April 17, 2004
A large excavator moves debris from the demolition of the Lincoln Hotel on April 17, 2004. The four-story, 100-room hotel was built in 1926 and closed in 1988. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)
Lincoln Hotel demolished
By John Myers, News Tribune
It was never the caliber of the Spalding Hotel, the Hotel Duluth or the Holland Hotel, but, in its day, the Lincoln Hotel was one of the Zenith City’s nicest places to stay.
Nearly 80 years of memories and tons of brick and mortar came tumbling down Saturday at 317 W. Second St. as a large excavator operated by Northwoods Sand and Gravel Co. ate away at the building from the back.
The main structure had collapsed before noon.
“It’s another piece of history going down,” said Roger Sandberg of Duluth.
Sandberg had a front-row viewing spot for the demolition. He was one of dozens of curious people who stopped by Saturday morning, at least for a few minutes, to see the old building fall.
Sandberg likes to see things torn apart. But he also has a historic tie to the Lincoln: His grandfather made the Lincoln Hotel neon sign for the building.
“I picked it up last year when they had the sale. It’s a connection for me. I have it at home now,” Sandberg said.
The Hotel Lincoln on March 29, 2004, shortly before it was razed. (Bob King / News Tribune)
Richard Riddell of Duluth brought his 12-year-old son, Stephen, to watch.
“I like the big equipment. I wanted to see it when it fell,” Stephen said.
That’s also why Judy and Earl Rogers brought their grandchildren, Colin and Ian Metry, and their son, Tony Rogers, who’s a photography buff.
“They wanted to get some pictures of it coming down. The kids love anything to do with construction and big equipment, big trucks,” Judy Rogers said. “If they (construction crews) are knocking something down, that’s even better!”
All of the structural steel, bricks and concrete will be recycled, said Scott Lucia, owner of the demolition company. The wood and other debris will be taken to a demolition landfill. Recycling work at the site will continue through the week, he said.
A group gathers outside the shuttered Hotel Lincoln on July 14, 1989, to express support for the federal Affordable Housing Act, which would provide $15 billion a year for housing the nation’s homeless. (John Rott / News-Tribune)
Featuring a restaurant and beauty parlor, the four-story, 100-room Lincoln Hotel once was considered among the finest places to stay downtown. It was built in 1926. By the early 1970s, it began housing low-income residents on long-term leases. And by 1975, the hotel had become a haven for an informal program for recovering alcoholics.
In 1987, the building’s owners, the Don Henderson family of Sturgeon Lake, Minn., decided they couldn’t afford to spend $75,000 to enclose stairwells, add sprinklers and renovate the building to comply with state fire and safety codes.
They closed the Lincoln in January 1988, forcing 54 tenants to find new housing. They put the former hotel up for sale, asking $750,000, largely because of its prime location and solid construction. But instead of attracting a buyer, 16 years of no heat and no residents attracted decay, vermin, vandals and arsonists.
The city bought the building from the Henderson family for $60,000 and then invested another $22,000 to remove asbestos, windows and facades and to do other work to prepare the Lincoln for demolition, which cost another $68,000. The money to clear the lot came from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
City officials hope a developer will buy the lot for upscale housing or another project to help revitalize the downtown area.
It’s been more than seven years, and the site of the Hotel Lincoln (and the rest of the block) remains undeveloped; it’s all parking lots right now.
So was it the Lincoln Hotel, or the Hotel Lincoln? Judging by the billboard on the side and the sign on the facade, I’m going with the latter.
You can see a late 1920s / early 1930s postcard of the Hotel Lincoln here. Interesting how they replaced Third Avenue West with grass and trees.
In November 2002, some “urban explorers” made an unauthorized trip into the condemned Hotel Lincoln and posted photos on the Web. You can see their account here. The place was pretty much gone by that point.
Here’s one more item about the Hotel Lincoln / Lincoln Hotel, from when it was still open – an article from Christmas 1987 about how the few remaining residents spent the holiday:
Judy Seeley, 43, passes Christmas Day 1987 in the lobby of the Lincoln Hotel in Duluth. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)
Holiday at hotel not the same
By Ellen Smith, News-Tribune
At Judy Seeley’s first Christmas in the Lincoln Hotel two years ago, the residents ate a Christmas dinner together, complete with turkey and mashed potatoes prepared in the hotel kitchen. People had their pictures taken around the artificial Christmas tree.
On Christmas Day 1987, many rooms were vacant, the kitchen was closed and since last year someone had stolen the Christmas tree.
The Lincoln, a low-income, single-occupancy hotel slated to close Jan. 5, has definitely seen better days. And next year, Seeley, 43, much to her disappointment, will have to celebrate Christmas somewhere else.
“We always met the best people since we lived here. It’s kind of like an education,” she said, sipping a cup of vending machine coffee in the Lincoln’s empty lobby. “Wherever we go, it’s not going to be together, because we’re all different.”
About half of the Lincoln’s estimated 54 residents have found homes, said Tom Martin, vice chairman of the Downtown Housing Commission. Most will go to other low-rent hotels like the Seaway Hotel in the West End or the Olde World Inn at 101 W. Third St., a block up the hill from the Lincoln. A few, mostly elderly or handicapped residents, will go to Tri-Towers senior citizen housing. Others will stay in emergency shelters until they can find more permanent homes. Some might end up on the street.
Seeley, who plans to move to the Olde World Inn, will be sorry to go. “The people around here are real handy,” she said. “You can get almost anything we need.”
On Christmas Eve, the Salvation Army went door to door through the Lincoln with cookies for the residents. Seeley received a drink, a dress and a purse from her boyfriends living at the hotel. A few people ate in their rooms, and the mood, she said, was rather festive.
Not so on Christmas Day.
Seeley, dressed in a new-to-her magenta dress with a festive lace yoke, was alone in the lobby with her coffee. A single Christmas card was taped to the front of the empty check-in desk. The lobby smelled of smoke from too-many cigarettes and dirt left over from years of too-few cleanings.
Percy Cline Peterson spends Christmas afternoon 1987 cooking potatoes in his Lincoln Hotel room. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)
She wasn’t sure how people celebrated Christmas at the Lincoln on Friday. With the kitchen closed, she suspected many of the residents may have gone to the Union Gospel Mission for dinner. She said she didn’t have any particular plans.
“I’ve had my fill of Christmas anyway,” she said. “I’m just worn out. I’ve had my fill of it.”
But nonetheless it would have been nice to have a Christmas tree.
Former Lincoln desk clerk Wanda Moe, 41, also remembers the six-foot artificial tree. She lent it to the Lincoln, and for seven Christmases it had stood near Alcoholics Anonymous clubroom in the hotel lobby. But when she looked for it this year it was gone.
“They must not have needed the tree stand; that was the only thing left,” she said. “They took the lights, the decorations – everything.”
Moe was at the Lincoln Friday distributing cookies with her friend Jennie Ferguson, 43, to some of their favorite residents. “I kind of got attached to the folks,” she said.
One Christmas Eve when she still worked there, Moe said her mother joined her in throwing a party for the residents.
“My mom had as much fun as I did, handing out punch and cookies to the folks who didn’t have any other place,” she remembered.
Back when the Lincoln still staffed its front desk, the hotel was in much better condition, said Moe, who lived in an apartment there. Maids would vacuum the now-absent lobby carpet every day. The restaurant and beauty parlor, both long since closed, did a booming business.
“If somebody would buy this place and care about it, it would be a nice place to live,” she said.
But not everybody agrees with Moe. Percy Cline “Peter Rabbit” Peterson isn’t a bit sorry to see the Lincoln close.
“You know why – roaches running around and gray mice everywhere,” he said from his second-floor room as he cooked his Christmas dinner, a boiled potato, on a hot plate in the corner.
Although he doesn’t know where he’ll move on Jan. 5, Peterson, 62, said he was in good spirits Christmas Day. The Salvation Army had given him a plate of goodies – fruitcake, two sugar cookies, some chocolates and a spritz cookie. His sister in Wayzata, Minn., had sent a cake. He had two bananas,. And near the door of his room was an eight-inch ceramic Christmas tree with yellow, blue and pink birthday candles on its branches.
“That was really neat,” he said of the Salvation Army’s visit. “You’re getting goodies, and after five years here, that’s pretty neat.”
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