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Remodeling uncovers history

North Shore murals hadn't been seen in 40 years

By Janna Goerdt

Duluth News Tribune

TWO HARBORS, Minn. -- Keith McKinzie tugged at a pegboard panel covering the wall of his new building, hoping to uncover even more of Two Harbors' history.

Behind him stretched eight vivid murals, each depicting an outdoors scene along the North Shore.

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The murals, painted by German immigrant Otto Goebl around 1954, depict a time when the North Shore was a little less tamed, a little slower-paced.

They recently caught their first glimpse of sunlight in more than four decades when McKinzie began remodeling the building, which will house at least one shop.

One mural shows Minnesota Highway 61 clinging to the side of Silver Creek cliff, a jagged but solid rock wall off to the side. Today, the cliff is cleaved by four lanes of traffic racing through the Silver Creek tunnel.

Another mural depicts the old metal bridge spanning Gooseberry Falls. The new bridge was completed in 1997 and was built just upriver from the old bridge, which dated to 1937. A man fishes in Hilgen Falls in one mural; a hunter takes aim at a deer in another.

The paintings might have been covered, but they hadn't been totally forgotten.

"I guess I knew they were there all the time, but I didn't think much about them," said Joe Zastera of Two Harbors, who owned the building until 1986.

Otto Goebl painted the scenes along one wall of the former New Life Cafe, founded by Greek immigrant John Huliares. Huliares had two sons, John and Wayne.

Wayne Huliares brought Ella Goebl back from Nuremburg, Germany, as a war bride and the couple worked in the cafe, which they would later own.

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Soon Ella sent for her father. After World War II, Germany was in chaos, and Wayne Huliares said Ella had long planned to bring her father to the United States.

Goebl lived in Two Harbors for about two years and was something of a mystery to the locals.

John and Wayne Huliares said Goebl, which just about rhymes with "gerbil," had been a member of the German Army and might have spent time in a Russian prison camp.

Goebl was an "arrogant" fellow who didn't like to get his hands dirty, said John Huliares, who now lives in Cloquet.

But he sure could paint.

Goebl was a house painter by trade, John Huliares said, but he painted artistically when he could.

The cafe murals were painted on a long wall lined with booths. When the painting and booths were fresh, it seemed like patrons were looking out a window as they ate dinner.

Goebl couldn't find steady work in Two Harbors, so he moved to Seattle and went to work as an interior painter for J.C. Penney Co. stores, Wayne Huliares said.

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Wayne, who now lives in Proctor, and Ella later divorced, and Ella followed her father to Seattle.

Something of her remains in the building, though -- in one mural, Goebl named an ore boat floating in Agate Bay the "Ella."

When Zastera bought the building and expanded his pharmacy into the space, he covered the murals with a display of greeting cards.

The murals remain as "a nice tribute to Otto," Zastera said. "And Ella was a wonderful person, a very hard worker. She worked her fanny off, making sure all the customers were satisfied."

Zastera remembers Ella serving him and Alfred Sonju, who later founded the Sonju Two Harbors car dealership, a lobster dinner at the cafe.

McKinzie is now a part-owner of Sonju Two Harbors.

And though he probably won't be eating any lobster in the former cafe, he does want to preserve the murals.

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