Dacotah Hotel 2 Fire

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Extra – Spectacular Blaze Lights City – Building Completely Gutted 

One of North Dakota’s most widely known landmarks went up in flames early today when a spectacular fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the four-story Hotel Dacotah in Grand Forks.

Every occupant of the hotel had ample opportunity to quit the structure long before the fire developed its full destructiveness, and no injuries or other mishaps were reported among tenants or fire fighters.

Smoke seeping through the hotel and into the upper floors shortly after 11 P. M. Tuesday gave the first warning of fire, but it was more than a half hour later that flames first burst into view.

In less than two hours the building was a complete wreck, its Third street and First avenue North walls falling at 1:36 and 1:38 A. M. throwing debris into the street.


Long before this the destruction of the building had become inevitable and firemen from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks turned their attention to adjacent buildings.

Through their efforts, the flames were turned away from the adjacent Dacotah Arms apartment building, which had appeared gravely menaced, and shortly after 2 A. M. the fire was considered under control and confined to the hotel alone.

There was no estimate of the loss available this morning, for Keith Bacon, owner-operator of the hotel, had made no effort to fix the likely damage, which includes loss of the building and its contents.


It was the most spectacular fire Grand Forks has seen in a quarter century – probably the most spectacular since the old Hotel Dacotah burned to the ground on December 17, 1897.

The structure that replaced it, and which was destroyed early today, was the same size in outside dimensions – 125 feet by 125 feet – but where the previous structure had been five stories high, the one destroyed today was four stories.


Hundreds of spectators were attracted by the early morning blaze and Herald telephones buzzed for two hours in anxious inquiry as to the cause of the flames that lighted the skies.

In the first quarter or half hour, after the smoke was discovered, there was

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nothing to indicate the seriousness of the situation, and occupants of the hotel had plenty of time to leave the building with their belongings.

It was nearly midnight when the first angry flames licked their way into view of fire department men and others searching for the source of the smoke.  So quickly did the fire then develop, that some men who had gone to the top floor had difficulty making their way down through the smoke-filled hallways.

It seemed only a matter of a few minutes before the flames had reached the upper windows, first bursting through the First avenue North side on the fourth floor, quickly traveling to other windows.


A half hour later the first tongues of flame crawled through the roof, and soon the entire building was a flaming torch, with all the upper windows outlined in ghastly relief.

Flying debris filled the sky and watchers on the Frederick hotel and other nearby buildings were on the alert to prevent the spread of flames.

Most seriously menaced for a time was the Dacotah Arms apartments, adjoining the hotel on Third street, and also part of the Bacon properties.  Fire fighters soon had water lines on the roof of the apartment building, however, and prevented any further spread of the flames.  (Grand Forks Herald, Wednesday, December 29, 1943, Volume 63, Number 50)


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Heap of Ruins Marks Scene of $225,000 Hotel Blaze

A heap of smoldering debris is all that remains today of the once proud 140-room Hotel Dacotah after a brief but spectacular blaze that roared through the four-story frame structure with tinder-like rapidity early Wednesday morning.

Oil-made smoke from the hotel’s own electric plant, rolling slowly through hallways and into rooms shortly before midnight Tuesday, gave ample warning for the escape of all tenants and employees, fire and police authorities said.

All occupants had been accounted for, they said, and no injuries of a serious nature were reported among the firemen, the police, or the hundreds of curious onlookers who flocked to the scene in 10-above temperature.

Keith Bacon, operator of the hotel, would not estimate the loss, but unofficial figures placed it at $225,000, with the building representing about $170,000 of that total and contents making up the rest.

New locations for offices forced out of the building by the fire were announced Wednesday night.

The branch office of the motor vehicle department for issuance of automobile and truck licenses was moved to the showroom of the Valley Motor Co. on North Third street, with Highway Patrolman I. O. Hensrud in charge.

Offices of the Grand Forks Civic and Commerce association were transferred to a temporary location in the North States Power Co. building on South Third street.

The bus depot set up temporary quarters in the Northern hotel, corner Kittson avenue and South Fifth street.

It was the second time a Hotel Dacotah building had been destroyed on the same site, for on Dec. 17, 1897, the five-story predecessor structure burned with loss of two lives.

The first Dacotah hotel was operated by Viets and Dow, the second being built by J. D. Bacon and W. B. Wood.  It was owned in partnership until Wood’s death.

It was just 45 years ago that the structure destroyed today had been opened – on Dec. 20, 1898 – but today only charred sections of the front and rear brick walls and a mass of smoking rubble marked what had been North Dakota’s most widely known hotel.

For a time, while the fire was at its height, the adjoining Dacotah Arms apartment building

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had been menaced, but except for a protruding one-story garage section through which a wall tumbled, the building escaped with only smoke damage.

Varying reports indicate the first sign of smoke within the hotel was detected around 10:30 P. M. Tuesday, but it was not at first learned what was causing it.

The fire department was called a few minutes after 11 P. M., but it was not until sometime after that – even as late as 11:30 P. M. – that occupants began to quit the building.

Fire Chief James Black said spontaneous ignition in sludge in an oil pit caused the fire.  The sludge came from the exhaust of the hotel’s electric plant engine, he said.

First the smoke crept up along the large chimney at the rear of the building, working its way between the floors and into hallways, and it was nearly a half hour later that the first flames burst into view.

Within two hours the building was a complete wreck, though the fire still burned fiercely.  Shortly after 1:30 A. M. the greater part of the front on Third street wall toppled to the pavement below, scattering debris, with small bits hitting some of the onlookers near the Ryan hotel, just across the street.

Just a few minutes before, the First Ave. North wall went down.

Except for the outside brick walls, the structure was of all wood construction, and the long halls and numerous windows furnished a driving draft for the flames that first showed through the fourth floor windows at midnight.


Quickly the flames spread, racing down corridors and licking their way through other rooms, and  finally bursting through the roof in lashing tongues of flame that sent sparks and burning bits of debris showering onto nearby buildings, including the Frederick hotel.

Watchful fire fighters, however, prevented any further spread of the flames, though they had little effect on the howling inferno that moved in its devouring way down through the third, the second and then the first floors.

Besides the hotel facilities, the first floor of the building housed the office of the Grand Forks Civic and Commerce association, the bus depot and the hotel barber shop.


Some of the office equipment of the hotel was removed, but comparatively little of the contents of the hotel or the other places was saved, so quickly did the flames spread once they burst out in full fury.

While the occupants of the hotel were warned that there was a fire in the building, most of them assumed at first that the firemen soon would have it under control, and showed no great concern.

Many sat around the lobby for a time calmly discussing the situation, while some remained in their rooms for a time.

When the fire burst into flame, it sent many of the occupants out of the building with only scanty attire, and many lost practically everything in the blaze.

Outside, along toward midnight, the first onlookers gathered, but as the flames came through windows and then burst through the roof, lighting up the entire business district and the sky overhead, hundreds more rushed to the scene.

There was no great difficulty in controlling the crowd, police reported, and the heat kept most of them back at a safe distance.  However, when the front corner and wall tumbled to Third street, the smashing debris peppered a few less cautious persons.


Huge granite blocks that had been a part of the original top cornice, when the building was a three-story structure, landed well past the middle of the intersection of First Ave. and Third St.

The jar as they hit the pavement, along with the brick wall, sounded like an explosion and created a distinct quiver in buildings as far as a block away.

Many onlookers were fascinated with the occasional bursts of flame that shot high up from the large chimney at the rear, even while the chimney itself was surrounded by roaring fire.

Electric power lines at the rear of the building were burned down, and service interrupted to much of the north section of the city, with power company repair men working through the night and Wednesday to effect repairs.

As the fire increased in intensity, occupants of the adjoining Dacotah Arms apartments moved out, many taking some of their more valued possessions, but they were able to return to their homes a few hours later.

Just what plans the Bacon interests may have for the future of the property could not be learned Wednesday.  Mrs. J. D. Bacon, widow of the founder of the estate, said they had not been discussed, nor did Keith Bacon have any comment.

J. D. (Jerry) Bacon and Wood built the structure immediately after the first Hotel Dacotah burned down in 1897.  The new structure was completed in time to open on the first anniversary of the fire, but the owner preferred to wait a few days.

It was built first as a three-story affair, and five years later the fourth story, with 50 rooms, was added.  For a time the hotel had 150 guest rooms, but remodeling and creation of suites, enlargement of rooms, etc., cut the number to 140 in the past few years.


The foundation dimensions of the building were 125 by 125 feet, the same as the first structure.

When the hotel was opened the night of Dec. 20, 1898, the Herald’s inspired reporter, confusing his comparison with the phoenix, said “like the traditional sphinx the magnificent new Hotel Dacotah has arisen from its ashes.”

“All the splendor, brilliancy and gayety of the ballroom were there,” and from the start to “the last strains of the orchestra had died away, the 400 guests were treated to one continuous round of pleasure.”

The floral decorations were termed “simply exquisite;” the names on the reception committee included the city’s prominent personages, and “the city hackmen did a land office,” and one who was “particularly active, took in $100.”  (Grand Forks Herald, Thursday, December 30, 1943, Volume 63, Number 51)


Tear Down Walls of Dacotah

Crowds gathered on North Third street this afternoon to witness the wrecking of the remaining walls of the old, four-story Hotel Dacotah.

Left standing after the fierce fire early Wednesday were the jagged remnants of front, rear and north brick walls of the structure.  These were to be leveled.

E. J. Buckingham of the Northern Construction Co. which is doing the wrecking job, said a steel cable would be used to pull down the brickwork part of which still projected four stories in the air early Thursday afternoon.

The cable was to be pulled up across the top and back across the rear of the structure.  The front wall was to be pulled inward.  The north portion will be taken down piece by piece to prevent any large pieces from falling on the roof of the adjoining apartment building.

Meanwhile, Keith V. Bacon, manager of the hotel, set up temporary offices on the first floor of the Security block across the street from the burned structure.

There were no plans for rebuilding the hotel, he said, but he is contemplating opening a newsstand and cigar store if a suitable location is secured.  (Grand Forks Herald, Friday, December 31, 1943, Volume 63, Number 52, Page 10, Used with permission of the Grand Forks Herald)


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