Landmark burns in Illgen CityThe heart of the historic Whispering Pines Motel complex north of Silver Bay was badly damaged by a fire Wednesday morning as firefighters from Silver Bay, Finland, Two Harbors and Schroeder responded just before 9 a.m.
By: Matt Suoja, Lake County News Chronicle
The heart of the historic Whispering Pines Motel complex north of Silver Bay was badly damaged by a fire Wednesday morning as firefighters from Silver Bay, Finland, Two Harbors and Schroeder responded just before 9 a.m. The fire was extinguished by 10:30 a.m.
There were guests at the Highway 61 motel but no one was injured.
“There’s not much to say,” said stunned owner Robert Cox. “It was an accident.”
The eight units of the building are a total loss, cutting in half the rooms Cox has to offer.
John Fredrickson, the Silver Bay fire chief, said the main building with rental units was fully engulfed by the time crews arrived. “We’re still looking into it,” he said. He said it may have been caused by a malfunctioning furnace.
The fire was contained to the middle of the building but other rooms of the motel were affected by smoke. The complex has 15 units, with some separate from the main building. The administration building is behind the one-story main building.
BJ Kohlstedt, the Lake County Emergency Manager, said the many different fire departments “are used to working together.” Departments arrived with water tankers, the only way to get water on the fire.
Cox, a retired pilot, purchased Whispering Pines about seven years ago. He had often stayed there on his way up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, going back to when he was a teenager. He took pride in the facility being a throwback to the days “before condos and townhomes took over,” he told the News-Chronicle last November in a story about his motel. He added cabin units and other improvements over the years.
“It’s been an institution here,” said Tom Clifford, a Lake County commissioner.
The motel was built in 1956 and is the last remnant of the famed Aztec Hotel and Cabinola Court built by Rudy Illgen starting in the 1920s. The fanciful Aztec, designed like an Aztec temple, burned down in 1958 and the Cabinolas, small personal cabins, were sold off to allow for an expansion of Hwy 61. The original roadway of the old 61 serves as the driveway for the motel, located just south of the Highway 1 junction in what is commonly known as Illgen City.