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Huntington Village's days are numbered

(ran SE edition of LT)

Derwin Smith has given the old Huntington Hotel his best shots for the past 23 years. But the 1900-vintage luxury hotel that has seen so much history is about to become history itself.

"It's time for the old lady to be put to rest," Smith says, adding that no date for demolition has been set. The building, on 72,000 square feet of land at 226 Fourth Ave. N, has housed antique dealers and artists' studios, and has been known as Huntington Village since 1992 when the 126 hotel rooms were closed off.

Macray's, the latest in a series of restaurants at the hotel, closed a month ago, and the last of the antique dealers is packing up to leave this week.

"But this is not a down time," Smith insists. "We have better plans for use of the land." He says he is not at liberty to discuss the plans yet and says his decision to close the facility was due to a combination of factors, "mainly age, composition of the hotel, and the city codes."

The hotel had been known for its graceful gardens and the colorful murals by local artist Mark Dixon Dodd that surrounded its dining room. Some 25 of these murals, all on masonite, are for sale, as are the oak floors, the dozens of French doors, wall sconces, bannisters, newel posts, glass doorknobs, the old mahogany wrap-around desk bought from a New York hotel when the establishment opened, and the pigeon-hole mailboxes. Smith plans to have a sale later in the summer and can be contacted at 898-4416.

All of these gracious appointments tell of another time. Built by C. S. Hunt in the late 1890s, the Huntington's sunny parlors and porches saw many a party and could house 100 guests, which made it among the city's largest hostelries. The hotel was bought by Soren Lund in 1910 and he sold it to J. Lee Barnes in 1920. The Huntington was the site of a big celebration when Gandy Bridge was completed in 1924.

Barnes' son Paul and his wife Anne inherited the hotel and built "the pink house" in the corner of the gardens as a private residence in about 1927. The little frame house with the bay window is of historical significance and in good enough shape that Smith hopes to move it and save it.

But not so the hotel. Its frame exterior had been stuccoed in the 1960s. Added wings had steel casement windows which were rusting, as was the old fire escape on the front.

Business was down in the 1960s, and the government leased the property from Mrs. Barnes to house the Job Corps. Then the building was closed for a year when Derwin Smith Sr. leased it with an option to buy in 1972 and spruced the place up. Derwin Jr. bought the hotel in 1978.

"We had a strong winter market, and hosted Elderhostels," Smith said. "The only thing we saw diminishing was the elderly year-round market. These people were beginning to go to nursing homes and other facilities with hospital care," he said.

With city codes cracking down on a 50-year-old sprinkler system in 1992, Smith decided to close the hotel rooms. He brought antique dealers into the lobby and porch areas, rented space to artists and craftspeople in garden rooms. He hosted bird shows and music groups, refurbished the gardens and fixed up the greenhouse.

There were 45 antique dealers and artists at one point, and "for a while it looked like we were going to make it," he says.