The Duluth Portorama, an event-packed summer festival, ran in late July and early August every year from 1959 to 1969. The Duluth Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) sponsored the event.
In 1966, near the peak of the Portorama’s popularity, the Duluth News Tribune wrote about the Portorama Parade, “to count all the men, women, and children and even dogs on Superior Street would be like counting stars in the Milky Way.”
Further, they wrote, “local festivals have a way of coming and going. It may take years of experience before a community can be sure that the series will go on indefinitely.” There seemed little doubt Portorama would go on.
A February (2/19/19) News Tribune article brought Portorama back to our attention.
Mysteriously, the term “portorama,” if not the festival itself is up for a committee hearing on Valentine’s Day in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
At issue are 218 words comprising Minnesota Statute 19-1642 sections 333.50, 333.51 and 333.52, that make it a misdemeanor to use the word “portorama” “for personal or business purposes” without permission of the Duluth Jaycees.
A bill authored by state Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, would remove the portorama clauses from state law.
Why it’s coming up now, some 50 years after the demise of the festival, isn’t entirely clear, even to Schultz.
An individual contacted her, Schultz said, expressing interest in the word and asking if the prohibition could be removed. She didn’t see any reason for it to be in the statutes, but to make sure she contacted David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. He assured her the chamber didn’t have any plans for anything called portorama.
Some unauthorized uses of the festival name had prompted the Jaycees to seek the law proclaiming it “illegal for any person to use the name ‘Portorama’ for any purposes not authorized by the Duluth Jaycees.” The state law, passed in 1967, protected the use of the Portorama name.
In 1960, the festival’s second year, Portorama lasted ten days and included more than fifty events, including the Miss Seaway Port of Duluth pageant. Two ships, the Alexander T. Wood from Britain and the Etnefjell, from Norway, held open house tours.
There was a golf tournament, a softball tournament, baseball, stock car races, a dog show, sand modeling, a tropical fish display, a youth chess tournament, a white elephant sale, “kidde” events for the youngsters, and a touring musical variety show called “Japanese Spectacular.”
In 1962, the festival featured parades, theater productions, water events, sport activities, merchant’s promotions, dances, musical events, and the Folk Festival of the International Institute. This was the first year Portorama made a profit, of around $1,000. The festival cost about $10,000 to stage, mostly funded by sales of Portorama buttons and stamps.
Subsequent years featured similar events, with the parade and the Folk Festival as perennial highlights. 1966 was one of Portorama’s peak years. The festival ran for 11 days, and was held simultaneously with the grand opening festivities of the Arena-Auditorium (now part of the DECC.)
Events included a bridge tournament, an ore boat race, an exhibit of the Arrowhead Stamp Club’s collections, and endurance swim contests. There was a square dance, a Blue Angels flyover, a yacht race, a soccer match, a judo demonstration, a rowing regatta, and two art shows.
50,000 spectators were expected to attend the parade, which featured floats, royalty, 43 bands, two Scottish “kiltie” bands, and a dog team. The parade, “growing every year,” “appeared destined to become the largest in Minnesota.”
But times changed, and attendance dropped. Only a few years later, in 1970, the Jaycees unanimously voted to withdraw their support for the festival, citing declining interest and financial losses.
Portorama had run its course.
Duluth Public Library Clippings File, Duluth. Celebrations. – 2009
Duluth News Tribune 2-11-2019, “’Portorama’ comeback? Long-defunct Duluth festival makes an appearance in the legislature’s business.” Lunday, John. Duluth News Tribune, 2-11-19, p. A1.