Lenox Hotel

The Lenox Hotel, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Dale Johnson]

601 West Superior Street | Architect: John J. Wangenstein | Built: 1904 | Lost: ca. 1965

When Edward Ribenack and his brothers Henry and Albert decided to build a new hotel at the northwest corner of Superior Street and Sixth Avenue East in 1905, they were taking a risk: while the surrounding district contained the opulent Spalding Hotel and Lyceum Theater, it was also the city’s Bowery, long plagued by societal ills, particularly unemployment and alcoholism. Duluth’s Bowery (named, like similar districts across the U.S., for a section of Manhattan notorious for similar problems) developed between Fourth Avenue West and Mesaba Avenue along Michigan and Superior Streets. By the 1890s it was heavily populated with low-rent residential hotels and saloons, many of which catered to lumberjacks, other seasonal workers, and, later, out-of-work war veterans.

The Lenox Hotel originally stood four stories tall along Superior Street. Faced with yellow brick and trimmed with contrasting brownstone, the building featured heavy stone accents including quoins, keystones, and lintels. The corner bays protruded slightly, providing some architectural interest at low cost, but the design otherwise followed the simple Commercial style popularized in Chicago. Storefronts along Superior Street opened to the Lenox Pharmacy and the hotel’s bar. Inside, the first floor featured a grand lobby, dining room, and kitchen, while the upper floors held 110 guest rooms, most with hot and cold water and many with private bathrooms. Its furnishings were made of mahogany and light oak, velvet carpets covered the hallway and guest room floors, and reproductions of famous paintings adorned the walls.

A year after the hotel opened, the Ribenacks announced they were adding two more floors to the building and a small four-story annex west of it. When complete, the building’s capacity grew to 205 rooms, 75 with their own baths. The dining room was expanded, doubling its size to accommodate 175 diners. Edward Ribenack operated the hotel while juggling a career in politics. He served as a Duluth alderman from 1905 to 1909, a state representative from 1911 to 1916, and a state senator from 1919 to 1942.

In 1938 the hotel’s first floor underwent a renovation, creating “a new dining and dancing center” and a cocktail lounge that could accommodate 190 customers. Unfortunately the Bowery’s population frightened away his intended clientele, and the Lenox struggled. Ribenack sold the hotel in the 1940s. By 1958 the management struggled financially; at one point the building’s electricity was cut off. The hotel managed to stay open until 1961 when its 65 permanent tenants vacated prior to its demolition as part of the city’s Gateway Urban Renewal Project. The Incline Station Bowling Center now stands in its place.