For decades, visitors to Rochester made the Hotel Zumbro their favorite place to stay when visiting Mayo Clinic. After all, in the early years, Mayo treated patients in rooms in the hotel. You can’t get more convenient than that.
But for locals, it was the hotel’s popular restaurant, the Scandia Cafeteria, that was the place to be at lunch time. The Scandia, with its vaguely Swedish-style decor, opened in 1958. The midday buffet menu didn’t appear to offer much in the way of Scandinavian cuisine (pickled herring, anyone?), but it still attracted diners in steady numbers.
Up until, that is, October 1987, when the Zumbro, a downtown landmark, was torn down to make way for newer and bigger lodging and dining options.
The Hotel Zumbro opened on March 9, 1912, at what was then the corner of Main and Fourth (later First Street and First Avenue Southwest), in the heart of downtown Rochester. The Zumbro was the tallest building in Rochester when it opened, and had 122 guest rooms, four dining rooms, and shops and services. The cost of construction was reported as between $150,000 and $200,000.
Mayo Clinic leased 48 rooms for hospital patients. There was also an operating room, and special bathing facilities for patients.
This was two years before Mayo’s 1914 Building was opened, and nine years before the Kahler Hotel welcomed its first guests.
The 1914 Building and the Zumbro shared the same block. In fact, a bridge — the city’s first skyway — connected the two buildings. When the Zumbro added an eight-story annex in 1917, Mayo rented offices and lab space in the addition.
In the booming 1920s, room rates ranged from $1.25 to $4. For the convenience of travelers, there was a ticket office of the Chicago & Great Western Railroad in the lobby.
As visitors, especially Mayo Clinic patients and their families, began to book longer stays, the Zumbro in 1933 developed 15 apartment-style rooms with kitchenettes. The rooms, located on the upper floors of the hotel, came complete with maid service.
Meanwhile, famous guests found their way to the Zumbro, among them cowboy star Roy Rogers, singer Jeanette MacDonald, baseball all-star Bob Feller, actor Randolph Scott, and Olympic swimmer and film actor Buster Crabbe. Even Marilyn Monroe is reported to have stayed at the Zumbro.
“Once guests stayed at the Zumbro, they never went anywhere else,” Gilbert Dutton, the hotel’s longtime manager, said in a 1987 Post Bulletin interview.
By that time, plans were underway for the venerable Zumbro to be replaced by a new Marriott Hotel as part of a massive redevelopment of the downtown area.
Dutton spent 50 years greeting guests at the Zumbro before retiring in 1983. “It was my life,” he said. “I started there when I was a kid.”
As the end neared, the hotel’s furnishings were sold at auction. In the Zumbro’s final days, Dutton and others paid tribute to the grand dowager of Rochester lodgings. “It was the greatest hotel in the world, and still is,” he said.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.