Skipping stones. A skillet breakfast with the warm morning sun streaming through single-pane windows as it rose above Lake Superior. Fly-fishing in a calm pool along the Poplar River, which spilled into the lake just in front of Lutsen Lodge.
For generations of my family — and countless others who celebrated weddings, enjoyed ski weekends or planned fall leaf-peeping trips — the lodge was beyond memorable. The loss of that historic resort in an early morning fire Tuesday was a gut punch for anyone lucky enough to have made memories there.
"So sad … absolutely crazy," said one of my nephews after hearing the news, triggering a long-ago memory of watching him and his cousin slide back into one of the Adirondack chairs that always ringed a fire pit on the beach, even in winter.
As the Star Tribune's real estate reporter for more than a couple decades, it's literally been my job to appreciate buildings. I've lost count of how many photos I have taken of new home construction or stories I've written about another hotel development. Yet even when I came to Lutsen Lodge for these family trips, I couldn't help myself from "working" by admiring the singularly Minnesotan beauty.
In many ways, the lodge was as evocative of the North Shore as the Big Lake itself. And the images of it burning were as disheartening, in some ways, as watching flames destroy part of Notre-Dame Cathedral in 2019.
"I'm grieving," Dale Mulfinger said Tuesday morning.
Mulfinger, a Twin Cities architect and "cabinologist," wrote extensively about Edwin Lundie, the lowkey but prolific architect who designed the iconic U-shaped lodge —with its striking red color and prominent brick chimney — as well as many other notable houses and cabins. Its loss, Mulfinger said, isn't just for those who treasure it for the personal memories made there. It's a loss for those who care about architecture.
The lodge, painted in Lundie's trademark Mesaba Red, was one of just two Lundie-designed buildings open to the public. Most are private homes in Twin Cities suburbs and cabins scattered along the North Shore.
"We're talking about a project designed by one of Minnesota's greatest traditional architects," Mulfinger said. "It's a phenomenal legacy of his work."
Lundie trained under Cass Gilbert and other architectural luminaries of the time. He had a knack for designing buildings that reflected the essence of a place rather than vanities of his own ego.
No doubt, the lodge had a North Shore vibe unlike anything else. With its massive hand-hewn posts and beams carved from centuries-old White Pine and a huge fireplace made from local stone, the building combined the structural heft of a Norwegian Stave Church and the enveloping charm of a classic Adirondack camp.
It wasn't difficult to appreciate what Mulfinger and so many others so admired about the lodge. Lundie did something rarely done today. He designed virtually every element and nearly every detail inside, from the hinges to the doorknobs to the light fixtures.
"He drew everything," Mulfinger said. "If his clients would pay him to keep drawing, he'd draw right up until the building was finally built. Even after, he'd given his clients beautiful drawings as Christmas gifts."
You didn't have to be a paying guest to experience the building. You could always step inside to step back in time, like a museum or an old-growth forest. Just a couple weeks ago, I marveled — for the umpteenth time ― at the imposing timbers, in awe of their strength. For Lundie, nothing was purely decorative: Everything had a purpose. A function.
For my family and so many others, it symbolized the North Shore.
"There are only a few structures that come to mind when one thinks of the North Shore and that was one of them," Mulfinger said.
No doubt the resort owners will rebuild. But it is unlikely to ever replicate what so many are now mourning. In fact, on the morning of the fire, someone from the lodge vowed in Facebook post to build it back "better."
It might be new, but it'll never be better.
"It's hard to imagine that it could replace what was there," Mulfinger said. "It was significant in the whole of the Upper Midwest. We have a great State Capitol you find in most states, but you don't find a lot of fantastic old hotels that were beautifully crafted."