Historic North Shore lodge destroyed in overnight fire, owner plans to rebuild

First responders work
First responders work to put out a major fire that burned the main lodge to the ground Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Lutsen, Minn.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Updated 12:55 p.m.

The historic Lutsen Resort lodge on Minnesota’s North Shore was destroyed by a fire early Tuesday.

There were no reports of injuries, and no initial word on the cause of the fire. News that the landmark lodge was gone prompted an outpouring of response on social media, with people along the North Shore, across Minnesota and beyond sharing their memories of the resort.

Edward Vanegas, Lutsen Resort’s general manager, told MPR News it was a “ferocious and violent fire. There’s nothing left. It’s down to the timbers. But the goal is to rebuild.”

Vanegas said Lutsen’s owner has the original plans for the lodge, from when it was built after a previous fire in 1951.

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“And so we’ll take those plans and modernize them and put it back,” he said.

The resort was beloved by both tourists and local residents alike, said Visit Cook County’s Kjersti Vick.

“We all have a fondness for it. I know several people who’ve gotten married at Lutsen Resort,” she said. “It’s been the kind of place that generations of families have come and made memories there.”

A view of a fire of a building.
A fire engulfs the main lodge at Lutsen Resort early Tuesday.
Courtesy of Chris Miller

“It’s one of those iconic North Shore resorts,” said Joe Friedrichs, former news director of WTIP radio in Grand Marais. “The history of this place — without question — it’s a place in many people’s hearts in Minnesota and certainly far beyond.”

The fire at the lodge along the Lake Superior shore was reported just after midnight, with staff members reporting smoke coming from the floor in the lobby area. Cook County authorities said there were no guests in the building.

Vanegas, the general manager, said he got a call about the fire around 12:30 a.m. and made it to the property by about 1 a.m. He saw fire burning in the windows of the historic lodge.

“Once the windows blew out, and the oxygen and the air got into the lobby, that was the beginning of the end. It exploded so fast in terms of fire, we knew that it could not be saved,” he said.

Crews from eight fire departments battled the fire. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating.

Vanegas said there was one staff member working at the time, who reported the fire. The rest of the 40 employees were on-site, but in separate dormitories on the property, away from the main lodge.

He said the lack of guests staying in the lodge was “not unusual on a Monday. It’s not a holiday weekend” and the lack of snow was affecting business. “But we had quite a few check-ins later in the week. In fact, probably about 50 percent full Thursday and Friday.”

“I’m still numb. Shocked. Disbelief,” Vanegas said.

Friedrichs spoke with MPR News host Phil Picardi on Morning Edition from the scene around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. He said there were still flames coming from a building on the resort property and that it was still an active fire scene.

“There’s seven fire trucks that I can see right now, and probably 30 or 40 people still on scene,” Friedrichs said. “I mean, this is very much an active scene even though the fire did start around 12:30 a.m. this morning, so it’s been going on for quite some time.”

The chimney was all that remained of the main lodge building, Friedrichs said.

Lutsen Resort history

Lutsen Resort dates back to 1885. It was founded by C.A.A. Nelson, a Swedish immigrant who slowly expanded his homestead to accommodate the growing flow of tourists.

Decades later, his grandson George, recently returned from a stint serving with the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, founded the Lutsen Mountains alpine ski resort. George’s daughter, Cindy, won a bronze medal in downhill skiing at the 1976 Winter Olympics.

First responders report to the scene
A Cook County sheriff's truck is parked near the entrance to Lutsen Resort on Tuesday as crews work to extinguish a fire that destroyed the resort's main lodge.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

The main lodge had previously burned down in 1949 and 1951, resort officials said. The rebuilt lodge was designed by renowned St. Paul architect Edwin Lundie.

The Nelson family ran the resort until 1988, when it was sold to Scott Harrison and Nancy Burns. Bryce Campbell purchased the resort in 2018, and has since completed substantial renovations, said Linda Jurek, director of Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce.

“The top floor of the resort, we call that the Nelson suite. It was home to the grandparents of the Nelson family. And that was just completely renovated and opened within the last few months,” Jurek said. “A lot of investment, a lot of time, a lot of energy.”

Vanegas told MPR News that “the Lutsen lodge will be rebuilt, and new memories will be created from the newly built Lundie building. We’ll re-create the plans and build it back and new memories will be created in the same building as it used to be.”

Lutsen-Resort-thumb-420x274.jpg
The Lutsen Resort lodge in an undated file photo. The lodge was destroyed by fire early Tuesday.
MPR News file

Jurek said she was shocked to hear there were no guests on site at the time of the fire.

“That only attests to what we’re feeling here with the lack of snow,” Jurek said. Other resorts across the region have also reported a sharp decline in the amount of tourist traffic because of the unseasonably warm winter.

Tuesday’s fire at Lutsen Resort comes less than a year after a major fire at nearby Lutsen Mountains. The ski area’s Papa Charlie’s restaurant, bar and concert venue was destroyed by a fire last June.