Oblivious. I must have been totally unaware of the insides of the Gladstone Hotel in Jamestown, ND. I don’t remember a thing about it. There were other stores and businesses on the same block. One was a little drug store that I went into once to buy some cold medicine. They weren’t the best drug store, and nowhere near the best in town. I’d rank them third out of three. My ignorance didn’t help much. I asked for “Contact” when I was looking for the brand “Contac.” Somehow they couldn’t make the connection.
My favorite place on that block was the Grand Theater. This was the big, fancy theater in town. Compared to the Star, the grimy little theater in our old neighborhood, it was several steps up. Prices were higher, too. Popcorn was a dime for a box instead of a nickel at the Star. Cathy and I would go to at least one movie a weekend at the Grand.
The Gladstone Hotel was just across the street from the railroad passenger depot, and right on Main Street. Given my interest in the depot, the railroad, and that the hotel was only three or four blocks from my house, it’s a little odd that I don’t remember anything about the hotel except the façade.
It was a large and beautiful building. The inside must have been old and stately like a big town hotel. I don’t know. Maybe there was no reason to ever darken their doorstep.
Word spread through the high school on a March morning. There was a fire. At the Gladstone Hotel. This was a big deal. For our lunch break we walked the couple of blocks from the school to the railroad tracks, that’s as close as we could get. There were fire trucks, police cars and other emergency vehicles everywhere. Police barricades kept us away, and so did all the fire hoses crisscrossing the parking lots and streets.
Cathy’s dad was a volunteer firefighter, so he was on duty. His skills were doubly in demand for the days of the fire because he was also a lineman for Otter Tail Power company, the electric utility serving Jamestown. As I recall, he didn’t come home for three days.
That year I had joined the camera club at school, so I had the use of an SLR camera and their dark room. Both of those were new to me that year, which explains the slightly out of focus picture above.
The entire city block was pretty much destroyed. You can see more pictures at the State Historical Society website, I’ll include a link below. The town didn’t need another parking lot, so the block stayed undeveloped for several years. In 1973 they started development of a downtown shopping center and civic center arena. That project took over a lot more than just the hotel block, it also took the house that I had lived in since 1960. That’s another story, one that Jim will recount as well.