A look back on Francis Drake Hotel's history

A black and white picture of a hotel building.
The Francis Drake Hotel, as seen in the 1940s.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

The Francis Drake Hotel building, which has been a fixture in downtown Minneapolis for several decades, faces demolition work following Wednesday’s fire that gutted the structure.

The Christmas Day fire also displaced about 250 people as it was being used as a temporary homeless shelter. City officials announced Thursday that the hotel would be partially torn down due to safety concerns.

As local leaders scramble to help those displaced and begin to shape the future of the site, many are also reflecting on its history.

A black and white picture of a hotel lobby.
This photo shows how the lobby of the Francis Drake Hotel looked in 1928, shortly after the hotel opened.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Jenna Jacobs and Ted Hathaway work with the Special Collections department in the Hennepin County Library system.

They provided this timeline of notable moments in the building’s history:

1926: The building begins as a luxury residential and traditional hotel with 108 apartments and 50 transient chambers — now better known as “hotel rooms.” Built by Isidore Whitman.

Women standing and smiling during a fashion show.
In this photo taken in 1948, models prepare to take part in the Junior Chamber of Commerce Wives' Club Style Show at the Francis Drake Hotel in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library

1963: The building is bought by a group of stockholders — Francis Drake, Inc.

1967: The building is purchased by businessman Robert Short.

1983: People Serving People starts operating the hotel as emergency and transitional housing.

1996: A dispute between the building owner, Leamington Co., and People Serving People closes the shelter temporarily.

1997: The hotel reopens as the Drake Hotel, offering low-cost rooms, under the ownership of the Lazarus Corp.

2011: The building is used as an emergency shelter for displaced residents after tornadoes tear through north Minneapolis.

In recent years, Hennepin County and other social service agencies have continued to use the hotel for low-cost housing options. For example, PSP would use it for overflow, while Mary’s Place, a transitional housing service connected to Sharing and Caring Hands, would give people money to stay at the hotel temporarily.

A road view of an old building.
A motorist's view of the Francis Drake Hotel in 1967.
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library

The hotel was not listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But Minnesota's State Historic Preservation Office said as part of a larger project in 2011, a survey was done to gauge the historical significance of the building.

That survey recommended a comprehensive study to determine whether it would be eligible for listing in the National Register. But the office said that study has yet to move forward.

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