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The West Hotel in Minneapolis brought 19th century luxury downtown

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
The completed West Hotel, Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, c.1897.

In 1884, the young city of Minneapolis got its first world-class hotel, the West Hotel. It was a match for the growing aspirations of the city, which until then had been served primarily by the Nicollet House, founded in 1857, before Minnesota was a state.

John T. West, the first owner and proprietor of the West Hotel, got his start as manager of the Nicollet House. He was so successful that his wealthy uncle, Charles W. West, offered to bankroll a lavish new establishment for him on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue.

Up-and-coming local architect Leroy Buffington was hired, and the new hotel was planned on a grand scale. It had 407 guest rooms and one of the country’s largest lobbies, or “exchanges,” filled with marble, stained glass, and rich wood features. For all its grandeur, the West was planned with only 140 bathrooms, not unusual for the time but something that would hamper its later success.

The West Hotel formally opened on November 19, 1884, with a huge banquet. Guests of honor included local notables such as the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul; Cyrus Northrop, president of the University of Minnesota; and businessmen Thomas Lowry and James J. Hill.

The hotel’s luxury soon became well known, even outside of Minnesota. The West welcomed famous guests such as Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, and it had the honor of hosting delegates to the1892 Republican National Convention, held in Minneapolis at the Industrial Exposition Building.

The West Hotel had troubles from the beginning, however. The hotel often operated at a loss financially because of its focus on luxury. And despite its innovative hollow clay tile interior construction and repeated claims of being fireproof, the hotel suffered a fire at 7:15 a.m. on January 10, 1906, that killed nine people.

After the fire, the hotel was promptly refurbished and reopened, but its high-water mark of prosperity had passed. Twentieth-century guests wanted more amenities, especially private bathrooms, and remodeling was too expensive. Also, the hotel’s Fifth and Hennepin neighborhood, once residential and sophisticated, was becoming increasingly industrial and less genteel.

As new hotels were built in Minneapolis and competition increased, the West Hotel passed through a succession of owners, losing increasing amounts of money, until its last owner, the Midwest Hotel Company, decided to demolish it. The hotel’s demise in April 1940 was not much noted in the press at the time, and the site became a parking lot.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Joseph Hoover on 11/20/2012 - 01:58 pm.

    Currently the site of Cowles Center for Dance & Performing Arts

    The Schubert Theater was moved there in February 1999 from it’s original site on 7th Street across from First Avenue.

  2. Submitted by Bruce Adomeit on 11/23/2012 - 01:15 am.

    It isn’t Northrup

    The president of the University of Minnesota was Cyrus Northrop, not Northrup. The building at the head of the U’s Mall is Northrop Auditorium. The seed company is Northrup King & Co.

  3. Submitted by Molly Huber on 11/27/2012 - 12:45 pm.

    Thank you for the updates and corrections! Changes have been made to the original article at http://www.mnopedia.org.

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