Crossroads Inn Fire, 1974

Last month’s fire at the Kozy Bar and Apartments brought forth a mention in the News Tribune newsroom of another high-profile downtown fire, from decades ago – the Crossroads Inn blaze on March 21, 1974, which claimed two lives. The Crossroads Inn stood at the corner of Superior and Lake, a place now occupied by the Tech Village (more specifically, Pizza Luce).

Here’s coverage of that fire from the News Tribune archives – I don’t have the original, glossy photo prints; I have to rely on scanning in photos from old news clippings, which have marks from being folded up all these years:

Firefighters from nine fire companies attempt to extinguish flames raging through the Crossroads Inn in downtown Duluth on March 21, 1974. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

2 killed as fire hits Duluth hotel

News-Tribune

Fire Thursday gutted the Crossroads Inn, 1 E. Superior St., killing two persons and sending eight to Duluth hospitals.

Firemen who responded to the alarm about 5:30 p.m. found the three-story building ablaze. Smoke and people were coming out the windows. One man was seen hanging from an upper window by his hands and then dropping to the Lake Avenue sidewalk where he was caught by three men. Others were removed from the upper floor windows by ladder after firemen arrived.

Dead are:

  • Olaf Johnson, 88, no known survivors.
  • Mrs. Roger Stoneburner, 27.

Both resided at the Crossroads.

Critically injured and undergoing treatment in the Miller-Dwan Hospital burn center was Walter Hill, 50.

Four of the injured were taken to St. Mary’s Hospital. They are:

  • Melvin Sandbeck, 21, in fair condition from smoke inhalation.
  • An unknown man between the ages of 25 and 35, in critical condition and unconscious from a skull fracture.
  • Two Duluth firemen, Richard Knutson, 32, and Henry Nick, 47, both of whom were released after treatment.

Three were taken to St. Luke’s Hospital. They are:

  • Bertha Jarl, 70, in satisfactory condition with a lacerated leg and smoke inhalation.
  • Roger Stoneburner, 26, who was released after treatment. He was the husband of the dead woman.
  • Leonard Kinney, 26, a member of the Duluth Fire Department rescue squad, who was released after treatment.

All the injured except the firemen were occupants of the Crossroads Inn.

One witness was Sam I. Green of the Duluth Liquor Store across Lake Avenue from the hotel.

“You wouldn’t believe how fast it went,” said Green. “It spread faster than a bullet could go. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Green said he first saw the fire through a window in a room on the Superior Street level. He said he immediately called the fire department, and by the time he hung up the telephone he could see flames through the windows of the second and third floors.

Charlie Flynn, an occupant of a first floor room, said the first he knew about the fire was when “I opened the door and it was black as coal.”

Flames were still shooting from the building more than an hour after firemen arrived on the scene. At first the fire seemed to be centered at the rear of the building, near the Gardner Hotel, but it later broke through the roof near the front.

The first firemen who entered the building with air tanks and face masks came back out almost immediately, steam coming from their heavy coats and their heads shaking as though they were driven out by the heat. …

The cause of the flash fire has not been determined and no exact estimate of damage in available, Fire Chief Del Leonard said. …

James A. Anderson, owner of the Crossroads Inn, said 20 of the 21 rooms were occupied at the time of the fire, and 15 guests had resided there for a month or more. He said the building, with remodeling, cost him $135,000 five years ago.

Lake Avenue, Superior Street and First Street were blocked by emergency vehicles, fire hoses and crowd-control ropes.

A northwest wind carried smoke down onto Superior Street where it blocked visibility and caused spectators to choke. Lake Avenue became a solid sheet of ice, causing Fire Chief Leonard to slip and fall as he conferred with Mayor Ben Boo.

Spray from the fire hoses froze on the helmets and coats of firemen and covered their equipment with ice.

Residents evacuated from the Crossroads Inn and the adjacent Gardner Hotel were talking on the sidewalk and in nearby business places, asking about each other’s friends.

The Gardner Hotel, adjacent to the Crossroads Inn, was evacuated when the fire was discovered.

“We were sitting drinking coffee and somebody hollered ‘fire,’ ” said Mrs. Evelyn Skoglund, a resident of the Gardner Hotel. “The smoke was just pouring up.” She said she immediately began knocking on doors to rouse occupants of the rooms. She said the people in one room were eating dinner, and she told them to forget the dinner because there was a fire.

———————————–

Rescue workers carry an injured fireman from the Crossroads Inn blaze. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Here’s one more take on the fire from the March 22, 1974, News Tribune:

‘A lot more unfortunate than us’

News-Tribune

An elderly gentleman stood in the doorway of the Gardner Hotel, 12 Lake Ave. N. His overcoat was buttoned up to his neck, his cap was on firmly, his hands were clasped behind his back, and a packed suitcase stood at his feet.

He waited as the late afternoon sun bathed the doorway, a picture of infinite patience.

Just a few feet away, at the Crossroads Inn, Duluth firemen fought a multiple-alarm fire.

Thick, gray smoke poured from all the windows, and flames occasionally shot out. Hoses snaked in through a blackened, charred doorway just five feet from the old man. Firemen in black slickers, helmets and oxygen masks raced in and out. Spray from an aerial ladder formed a rainbow over the whole scene.

The elderly gentleman was Andrew Johnson, 81, a retired logger who has made his home at the Gardner for the past 10 years.

He stood there because the police had told Gardner residents to evacuate the hotel. But he had no place to go.

“No, I don’t have any relatives or anything like that in Duluth,” Johnson said in a calm voice with a slight Scandinavian accent. “But I think it will be all right after they get the fire out. I think we can sleep here tonight.”

He’d had time to get most of his belongings into a suitcase so he said he wasn’t too worried. But his hands did shake a little. Perhaps it was his age, perhaps it was the cold.

“You see that guy in the blue jacket across the street?” Johnson asked. “He lived there. He’s probably a lot more unfortunate than us.”

The guy in the blue jacket was Donald Parkkonen. He’d lived at the Crossroads since mid-January and was working at the desk when the fire broke out.

“I smelled smoke and went down the hall. It was coming out of this room so I opened the door and there was this guy on fire and flames everywhere,” he said.

Parkkonen pulled the man out of the room, still burning. Then he called the fire department and got the injured man out of the hotel. …

Parkkonen said he lost everything in the fire, but he was more concerned about how many were hurt and where the other uninjured residents would stay that night.

Up the street, near Lofdahl’s Corner Bar, Fritz Young was thanking his lucky stars. He’d considered moving into the Crossroads that day.

Young explained that he’d had lunch with Parkkonen at noon.

“Don said, ‘Why don’t you move in, we’ve got a lot of nice housekeeping rooms,’ ” Young related. “I was seriously thinking about it but I guess nobody is going to be living there for a while.”

Thick, gray smoke continued to roll from the burning hotel as dozens of firemen directed streams of water at windows and doorways.

Andrew Johnson had taken his suitcase inside the Gardner lobby to wait where it was warm. The neon sign for the hotel was on. Two icicles created by the spray from the hoses hung from it.

“Look!” exclaimed a woman in the crowd. “There’s a rainbow over the fire.”

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I assume – though I’m not certain – that the building was torn down after the fire, because eventually that space became a wider sidewalk for Lake Avenue and a parking lot, as seen in this photo from March 1998 (like the last two, this shot is by the News Tribune’s Charles Curtis):

The Gardner Hotel (center left) remains; most of the rest of the block has been consumed by the Tech Village and the adjacent parking structure.

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

8 Responses

  1. Pingback : Corner of Superior and Lake, 1988 | News Tribune Attic

  2. Jack Shipley

    The news desk sent a lot of us into this story. I was at the hospital sitting in the lobby with Roger Stoneburner, who talked about the blinding, choking smoke and how he and his wife struggled to the window. He, at that time, didn’t know where she was.

  3. Scott Park

    The “unknown man with a broken skull” was my father. He was 39 years old and his name was George Richard Park. My mother had to make the awful decision to “pull the plug” after it was determined his brain was dead. He fell from the 3rd floor corner window after being overcome by smoke and hit the flag pole, flipping him so his head hit the ground first. The fireman was holding his ankle, but could not keep him from falling due to the angle of the ladder to the 3rd floor. This event changed our family’s life dramatically in negative and positive ways. I talked to my dad 15 minutes before the fire. He called home to speak with mother and she hadn’t gotten back from the store. He said he would call back at 6.

  4. The Big K

    I was 16 years old and stood inside the Double Discount store across the street and watched it burn, what a memory.

  5. Jerry Goss

    Anybody remember the Savolinen (sp) Jewerly fire in the 1950’s. Same location Lake Ave and Superior Street

  6. Bob

    As I recall, the smoke was deadly, coming from the burning paneling inside the building. And yes, I believe it was torn down shortly after the fire.

  7. I remember that fire. I’d had some friends that lived in the building but, not at the time of the fire.
    I can’t remember what it was called before it was the CrossRoads but, it hadn’t been that for a real long time and it was a very old building.

  8. Wow…I had no idea there was anything on that corner that was a residential hotel. It’s a strange feeling being downtown now. I don’t know if the typical cold-and-grey feeling of December, but walking down 2nd St…YWCA – boarded up, nothing happening (is the project dead?), the old Library, while it looks great, nothing much going on…the old Central, always there…whatever goes on at that oddly named ‘Teen Challenge’ (which takes in people who haven’t been teens for 40 years) no activity outside. It’s depressing! Where is the energy that could be downtown? Have this many educated young people with a few bucks hit the road vowing never to come back here?

    I sure hope not. I love downtown regardless; I just wish there was a feasible plan to get some new energy and direction going.

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