Life in The Seaway Hotel

Above is a recording of Ed Smith, a tenant of The Seaway Hotel. Video by Daniel Badhwa

Unsanitary conditions, crime and the fear of losing your home -- those are the conditions tenants of The Seaway Hotel face. The hotel, which stands on the corner of 20 Avenue West and Superior Street, has gotten a bad rap throughout its history as a haven for crime. The location has faced and overcome attempts at condemnation by the city with no promise the threat won’t re-emerge in the future.

The hotel currently has approximately 60 tenants, most of whom would be homeless if the hotel or something similar didn’t exist.

“This is the only place I can afford,” said Ed Smith, a tenant of The Seaway. “If this goes down I won’t have anywhere to go, so this is my home.”


When Ed Smith (pictured above) suffered an injury that confined him to a wheelchair, he would work on bikes to give himself something to do and then donate them to children in the neighborhood. Photo by Daniel Badhwa

Smith moved into the hotel in the year 2000 after moving to Duluth in search of better medical care. He faced an injury, which left him without the use of his legs for 15 years. Since then, Smith has been doing his part to keep the hotel running.

Walking into the hotel is like a blast from the past. Old knick-knacks cling to the wall, with out-of-date television sets pressed against a wood-paneled wall. A dark and rickety stairway leads tenants to their rooms. A walk down the long hallways reveal dirty antique-looking carpet and windows that give a glimpse of the deteriorating exterior of the building.


Parts of The Seaway Hotel were built using parts of the SS Seaway, a ship that once sailed in Lake Superior. Photo by Daniel Badhwa

Smith said that everyone sees the negative aspects of the hotel, and it’s hard to change their perception of the location.

In 1990, a police officer was shot and killed on the second floor of the hotel. Twenty-two years have passed and although crime is still present, Smith said it isn’t deserving of the reputation it has been given. However, Smith said they’re haunted by the hotel's past.

“Every cop in this town, when they come into The Seaway, brings a new policeman and tells them how a cop died on the second floor,” Smith said. “That’s the first thing cops think about when they come in here. We’re trying to change that image, but I don’t know if we’ll ever get that image changed.”

A second chance, said Smith, is what he hopes for the 100-year-old building. Smith reiterated places like The Seaway are a necessity.

“I won’t say I didn’t do wrong in life,” Smith said. “But I was given a second chance in life. Being homeless ain’t fun. We need to keep people off the street and give them some place to go. The Seaway gives them somewhere to go.”

A few years ago, Smith was elected chairman to represent the hotel in court when the city threatened to condemn it due to what the city thought of as unfit conditions for human living.

“We got in contact with CHUM and Loaves n’ Fishes and we fought along with the owner to keep it open,” Smith said.

After a success in court, Smith continues to help where he can in the hotel. He volunteers at the front desk and helps tenants when they need it.

“The experience here is one that you can carry with you,” Smith said.

St. Louis River Estuary restoration: cleaning up the past

Ballroom dancing: credible instructors come to Duluth