Sheldon Aubut's Duluth History

Hotel Duluth
(Greysolon Plaza)

 

Domains $7.49 - Why Pay More?219-231 East Superior Street

Presently: Greysolon Plaza, Chinese Garden Restaurant, Romano’s Grocery

Previously: Hotel Duluth

Built: 1925

Architect: Martin Tullgren & Sons, Milwaukee

Style: Classical Revival

Fourteen stories, 500 rooms. The Hotel Duluth had an elaborate bottom and top and plain middle, as a column would have. Also plenty of classical detailing, carved rosettes, shields, swags, Corinthian columns. Also wrought-iron framed windows in round arch surrounds between the second and third floor and wrought-iron lamps across the second story. In 1925 the management described it as "thoroughly Italian Renaissance in the Lobby and on the Mezzanine floor," which leads into a "typical Spanish dining room."

The formal opening was held May 22-23, 1925. Ninety per cent of the work on this $2,400,000 structure was done by Duluth firms. The first person to sign the guest register was George H. Crosby, who has been called the "father of the Hotel Duluth" as he raised $350,000 in subscription for the building. The first out of town guest was John F. Scott of St. Paul, who was the President of the Minnesota Building and Loan Association.

In 1980 it was converted to apartments and the wonderful ballroom and other rooms are available for special occasion rental.  Occasionally apartments for rent pop up on places like Apartmentguide.com, but it is fairly rare.  As the 3rd tallest building in Duluth (missing 2nd place by a mere foot!), many of the apartments for rent have stunning views of Lake Superior. The lobby was used in 1993 for the filming of portions of the Disney movie Iron Will and is also somewhere you should take a walk through. The massive crystal chandeliers, gold leaf ceiling, while giant Corinthian columns and carved rosettes are still in the room, preserved from its Hotel Duluth days.

Celebrities who stayed here included Henry Fonda, Harry Jones, Charles Boyer, and Crown Prince Olav of Norway (1939), who was in Duluth to dedicate Enger Tower. In 1963 John F. Kennedy and his entourage took over the entire 14th floor, 2 months before his assassination.

 

THE BLACK BEAR LOUNGE

Early Sunday morning, August 18, 1929, Arvid Peterson was driving down London road at 26th Avenue East when he noticed a large black bear sauntering along behind his vehicle. Arvid was on his way to deliver fresh North Shore fish to a Duluth warehouse. The bear was obviously impressed with the smells coming from the back of his truck. Assuming the bear would tire soon leave and not follow, Arvid paid no more attention to the him until he arrived at the corner of Superior Street and Third Avenue East when he turned up the hill next to the Hotel Duluth, and realized that  the bear had followed him over a mile.  When the animal smelled the wonderful odors coming from the coffee shop in the Hotel Duluth Coffee Shop, he rose up on his hind feet and looked around as if greatly confused.  He then walked over to the coffee shop and with one mighty blow of its paw, it smashed a fifteen foot tall plate glass window. Glass flew in every direction. The bear dropped to all fours and rushed through the window to the center of the coffee shop.

A local drunk, wandering the streets in a stupor, saw the whole episode. For some unknown reason he had a hammer with him and he leaped through the broken window after the bear. Screaming and waving the hammer he first chased the bear, then stood there in a Mexican standoff with this monster of the big game.

Upon hearing the shattering glass, and the drunk's shouting, the night watchman, Albert Nelson, went to see what had happened. At first he guessed that an automobile had crashed through a window, or perhaps that there had been a kitchen explosion but when he arrived he was amazed at the sight of the huge black bear standing in the middle of the floor. He then ran to get the night clerk and the assistant manager, who called the police.

The coffee shop had an upper level which Nelson entered by a side door. Taking note of the two short stairways leading to the mezzanine from the main floor, he realized that he had to protect himself in some way so he set to piling tables and chairs at the top of the stairs as barricades. The bear was not idle during this time. Pursued by the drunk waving the hammer, he first attacked one stairway and then the other but Nelson beat him off each time by throwing chairs and tables down each stairway adding to the bearicades.

This battle went on for some time, during which the guests of the hotel, aroused by the commotion, congregated in the lobby and passersby on the streets started to gather at the windows. Soon there were large crowds watching the action both from the lobby of the hotel and from the street.

The crowd that grew larger and larger, pressing in on the coffee shop was estimated to be up to 300 curious people.. With each new charge of the bear the onlookers surged back a few steps, only to press in again when the bear retreated. All the while the madman with the hammer continued his relentless pursuit.

At this point Sergeant Eli Le Beau and Patrolman John Hagen arrived. In an effort to capture the wild beast they obtained a length of rope which they made into a noose. Entering the coffee shop they began pushing tables and chairs towards the bear in an ever tightening circle. After several attempts to lasso the animal, they moved the circle closer until they were certain to succeed. One has to ask just how smart it is to corner a hungry bear?  Just as they were ready to throw the rope around his head, the bear lunged backward attacking the stairway once more. Smashing chairs and tables he appeared to be breaking his way toward Nelson when Sergeant Le Beau hoisted his rifle to his shoulder and fired a well placed round into the animal’s head.

In mortal agony the bear raised up on its hind legs, stood wobbly for a moment, then fell down the stairs to the floor below. The crowd moved in closer, surrounding the dead bear. Silence reigned.

The magnificent animal was later sent to a local taxidermist and for many years was displayed in the front window of the "Black Bear Lounge" in the hotel.  Presently it is on display in the main dining room of the original Grandma’s Saloon & Grill in Canal Park, Duluth.

 


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