Omnimax Theatre opens, 1996

April 18, 1996

Omnimax Director Dennis Medjo stands in the new theater at the DECC on April 17, 1996. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

OMNIMAX IS HERE

THE DREAM LIFTS OFF / IT’S DULUTH’S GREAT NEW TOURISM HOPE

By Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer

After 13 months and about $9 million, the Duluth Omnimax Theatre lifts off tonight with an appearance by astronaut George “Pinky” Nelson and “The Dream is Alive,” a cinematic ode to America’s space shuttle program.

The theater — the 24th of its kind in the country — is the latest addition to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, one that DECC operators hope will draw around a quarter-million visitors a year.

If the Omnimax meets those projections, the theater will become one of Duluth’s best-attended attractions, surpassing Glensheen, the Depot and the Lake Superior Zoo in terms of popularity.

DECC officials have hosted a few advance screenings of “The Dream is Alive” including a Tuesday night shindig for employees of the convention center and their families. These dress rehearsals indicate that the Omnimax is a functional and comfortable addition to Duluth’s stable of venues.

The lobby — with blue carpeting, bright-white walls, ash woodwork and oreboat red railings and exposed duct work — strikes the semi-formal chord of an upscale “legitimate” theater or a spartan academic auditorium. Yet, there are plenty of movie-house and tourist-friendly touches.

The exterior of the Duluth Omnimax Theatre, as seen in March 1997. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

For the run of “The Dream is Alive,” for instance, the gift shop stocks a variety of “Mommy-can-I-have” items such as inflatable space shuttles, NASA totebags and freeze-dried “action snacks.”
Back in the lobby, there’s a well-appointed snack bar, offering standard movie-theater fare at the standard — which is to say, grossly inflated — movie-theater prices: $2.99 for nachos, $1.69 for a small soda.

Since you’ll pay a premium for these snacks, Omnimax officials decided to let patrons bring those goodies into the theater itself — and even equipped the seat-arms with cup holders.

If you’ve never walked into one of these dome-style venues, you may experience a touch of vertigo. You enter at the bottom of the theater; soft lighting and synthesizer-heavy background music increase the feeling that you’ve entered another world.

The purple-and-blue seats are set in a permanent diagonal Barcalounger position, focusing your gaze upward at the white, dome-shaped screen that stretches 72 feet in diameter. This angle, ideal for viewing the IMAX movies, makes it difficult to use the theater for other sorts of meetings or presentations, as DECC officials have said they’d consider doing.

People prepare to leave the Omnimax Theatre in Duluth after a showing of “Walking on the Moon” on Dec. 8, 2006. The six people pictured were the audience for the 6 p.m. show. (Clint Austin / News Tribune)

The seats are 20 or 21 inches wide, depending on where you’re sitting, but those handy cup holders make them feel a bit narrow.

For best viewing, try for the seats higher up and toward the middle of the rows.

The “rake” — or angle of the rows — is very steep, so you’ll want to be careful when, say, crossing or uncrossing your legs so that you don’t give the person in front of you a kick in the head.

No matter where you sit, though, the movie completely fills your field of vision. Combined with a 10,000-watt speaker system that seems to rumble at you from all directions, your stomach may be convinced that you’re in motion, even though your head knows you’re sitting still.

“The Dream is Alive,” a valentine to NASA’s space shuttle program made before the 1986 explosion of the Challenger, was filmed in part by astronauts on the shuttle Discovery. The film, an oldie by IMAX standards, is scheduled to run about 10 weeks. It will be replaced by “Special Effects,” a first-run feature that will premiere in Duluth and at a half-dozen other IMAX theaters.

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The Duluth Omnimax Theatre was joined at the DECC by the Duluth 10 – a “normal” movie theater next door – in December 2004. After years of low attendance, the Duluth Omnimax closed in March of this year; the future of the theatre building remains undecided; the DECC board is weighing options.

Here are a few more photos from when the Omnimax Theatre was built:

An explosive charge broke ground at the future site of the Omnimax Theatre, in what was then a DECC parking lot, on March 16, 1995. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Construction of the Omnimax Theatre is on schedule in this view from Aug. 30, 1995.  Ironworkers placed an evergreen tree on top of the building when the highest beam was put in place. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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DECC Executive Director Dan Russell explains the features of the Omnimax Theatre being constructed next to the DECC on Aug. 29, 1995. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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Share your memories by posting a comment. And if you haven’t done so already, become a fan of the News Tribune Attic on Facebook.

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.

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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.

2011 News Tribune archive photo calendar

As mentioned a couple days ago, the News Tribune has published a 2011 calendar featuring 14 photos from the newspaper’s archives, including the one you see above, showing downtown Duluth in 1970.

The calendars are printed on glossy paper, and the photos are sharp and full of detail. They date from the 1950s through the 1980s.

The calendar sells for $7 at the News Tribune office, or $10 shipping included. If you can’t stop by the News Tribune, you can order online here.

Proceeds from the calendar sales will go to the local Newspapers in Education program, which gets newspapers into local classrooms.

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at akrueger@duluthnews.com.

Halloween blizzard of 1991

Traffic is sparse and pedestrians few on Superior Street in downtown Duluth as heavy snow falls on the morning of November 1, 1991. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Today is the 19th anniversary of the biggest punch of the legendary “Halloween Blizzard” that dumped more than 3 feet of snow on Duluth.

The snow started on the afternoon of Oct. 31 – hence the “Halloween” moniker – but the brunt of the storm hit the region on Nov. 1. The National Weather Service in Duluth has a detailed summary of the storm here.

When the storm subsided on Nov. 2, 36.9 inches of snow had fallen at Duluth, with 36 inches reported at Two Harbors and 30 inches at Eveleth.

The News Tribune’s photo files are a bit sparse for the big storm; in some cases I had to shoot photos of microfilm, so the quality isn’t the best. Here are a couple more photos:

A group of current and former UMD students didn’t let the heavy snow deter them from enjoying an afternoon in a hot tub at a home on Second Street on Nov. 1, 1991. Clockwise from far right are Kris Simon, Mike Erickson, Brenda Berglund, Cal Matten, Dennis Karp, Jay Lyle, Becky Sunnarberg, Aaron Stoskopf and Eric Rajala.  (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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At 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, 1991, Duluth residents continued to dig out from the storm on East Seventh Street. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Last set of Spalding Hotel photos

Here is the last set of News Tribune archives photos of the Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth, which was razed in late 1963. If you missed the previous three posts, go here, here and here.

The view of the corner of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue West, from in front of the Spalding Hotel, March 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Mrs. Doris Peterson, a 22-year employee of the Spalding Hotel, and Mrs. Dorothy Peterson, a seven-year employee, man the counter as customer Gordon Brindos of Duluth makes a call at the hotel on June 27, 1963. Signs to the left advertise parking at the 4th Ave. Auto Park and the Medical Arts Garage. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Customers sit in the lobby of the Spalding Hotel near the newsstand on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Looking into the Spalding Hotel lobby through the revolving doors on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Lester Chies walks along the “floor” of the Spalding Hotel ballroom on Oct. 7, 1963. The entire floor is gone, allowing a glimpse into rooms on the third floor as demolition work continues. Chies is walking on the area that once was the head table position. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Workers continue the demolition of the Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth on Nov. 17, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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As always, share your stories and memories of the Spalding Hotel by posting a comment.

Yes, still more Spalding Hotel photos

Here’s the third batch of what will be four posts with photos from Duluth’s long-lost Spalding Hotel. Enjoy…

Morris Mark and Miss Jessie Rawlings at the front desk of Duluth’s Spalding Hotel on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Mandy B. Tondel, a guest at the Spalding Hotel for more than 20 years, checks in his key to head room clerk Doris Peterson in June 1963. The hotel was demolished several months later. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Hotel guest Harmon Brown in an alcove off the main lobby of the Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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The dining room at the Spalding Hotel on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Harold A. “Red” Hansen, a 10-year employee of the Spalding Hotel, tends the bar in the cocktail lounge on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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A parlor inside the Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth in June 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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As always, share your stories about the Spalding Hotel by posting a comment.

More Spalding Hotel photos

As promised, here are some more photos from the Spalding Hotel right before it closed in 1963. I still have enough left for at least one more post after this.

This batch of photos is from the roof and rooftop pavilion atop the hotel. I’m not sure when the pavilion was shut down, but it looks pretty dilapidated in these photos, so it must have been some time well before these photos were taken.

C. Russell McLean, manager of the Spalding Hotel, views the Aerial Lift Bridge from the old Spalding roof pavilion on July 1, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Hotel manager Russ McLean at the old Spalding Hotel roof pavilion on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Hotel manager Russ McLean at the old Spalding Hotel roof pavilion on June 27, 1963. This view is looking southwest toward the Point of Rocks. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Looking southwest along the southeast-facing wall of the old Spalding Hotel roof pavilion on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Looking down from the roof of the Spalding Hotel toward the corner of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue West on July 1, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

You can see the sign for the 5th Avenue Hotel and its New Yorker Patio at lower left. Here’s a closer look at the storefronts along Superior Street:

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This a photo that ran a while back on this blog. It’s a view looking east over downtown Duluth in 1960, and includes the Spalding Hotel:

Here’s a zoomed-in view in which you can see the pavilion atop the Spalding, to the right of the big sign:

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And here’s one more exterior shot of the Spalding. It’s not dated, but it looks like it might be from the 1930s:

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As with the last post, please share any Spalding Hotel stories you have by posting a comment. A few readers shared stories about the hotel after the previous post, and I’ll share those on the next post.

A look inside the long-lost Spalding Hotel

1963

Workers begin demolition of the Spalding Hotel in downtown Duluth on November 20, 1963. (Duluth Herald file photo)

The Spalding Hotel, once located in downtown Duluth at the corner of Superior Street and Fifth Avenue West, has been mentioned several times in past posts – usually because it appeared off to the side in a photo focused on some other building, or in a wide shot of downtown Duluth.

Today I hit the jackpot on Spalding Hotel images – a misplaced file folder in the News Tribune Attic containing bunches of photos from inside and outside the hotel in the year before it was demolished as part of an urban renewal project; the Ordean Building now occupies part of the site.

I don’t have the time to scan all of the photos in tonight, so here are a few select images from the file. I’ll add more in the coming weeks.

Leonard Olson (left), a 10-year Spalding Hotel employee, and guest Harmon Brown wait in the hotel lobby on June 27, 1963. (Duluth Herald file photo)

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The Spalding Hotel lobby on July 1, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

Here are a couple of interesting items when you look closely at the above photo…

It’s the arch that made a reappearance this year at the Minnesota State Fair, at O’Gara’s restaurant. It very clearly does match. And, if you look even closer at that poster atop the radiator:

It’s a movie poster for the 1962 horror movie “Premature Burial.” A not-quite-the-same, but very similar poster for the movie can be seen here.

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Mrs. Darlene Park, a three-year employee of the Spalding Hotel, in a hotel elevator on June 27, 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

Note the fallout shelter sign at upper left – capacity 50 people.

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Within a few months demolition was under way. Here is one more shot from late November or December 1963, as the Spalding Hotel passed into history:

Share your Spalding Hotel memories by posting a comment. If you have historical photos of the Spalding, or anything in the area, that you’d be willing to share, send them to akrueger@duluthnews.com.

Lenox Hotel, 1957

The Lenox Hotel (also known as the Hotel Lenox – the building’s signs refer to it both ways), stood in downtown Duluth on the corner of Superior Street and Sixth Avenue West, where the Incline Station bowling alley is today. The photo above is dated December 1957, although it doesn’t look like winter; apparently the hotel was getting a delivery of Coca-Cola at that moment.

The hotel was built in 1904 by the Ribenack brothers – Henry, Albert and Edward. Edward Ribenack went on to have a long career in the Minnesota Legislature, representing Duluth first in the House and then for many years in the Senate.

According to the text of a Senate memorial service held for Ribenack after he died in 1957, just before his 88th birthday, the Ribenack brothers owned and operated the Lenox until 1947.

Here’s an excerpt about the Lenox Hotel from the 1910 “History of Duluth and St. Louis County”:

The Lenox Hotel, while a comparatively new house, having been built in 1905, has already taken a leading rank among the city’s hotels. It was built by the Ribenack brothers, Henry C, Edward R. and Albert O., who are associated in its management. The Ribenacks are no tyros in hotel management, their father having for many years been a hotel proprietor in Wisconsin.

When the brothers first came to Duluth they entered the restaurant business, but finding this field too restricted for their activities they decided to enter the hotel business. When the hotel was first built it was but four stories high, but in a little more than a year after it was opened they found themselves cramped for room and were compelled to add two additional stories. At the same time they enlarged the dining room and lobby, and added many other improvements. There is telephone connection between every room and the office.

The hotel contains 230 rooms, and ever since it was completed its popularity has been unquestioned. It has been filled to its capacity winter and summer, and during the rush season it has been necessary to turn guests away almost every day in the week. The hotel is run on the American and European plans, and about half the rooms are furnished with private baths, while there are public bath rooms and lavatories on every floor. The hotel and furnishings represent an investment of about $250,000. Its location on Superior street, directly opposite the “Soo” railroad depot, makes it most convenient for the traveling public, and the excellence of its table appeals to the most fastidious appetite.

As noted in the excerpt, the hotel was located across the street from the Soo Line railroad depot, and you can see a corner of the depot in this photo, which was taken earlier than the one above:

The Lenox was located in the heart of Duluth’s “Bowery” district – and you can see the hotel in the distance in the photo with this earlier post on the Bowery.

Obviously, the Lenox was torn down at some point in the 1950s, 1960s or early 1970s. The present-day Lenox Place apartment complex, located a bit west of where the hotel was located, carries on the Lenox name.

Now, I’ll rely on you to fill in the gaps about just when the Lenox Hotel was torn down. Share any information and stories you have by posting a comment.