Metropole Hotel

The Metropole Hotel photographed ca. 1915 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: Lake Superior Maritime Collection]

101 – 105 South Lake Avenue | Architect:  J. J. Wangenstein | Built: 1903 | Lost: 1973

Brothers Sam and Louis Loeb built the Metropole Hotel in 1902 on the site of the former Bunnell Block adjacent to the Lake Avenue Viaduct. Within a few years the brothers also purchased the Clarendon Hotel and Louis built the Astoria Hotel, but his main business was selling wholesale wine and liquor, which was fitting as the consumption of alcohol would define most of the Metropole’s history.

The Loebs hired John Wangenstein to design a building that fit the trapezoidal lot, as until 1980 Lake Avenue below Superior Street ran directly north and south while other downtown streets run along a 45 degree angle to a compass’s cardinal points. The basement and first floor sat below the viaduct and were leased by the National Biscuit Company and Stewart Transfer Company. The second floor, aligned with the viaduct, included five storefronts for a café, barber shop, saloon, pool hall, and central hotel entrance. The top two floors contained seventy-five “large and airy” guest rooms. The building itself was adorned with decorative brickwork and two hexagonal towers capped with domes.

John Cargill and Joseph Kenney leased the hotel, with Kenney managing operations. He obtained a liquor license for the saloon in October 1902 and afterwards often found himself in trouble for selling liquor on Sundays. Kenny was fined repeatedly until 1913, when police investigating Sunday drinking found a craps game in progress in the billiard hall, operated by George Barney. Kenny was not only fined, but had his liquor license revoked as well. A week later Kenny declared he was moving as he had been “driven out of Duluth.” Loeb auctioned off all of Kenny’s “goods” at the hotel—from liquor and cigars to billiard tables to the café’s chairs, tables, and kitchen utensils, and all guest-room furnishings. A reporter who attended the sale wrote that the air held “a musty odor that recalled stale beer, cheap perfumes, and the intangible scent of all those men and women who have haunted those halls.” There, he wrote, “women of the underworld plied their trade.”

E. L. Weitzel reopened the remodeled and refurnished hotel in December 1913 as the “New Hotel Metropole.” It took less than two months for Weitzel, accused of making the hotel a “resort for immoral women,” to lose his liquor license as well. Before Prohibition shut everything down in 1920, the hotel went through four other managers and paid more fines for selling liquor without a license.

Chinese immigrant Joe Huie began leasing the café in 1951. Famous for its jumbo butterfly shrimp, Huie’s stayed open twenty-four hours a day and fed many a late-night reveler. A sign on the door read “Lost key, we never close.” The restaurant was forced to shut down in 1972, the same year the hotel stopped operating. Huie placed an ad in the Duluth News Tribune that read “Lost key found—will now close.” Meanwhile, more than fifty residents lost their home. Thereafter portions of the building operated as Mr. Murphy’s Bar and Uncle Sam’s nightclub. The building was demolished in 1979 for the Lake Avenue realignment.