Jan. 16, 1994
Flames erupt from the upper windows and roof of the Chinese Lantern shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday as firefighters pour water into the three-story structure from their hoses and aerial trucks. Twelve units and up to 50 firefighters were at the scene in downtown Duluth. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)
Lantern lost (published in the News-Tribune Jan. 17, 1994)
The Chinese Lantern, a landmark supper club popular among Northland residents and visitors for 30 years, caved into a shambles of scorches timbers and ice in little more than three hours early Sunday.
Up to 50 firefighters were called out in 18-below weather at 5:45 a.m., battling a downtown Duluth fire of unknown origin that started in the kitchen and quickly burst through the rooftop in a wall of flames that threatened the lives of a dozen firefighters inside.
Those firefighters evacuated the three-story building safely and all firefighters escaped without serious injuries during the eight-hour blaze.
Firefighters kept the fire from spreading beyond the concrete building at Fourth Avenue West and First Street. But by the time most were sent back to their stations, the roof had fallen in and much of the second floor Brass Phoenix nightspot was destroyed.
The main level fronting First Street had heavy smoke and water damage, its lobby photographs of prominent patrons barely visible amid the dirt and ice debris….
When and whether the restaurant can be rebuilt is uncertain. Owner Wing Ying Huie, 60, was able to enter the building to inspect the lower levels before noon.
Later he said he can’t decide whether to rebuild the business that has been at that location since 1976, when it replaced the original owner, the former prestigious Duluth Athletic Club. …
Huie opened the Chinese Lantern in 1964 at the Superior Street level of the Palladio Building, immediately behind the structure that burned. He was following a Huie family tradition of serving authentic Chinese specialties that began when his father, Joe Huie, opened a restaurant near the entrance of Canal Park in the early 1900s. …
[The Chinese Lantern] was known throughout the state and has been named one of the 200 best independent restaurants in the United States, Huie said proudly as he struggled to light a cigarette, shivering from the cold and anxiety of the morning.
"I tried my best here," Huie said. "The people in Duluth have been very good to me."
Acting Duluth Fire Chief Dan Haus emerges from the First Street door of the Chinese Lantern after the fire. The building was encased in ice after firefighters doused the blaze in 18-below temperatures. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)
It’s the place where the famous came to eat (Jan. 17, 1994)
Elvis ate there. Pearl Bailey ate there. Walter Mondale ate there.
And chances are, if you’ve lived in Duluth for any length of time, you’ve eaten there, too.
The Chinese Lantern has been an institution here for 30 years. It’s the place tourists stop natives on the street and ask about. It’s one of the places – like the Aerial Bridge, like Glensheen – that comes to mind when people think of Duluth.
And Sunday morning, it was destroyed.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted," said former employee Rose Chida. "When my daughter called me and told me the news, I was just – flabbergasted."
Chida managed the restaurant in the old days, when it was in the Palladio Building. … It was her idea, she said, to move the restaurant up to First Street into the larger quarters of the former Duluth Athletic Club.
"I told Wing [owner Wing Ying Huie], when the line starts out the door and stretches down the street, it’s time to do something," she said.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the place was that popular. Not only did it attract customers from all over the world – including movie stars, politicians and musicians – but the restaurant also did catering for the former North Central Airlines. …
Jan. 17, 1994: Workers remove heavy items from the wreckage of the Chinese Lantern a day after a fire destroyed the downtown Duluth restaurant. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)
The Chinese Lantern restaurant was not rebuilt, and the building has housed a succession of other bars and restaurants up to the present.
Sept. 24, 1994: Rusty Marshall of Lakehead Sign Co. works on taking down some Duluth landmarks – the signs of the Chinese Lantern restaurant, which burned earlier in the year. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)