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Tuesday, September 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

In wake of McConnell Hotel fire, a town’s memories stir in the ashes

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 31, 2017, 6:35 p.m.

Standing next to its blackened, empty ruins, life-time Kellogg resident Ruth Barker reminisced about the days when the historic McConnell Hotel was once full of life.

“I grew up there,” she said early Thursday morning, straining her eyes to stare up at the lonely walls of brick struggling to stand straight as mounds of smoke billowed behind them. “Twelve years of my life…gone.”

As a little girl, Barker said she and her family lived in one of the apartments behind the hotel’s main building during the 80s and 90s, when the mining town of Kellogg was a bustling place. She remembered playing with her neighbors’ kids, and hearing stories from “old geezers” stopping through town.

“Over here,” she said, pointing up. “We lived in the far corner. That was actually my bedroom window. Wow.”

Near a crowd of onlookers, insurers and firefighters peered over the few walls that still stood. Mark Aamodt, the town’s fire chief, said they were inspecting the ruin before a demolition crew goes to work Friday morning. He said a cause for the fire had yet to be determined, and the process hasn’t even really started, since the area is still unsafe to enter.

Other Kellogg residents shared Barker’s disbelief. Some couldn’t wrap their heads around how a staple of Kellogg’s uptown could have gone up in a blaze of heat so high and intense that before the hours-long ordeal was over Tuesday, five other buildings would sustain significant damage.

Patrick’s Inn and Steakhouse, a full block away from the hotel, caught burning embers in its roof and was badly burned. Caution tape surrounded the businesses Thursday morning. Its front door was boarded up.

Papa’s Barn, an antique shop across the street, was also closed. Even if it weren’t, the caution tape wrapped around a full block Main Street by the Kellogg Fire Department would surely deter patrons. Residents say the business received significant smoke damage as winds kicked up and the McConnell’s dozens-of-feet-high flames pushed towards the business.

Next to Papa’s is the Vaper Cafe, a smoking and vape shop. It’s windows were broken when the hotel’s front facade crumbled, sending mounds of brick onto Main Street. Just north of the hotel was an old sign shop. It was vacant, residents say, but it too was badly burned. Residents thought it would likely also be demolished.

“It breaks my heart,” said Helen Johnson, who remembered the hotel from when she lived in Kellogg during the 50s and 60s. She took a day-trip from Coeur d’Alene Thursday with her friend to see the damage.

“It was nothing fancy, but it was just an old unique building,” she said.

Many buildings in Kellogg stand empty. Residents point to history – that building over there, it used to be a move theater. Or that one on the corner, it was a saloon full of thirsty miners on weekend nights.

On the side of Pizza Palace – a pizza restaurant along McKinley Avenue – is a sign proudly displaying the town’s origins. It tells the tale of James Wardner, and when his donkey Noah wandered off from his owner to a vein of sparking silver ore where the town was founded.

“You are now near Kellogg, the town which was discovered by a jackass – and which is inhabited by its descendants,” the old sign reads.

The town slipped into economic decline after the Bunker Hill Mine shut down in 1981, and so too did the hotel. No longer was it an example of Kellogg’s economic prowess overlooking the valley from its unique vantage point atop the hill. Instead, it was a reminder of what can happen when the mines are empty and industry moves elsewhere.

“The town was poppin’,” remarked Tom Hei, who worked in the mine but now minds the Staff House Museum a half-mile away in the youth of his retirement years. “There were over 15 bars in that area alone.”

In 1995, around the same time the apartments were shuttered and folks like Barker were forced to look for new housing, the hotel was put up for sale, according to records in the Shoshone County Assessor’s Office. A local real estate ad at the time listed the price at $285,000.

“Excellent opportunity in resort town,” the ad reads.

The hotel mostly remained vacant after that. In 2006, Ray Klein, a Utah-based developer, had plans to turn it into a pricey 66-unit condo, but those plans fell through after the housing crash in 2008. Year’s later, a coffee shop opened up in the hotel’s lower floor. It soon closed.

In August, 2016, the hotel was sold to Seiferd Holdings for $150,000 – $100,000 less than its asking price of $249,000. Seiferd’s founder, Guy Seiferd, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but residents say the Kellogg resident was using the hotel for storage and had plans to restore it in the future.

“Obviously that never happened,” Barker said. “This is just so crazy.”

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