Sixth Avenue Hotel

The Sixth Avenue Hotel photographed ca. 1916 by Hugh McKenzie. [Image: UMD Martin Library]

530–532 W. Superior St. | Architect: John J. Wangenstein | Built: 1916 | Lost, 1963

When the Loeb brothers announced in 1907 that they planned to build a fine hotel across from the Lenox, the Duluth News Tribune declared that new buildings like these would soon replace the Bowery. The arrival of the Wisconsin Central Railroad (absorbed by the Soo Line before work was complete) would clear much of the area’s blight, including rows of ramshackle wooden buildings and boarding houses along Michigan and Superior Streets. But instead of replacing the Bowery’s blight, the Loebs’ hotel became part of it.

Architect John Wangenstein’s design called for a simple but handsome brick building with adornments limited to quoins, window keystones, some decorative brickwork, and a prominent pediment. It would stand five stories tall (four over Superior Street) and stretch halfway down the avenue. For unknown reasons construction was delayed until 1917. Hotel guests entered along the avenue while the Superior Street level contained three retail storefronts. (Research uncovered no description of the building’s interior.) It included a three-story annex occupying a lot below the building along Michigan Street.

Since 1899 that Michigan Street lot had been occupied by just the type of structure the News Tribune hoped the new hotel would replace. The original Sixth Avenue Hotel (built as the Scandia Hotel) developed an unsavory reputation for harboring thieves that preyed upon guests. In 1914 Police Chief Chauncy Troyer declared that “robberies in the place are mostly of the pathetic sort. The majority of the guests are wanderers, and loss of their savings leaves them stranded with no other course than to seek shelter as vagrants.”

For its first decade, Finnish immigrants John Vainio and Henry Parssinen operated the “new” Sixth Avenue Hotel, with no newspaper reports of theft—but the clientel changed little. Over the years the Superior Street shops played host to various retail operations, including restaurants, taverns, and clothing stores. The upper floors operated as a hotel throughout the building’s life, but it served far more Bowery residents than out-of-town guests.

Prohibition didn’t eliminate the Bowery, and following World War II the area became populated by pensionless retirees and troubled young men returning from war, many with alcohol issues. In the 1950s urban renewal projects swept the nation, designed to eliminate blighted areas and increase urban business opportunities as populations moved to suburbs. Duluth’s Gateway Urban Renewal Project targeted the Bowery. The city began purchasing and condemning almost every building within the district. The hotel came down in 1964. By 1970 every hostelry and saloon was gone, including the Cleft Hotel, Grace Hotel, Saratoga Hotel, Perovich Hotel, Hill Hotel, Hotel Liberty, Royal Hotel, Park Hotel, First Street Hotel, Fifth Avenue Hotel and Lamplighter Lounge, Rex Hotel and Eagle Tavern, Salena Hotel and Tavern, the Classy Lumberjack Tavern, Green’s Crystal Terrace, Pal’s Corner Tavern, Soder’s Bar, and the original Club Saratoga.