two-mile loop of a walking tour of Dylan landmarks that was compiled by the Hibbing Public Library, and has 14 points of interest from the town were Dylan lived before jetting off to Minneapolis. It includes hot spots such as his childhood home at 2425 Seventh Ave. E. — where the garage is now decorated with a painted likeness of the cover of “Blood on the Tracks” — and Hibbing High School, where he graduated in 1959. And there are spots that have the kind of link that requires a devoted fan’s hunger for details, such as Hibbing Bowling Alley, where then-Zimmerman was on a team called the Gutter Boys, which won a teenage bowling competition.

It’s his childhood home that really draws fans, said Dawn Johnson, the secretary for the Hibbing High School library. She passes the two-story stucco home on the corner on her way home from work. At least once a week, someone is outside taking a photograph of it.

“I’ve had people pull me over on the street (to ask where it is),” Johnson said.

Tom Larson, who lives next door to the former synagogue, said he doesn’t think its Dylan connection is hyped enough. He doesn’t see many tourists stop by.

D’Aine Greene was checking out the public library’s Bob Dylan display on Friday afternoon. She had spent the previous day tracing Dylan’s history in Duluth. Greene hadn’t heard about the synagogue just a few blocks away, but wanted the address so she could stop by. She had already hit his childhood home, and Hibbing High School — where she said she was the third tourist that day.

Dylan’s Jewish upbringing is part of his music, she said.

“I think spiritual involvement is important. It’s what affected his songs. He is either rebelling against it, or celebrating it,” Greene said.

The residence maintains pieces of its history as a synagogue. There are stained-glass windows, and there are two identical kitchens just 6 feet apart, for adhering to kosher rules requiring meat- and milk-based dishes be kept separate. The main room has high ceilings, and a loft on the north and south ends.

This story ran in the October 10, 2010 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Feature: Renovating Dylan’s childhood home

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Bob Dylan’s childhood home in the Central Hillside is currently a pale shade of salmon. Beneath that layer of paint are hints of green. But that shade matches some flecks on the storm windows, so that can’t be right. There weren’t aluminum storm windows on the house at 519 N. Third Ave. E. in the early 1940s.

Bill Pagel, the owner of the duplex, has a mystery on his hands.

The historian and collector of Dylan memorabilia — whose collection hit its apex with the purchase of this house in 2001 — is trying to restore the home to its appearance when the folk singer lived there with his parents, Beatty and Abe Zimmerman, and younger brother, David.

“My purpose in doing all of this is I wanted to preserve it and restore it as much as I can to what it looked like,” Pagel said. “Beyond that, I don’t have any idea. For posterity. At some point, get it on the national registry.”

He’s referring to the National Registry of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.

Pagel has a binder with photographs that show the structure of the porch, as well as neighboring properties — some of which have been razed. But the black-and-white image he has of the house exterior, taken in the winter by the owners who came after the Zimmermans, reveals only that the house was a light color but not white. The shade is darker than the snow on the ground.

Pagel is looking for anyone who might have a photograph that shows his house — anything that can help him get it close to how it was from 1941-46 when the Zimmermans lived there.

THE HOUSE

The Zimmermans rented the 900-square-foot, two-bedroom space upstairs of the house built in 1909. It has a dark wood staircase that ends with a twist to the left. It opens into a middle living area with piano windows facing the lake, the view obscured by buildings. Carpet covers the original wood floors, and there is a shelving unit built into the wall.

At the front is a living room with a large window and a door that leads to an upper-level porch with a view of Lake Superior. There is another, smaller porch off the back of the house. The bathtub has its original claw-foot tub. The heavy oak doors remain, as do the push-button light switches.

“Bobby reached up and pushed those a couple times,” Pagel said, fingering the switch panel.

Pagel plans to finish the house’s exterior this summer: fitting the front porch with a skirt of vertical wood, painting the house, and fixing the roof. He will work on inside projects like refinishing the original wood flooring and rehabbing the kitchen in the winter.

“I remember it here”

Pauline and Theo Swierc say that when they owned the house from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Dylan stopped by about three times. He introduced himself to the couple from Poland and told them that he had been born there. They let him look around inside, they said Friday. Pauline’s mother still lives next-door to the house.

“Friendly guy,” said Pauline Swierc. “He said, ‘I remember it here. I (was) born here.’”

Theo Swierc said when they sold the house, the real estate agent added the information about Dylan to the listing, and they sold it the next day to Kathy Burns. She wasn’t interested in the house as much as its history, they said.

Pagel bought the property in 2001, after an initial eBay bidding war fell through on Burns, who listed it as a “must have for the die-hard Dylan fan.” She billed it as the place where the musician took his first steps. Pagel was the second-highest bidder and eventually bought the house for about $82,000. He has been planning renovations for years.

“I just procrastinated,” he said. “I just got to it now. I should have done it earlier.”

Local Dylan enthusiast John Bushey, who hosts the show “Highway 61 Revisited: The Music of Bob Dylan” on Saturdays on KUMD-FM, was rooting for Pagel during that online auction. Bushey had met Pagel at concerts and was familiar with what he considers the premiere Dylan website in the world, http://www.boblinks.com, which Pagel runs.

Bushey said he knew that Pagel had a lot of Dylan memorabilia and liked the idea of the then-Madison resident bringing his collection to the area.

“He’s a historian,” Bushey said. “He wants to preserve the house of one of America’s greatest writers of the 20th century. That’s why I wanted him to get the house. He’s trying to put it back the way it was. He’s intense in his research.”

ATTENTION FROM FANS

The two-story house, which would be nondescript if not for its place in rock ’n’ roll history, attracts plenty of attention from Dylan fans — more so in recent years.

Pagel said a handful of people stop by every week from all over the world. On Friday, he had visitors from France. Former tenant Bertram Bergeron, who lived in the apartment with his wife, Sue, for 13 years until 2002, said traffic was lighter in those days.

Bergeron said the most striking moment of fandom when he lived there came on Dylan’s 50th birthday when some kids asked if they could decorate the light post outside of the house.

“Then they said, ‘Can we come in?’ and we said ‘No,’” he recalled.

Neither Bergeron nor his wife is a fan of Dylan. While they still miss living in the apartment, the space held no “Dylan was here” appeal for them. They never saw Dylan’s initials etched in the woodwork, or any of the other urban legends associated with the space.

When fans stop by now, Pagel will gladly talk about Dylan. He considers himself more of a historian than a lyric interpreter, and will talk about his collection of vintage posters and relics from Dylan’s childhood and teen years. But like Bergeron before him, Pagel won’t let fans inside, either.

Bob Dylan, who is a year older than Pagel, turns 70 next year. Pagel is hoping Dylan will want to come back to the hillside where he spent his first six years. Dylan has mentioned the fog horn, and the rocky ledges of Duluth’s landscape in his poetry. And when he played at Bayfront Festival Park in 1999, he said:

“I was born on the hill over there. Glad to see it’s still there.”

Pagel would offer an opportunity to the star not afforded to others who stop by his residence:

“I’d let him come inside,” Pagel said.

This story originally appeared on August 7, 2010 in the Duluth News Tribune.