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Willmar, Minn.'s Lakeland Hotel joins National Register of Historic Places

The Lakeland Hotel building in downtown Willmar has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tribune file photos by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The 85-year-old Lakeland Hotel, the downtown home to traveling salesmen, lakes-area visitors and a variety of retail stores, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Lakeland was nominated in November by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. The Minnesota Historical Society State Review Board approved and sent the nomination to the keeper of the National Register, who approved and added the Lakeland to the register on Feb. 14.

The Lakeland was nominated for its local significance in the area of commerce. The hotel relates to the Minnesota statewide context of railroads and agricultural development from 1870 to 1940.

Constructed in 1927, the Lakeland was Willmar's principal commercial hotel through much of the 20th century and was one of the city's chief gathering spots. Between 1927 and 1958, the Lakeland was cited as a good example of a refined hotel in an outstate urban center achieving maturity in the early decades of the 20th century.

Denis Gardner, National Register historian with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, said Willmar has had a number of hotels that have since disappeared. But he said the Lakeland is the city's most significant hotel.

"If you picked just one hotel -- and Willmar has had a lot of them -- that played the most significant role in Willmar, it would be the Lakeland,'' said Gardner.

"It was a downtown hotel. It catered not only to salesmen traveling by train and later by automobile, but also those visiting the Willmar chain of lakes area, kind of like a gateway to the lakes area in western Minnesota. Many were staying there for that reason,'' he said.

But the Lakeland also has street-level retail space. Early photos show the hotel was the location for an appliance store, café, flower shop, bus stop and jewelry store.

"It became a gathering spot for the community. Willmar's got a lot of history to it. This is the major hotel in the history of Willmar,'' said Gardner.

The Lakeland's nomination was initiated by the Willmar Design Center. The Design Center is a local nonprofit organization established in 2005 and focuses on revitalizing and renewing downtown as a social, cultural, government and economic center.

Design Center Project Coordinator Beverly Dougherty loves old buildings and is excited to have the Lakeland on the list.

"I worked two years on this,'' she said. "I've been to many meetings, places to get money, applied for grants to write the recommendation to get it on the register, which takes people who know how to do that. That took them a long time.''

Richard Engan of Engan Associates, a Willmar architectural firm, said most downtown buildings are constructed with masonry walls, wood floors and wood roofs. But the Lakeland is one of the few downtown buildings constructed with reinforced concrete floors and roofs.

Engan's office is located across Fourth Street in the former Tribune building, which is similarly constructed and is also listed on the National Register. Engan said the Lakeland is in very sound condition.

"If the concrete structure is kept dry, this lasts centuries very well,'' he said.

The Lakeland has been owned for the past two years by Bremer Bank of Willmar, which obtained the building in a mortgage foreclosure. Tom Amberg of First Minnesota Realty of Willmar is the agent selling the building. He said the price tag is $249,000.

Amberg has said he's trying to maintain the lobby as original as possible, making sure the skylights, wood trim and wallpaper remain. The street level space continues to have retail uses. There are retailers in the building currently.

The second and third floors have 32 apartments, most of which are one-room studio units equipped with a small refrigerator, microwave and a bed. There are shared bathrooms and two shared kitchens with operating stove and refrigerator and microwave. Some of the apartments are occupied.

The exterior retains most of the window porticoes and the concrete urns located at three corners of the building.

The Design Center hopes market-rate housing is developed on the second and third floors. Dougherty says 20 percent state and 20 percent federal tax credits are available to the new owner for redevelopment and restoration.

"I think it's going to spur some redevelopment downtown because we do have buildings just waiting to happen,'' said Dougherty.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150