January 16, 1994: Fire destroys the Chinese Lantern restaurant

On this day in Duluth in1994, the Chinese Lantern restaurant, housed in the former Duluth Athletic Club building (itself the former Duluth Commercial Club building) was destroyed by fire. Nearly 50 firefighters responded to the call, which first went out at 5:45 a.m. when temperatures were at 18-below zero. Three pumper trucks froze up from the cold, and their engines failed. The fire apparently started in the kitchen and burst through the roof while a dozen firefighters were still inside; all managed to get out safely. They battled the fire for eight hours, managing to keep it from spreading to other buildings. The second-floor Brass Phoenix nightclub was completely destroyed. The Lantern was part of the legacy of the Huie family. Joe Huie ran his legendary 24-hour café out of the Metropole Hotel at Lake Avenue and Michigan street for decades until the 1970s. In 1964 his son Wing Ying Huie opened the Chinese Lantern in the Palladio Building. He didn’t do all the cooking; he also recruited chef’s from Canton who had found work in U.S. restaurants in New York and San Francisco. In 1976 employee Rosa Chida, noting the half-block long line of patrons waiting to get into the Lantern, suggested that Huie move his business one block up to the Athletic Club Building. Many celebrities dined at the Huie’s restaurants in Duluth, including Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Pearl Bailey, and Elvis Presley. Today, the Huie legacy continues at the Chopsticks on East Fourth Street.

Acting Duluth Fire Chief Dan Haus emerges from the First Street door of the Chinese Lantern after the fire. The building was encased in ice after firefighters doused the blaze in 18-below temperatures. (Image: Dave Ballard, Duluth News Tribune)