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The Rex Hotel, aka the Seaway

The Esmond Hotel, originally built as the Rex and most notorious as the Seaway Hotel. (Image: Zenith City Press)

2001 W. Superior Street | John J. Wangenstein | Built 1913 | Extant (Esmond Hotel)

In 1913, the Gopher Realty Company, a subdivision of Duluth Brewing & Malt,  finished construction of a 50-room, two-story hotel at 2001 West Superior Street in the heart of the West End business district. Building hotels and saloons was common practice for breweries prior to Prohibition, they set them up as “tied houses” and saloonkeepers could only sell the beer of the brewery who owned the building he leased. Designed by John J. Wangenstein, the building was first named the Rex Hotel, after the brewery’s “Rex” beer. While it was originally designed to be four stories, when it was first built it stood just two stories high, and photos show two additional floors which were added at an unknown date. Today the building is three stories high, but it is not known when the addition was removed.

From 1930 to 1942 it was called the Curtis Hotel, it was the Milner Hotel from 1942 to 1958, and in 1959, the year the St. Lawrence Seaway opened, it became the Seaway Hotel. As the Seaway the building was a magnet for trouble, and in 1991 a Duluth Police Officer was killed trying to make an arrest inside the hotel.

Today the building provides low-income housing and has been renamed the Esmond Hotel. A 2015 makeover created a bit of a mystery that remains unsolved—and inspired its new name. Siding was removed on the front façade, revealing a stamped concrete nameplate reading “HOTEL ESMOND,” a medallion with the initials “EH,” and another with the date “1913.” Duluth’s Esmond Hotel was built in 1893 at 18 South 20th Avenue West (current site of the All American Club), a block from were the Seaway was built in 1913. A check in city directories shows that the 1913 hotel was indeed first listed as the Esmond Hotel in 1913-1914, but starting in 1915 it is called the Rex. The Esmond was standing until at least 1960, but the question remains: why did its owners first name the 1913 hotel after an existing hotel less than a block away, and were they forced to change it?

The front façade of the 1913 Rex Hotel featuring, for reasons unknown, stamped concrete calling it the Hotel Esmond. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.