Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
Patriotic bunting decorates the exterior of the historic Hotel Northern which graced the corner of Hall Avenue and Stephenson Street in the 20th century, while Hershey’s famous candies are advertised on the hotel awnings and showcased in the display windows. The hotel and a lower floor restaurant were destroyed in an early morning fire on March 4, 1942. Twenty-five hotel guests and several employees, on hand for the morning breakfast rush, escaped from the building. The business address is now a part of the Stephenson National Bank & Trust. Pete Georgalan was owner-operator of the hotel and restaurant at the time of the fire.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

Patriotic bunting decorates the exterior of the historic Hotel Northern which graced the corner of Hall Avenue and Stephenson Street in the 20th century, while Hershey’s famous candies are advertised on the hotel awnings and showcased in the display windows. The hotel and a lower floor restaurant were destroyed in an early morning fire on March 4, 1942. Twenty-five hotel guests and several employees, on hand for the morning breakfast rush, escaped from the building. The business address is now a part of the Stephenson National Bank & Trust. Pete Georgalan was owner-operator of the hotel and restaurant at the time of the fire.

Major fires usually create a spectacular scene and attract large crowds. Marinette and Menominee have had their share of good-sized fires over the course of history. Many of the sensational blazes were fought in the logging and lumber mill era dating to the 19th century.

Death (in some cases multiple deaths), serious injuries and extensive property damage resulted from many of the fires.

Fire fighting training, technique and equipment have been upgraded tenfold since the age of bucket brigades, horse-driven teams of firemen and equipment, and fire boats patrolling the Menominee River and waters of Green Bay ready to respond to a mill fire. Some of the other relics from the past included sub-stations positioned in neighborhoods, fire alarm boxes attached to telephone poles and a countless number of other oldies. A slew of the fires have been chronicled in this space in the past.

In the dark of night on a frigid morning March 4, 1942, 25 guests at Hotel Northern in downtown Marinette escaped from a raging fire that for a time threatened the entire block of buildings and residential homes behind the hotel.

Hotel Northern was located at the corner of Hall Avenue and Stephenson Street. The parcel is a part of the sprawling Stephenson National Bank & Trust in the present-day makeup of the 1800 block on Hall Avenue.

The hotel was above the Arcade Restaurant, which in later years became Schreiner’s Restaurant and Schloegel ‘s Restaurant. In 1907 the building served as Temple of Honor Hall. Joseph B. Eggener had a harness shop in one section of the building. Pete Georgalan acquired the property in 1920 and operated both the restaurant and the hotel until Bernard Schreiner assumed ownership of the restaurant portion of the business in the 1950s. The hotel section was never rebuilt after the 1942 fire.

Records indicate the City of Marinette had two hotels at the time of the fire — Hotel Northern and Hotel Marinette — with a combined 150 rooms between the two. The much larger Hotel Marinette was located on Dunlap Square at the current site of the Best Western Riverfront Inn.

The Hotel Northern blaze was one of the more spectacular blazes in the city up until that time. It broke out about 4 o’clock in the morning and quickly spread throughout the building. Fire crews from Marinette and Menominee battled the inferno for three hours before bringing it under control in freezing temperatures.

Flames and smoke fanned out so swiftly that hotel guests were forced to flee from their second and third floor rooms by using fire escapes and ladders. Thick smoke stacked the hallways and cut off escape routes to the staircases. 

Men and women, awakened by the smell of smoke and the pleas for help from other terrified hotel guests, left their personal possessions in their rooms and fled wearing only their night clothes. Some managed to fetch their winter coats and put them over their night clothes. 

Some guests sustained cuts and bruises from window glass. No serious injuries were reported. It wasn’t until mid-morning when firemen were able to determine if all guests and employees were safe. 

Six firefighters and law enforcement personnel had a narrow escape from death or injury when a section of the west wall collapsed along the bank building. The section crashed to the street. The brick veneer wall buckled without warning and sent debris spilling onto Hall Avenue, snapping power lines in the process. M&M Light & Traction Co. crews cut off all power to the business district and in the surrounding residential neighborhood. 

A second wall, which was located on the north side of the burning structure, also buckled and fell to the ground. 

Firemen used a half dozen water lines to pitch streams of water on adjacent buildings, which were in danger of being reduced to ashes. A brisk north wind aided firemen by blowing flames and embers across Hall Avenue and away from residential homes. 

Four Menominee firemen, headed by Chief John P. Erdlitz, manned a pumper to assist Marinette crews in extinguishing the flames. The Menominee unit was summoned about 5:45 a.m. when it appeared the blaze would spread to neighboring structures. 

The top portion of the front of the hotel gave way and the large hotel sign at the entrance separated from its position and was left dangling over the sidewalk. The sign had been installed the previous fall when Georgalan made a substantial investment in remodeling the interior and exterior of the building. 

A waitress at the restaurant discovered the fire shortly after 4 a.m. when she was working in the coffee area and smelled smoke. She immediately notified Charles Paulos, restaurant manager, who was on duty for the morning breakfast rush. While the waitress notified the fire department, Paulos made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the lobby area of the hotel. He telephoned Georgalan who sounded the alarm for hotel guests. 

Fire investigators suspected the blaze started from an overheated furnace or from a defective chimney flue. 

The Rialto Theater, which hugged the hotel-restaurant building in the cramped business block, encountered minor smoke damage. 

Property damage was estimated at more than $50,000, a substantial sum for the time period. Georgalan ran his hotel under the “European Plan,” which included lodging and shared services.

The fire occurred only four months after World War II erupted (Dec. 7, 1941) and young men were enlisting in the armed forces or waiting for their call under the military draft system. The news of the fire was a Page One story in the two local daily newspapers along with the scary news shaping on two major battle fronts — the South Pacific and Europe and North Africa.