Esmond Hotel

The Esmond Hotel photographed ca. 1913 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

18 South 20th Avenue West | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1893 | Extant

Brothers George T. and William A. McKay, former proprietors of the Clarendon Hotel at the southeast corner of Garfield Avenue and Superior Street, opened the Esmond Hotel in April 1893. The Duluth News Tribune described the building as the “only pretentious hotel in the West End” and mentioned it “fills a long felt want of both regular and transient borders.” Indeed, the West End Businessmen’s Club was so excited about the hotel it threw a banquet at the Esmond, toasting the future prosperity of both the hotel and the entire West End. Prominent local real estate investor William B. Silvey pointed out that since Duluth’s founding “the West End had not made any startling advances, but things looked brighter now” while also noting the hotel was “not on par with the Spalding.”

The building’s design is reflective of other small hotels of the era, as elaborate Victorians gave way to simpler designs. Most of the building’s adornments came in the form of decorative brickwork. The upper floors had slightly protruding bays, and several of the third-floor windows were set in Roman-arch casings. The first floor held the hotel’s office, lobby, kitchen facilities, and a large, “brilliantly lighted” dining room. The second and third floors contained more than fifty guest rooms. While less grand than most downtown hotels, it is the last example of the small hotels and boarding houses that once populated the West End along Superior and Michigan Streets.

The McKays sold the building by 1901, when they opened the McKay Hotel at 430 West First Street. After that, much of the hotel’s history involves changes in ownership and management. In October 1908 the hotel obtained a liquor license despite one alderman’s complaint that its proprietor, S. D. Ives, “was not a fit person to conduct a
saloon.” Perhaps he wasn’t: two months later bartender Charles Williams shot customer James Collins in the leg because Collins had been “making himself obnoxious.” An April 1919 card game led to tragedy. Two local men, Peter Johnson and Frank Vogler, quarrelled during a poker game held in one of the Esmond’s third-floor guest rooms. As the two men grappled, they fell out of an open window, landing on the sidewalk below. Neither survived their injuries.

A mystery surrounds the Esmond: A 2015 renovation of the Seaway Hotel at 2001 West Superior Street, built in 1913 as the Rex Hotel, revealed a stamped concrete nameplate on the building’s front façade reading “HOTEL ESMOND.” Newspaper articles indicate the 1913 hotel’s name changed from Hotel Rex to New Esmond Hotel and back to Rex, and Duluth’s 1913 city directory lists both hotels with the same address. The name switch may have a connection to hotel proprietor Sidney Ives, who left the Esmond to manage the Rex when it first opened.

The Esmond never did help the West End make any “startling advances.” It spent much of the first half of its life as a residential hotel and by the early 1960s had become an apartment building. In 1966 the building changed hands again. The new owner removed the top floor, covered the building with siding, and renamed it the All-American Club, after which its address was changed to 1931 West Michigan Street. The building still stands today.