Once upon a time in Sioux Falls, the Cataract Hotel was the hub of all activity.
The first hotel in Sioux Falls was built at 9th and Phillips in 1871 by William Henry Corson (born William Henry Harrison, perhaps after the ninth President who died 31 days in to office. Somehow he shortened the Harrison to Corson). The first Cataract Hotel had 14 sleeping rooms and opened for business on August 5th, 1871. The top-right photo was taken in 1872. Within the first year of existence, the Cataract Hotel was a hot spot. The stage coach stopped here when it arrived in town. This was before Sioux Falls was incorporated as a city in 1890. The Cataract quickly gained a reputation as the finest hotel in the region. It should be noted that the word cataract is another word for a large, powerful waterfall, so the hotel is actually named after the city's namesake.
The second Cataract hotel was built to the north of the original building in 1878 and was constructed of brick. Details are sketchy on how they operated from two buildings, but my guess is they had a door between the two. Call me if you ever stayed in the Cataract in the late 1870s. I'll buy you a cup of coffee.
The first two hotels are seen here, the original on the left and number two on the right (to the north).
The grand building on the corner is the Cataract's third building, built in 1884. The second Cataract House remained to the north. The first Cataract was moved into the street while #3 was being built according to historical markers. If this is true, then at one time there were three Cataracts in a row in Sioux Falls.
The third Cataract was designed by renowned prairie architect Wallace Dow. You may recognize his first local project: The State Penn.
The railroads brought settlers to Sioux Falls, which attributed to the boom in the city in the 1880s. Another thing contributing to the boom was the quickie divorce. South Dakota had a 90-day waiting period to establish residency and get a divorce. The rest of the country wanted six months to a year. Between 1887 and 1906 there were 1,124 divorces in Minnehaha County.
The boom era accommodated the construction of this beauty and the addition of a fourth floor in 1889. The second Cataract was still utilized to the north. You can make out the sign on its front (might have to zoom in on it).
On June 30th of 1900, some fireworks on display in the front window of the hotel took to doing what they do best (exploding and such), and burned the Cataract Hotel to the ground. This fire and others prompted the city to finally put together an honest to goodness fire department.
Visitors to Sioux Falls would have to use one of the other hotels in the city until they rebuilt the Cataract the following year.
This building, the fourth Cataract House in Sioux Falls, was built in 1901. This time architect Joseph Schwarz lent his talents to its creation. The Cataract continued its reign as a fine hotel and a hub of local activity.
The Cataract's fire and others, namely the Merchant's and Commercial House, prompted the Hotel Carpenter to be built Fireproof. While I haven't seen it in writing, I feel certain that the Corsons had this one built fireproof as well.
In 1886, Sioux Falls established a house numbering system using 9th and Phillips ground zero. Thus was the power of the Cataract House to reach through the mists of time and screw up the lives of many a modern-day pizza delivery driver (the 900 block of Phillips avenue is between 17th and 18th street, rather than between 9th and 10th). A more reasonable city might have made the corner of 1st Street and 1st Avenue the nexus for the numbering system, but they hadn't had as much fun at that spot (where Falls Park is now).
On April 6th of 1903, Theodore Roosevelt visited our fair city on a 9-week tour of the country. In the left-foreground you can see a guy who's shimmied his way up a bunting-wrapped pole to catch a glimpse of TR as he spoke.
Click on the image to see the grand Phillips street entrance a bit closer. Five extra points for finding Waldo!
Here we see the grand dining room of the Cataract. The picture was surely taken during a between-meal time, otherwise you'd see the flurry of activity as the Cataract's wickedly-skilled staff attended to the overabundance of diners... Or maybe this is dinner rush and everyone's rushed to the buffet to load up on shrimp!
I think this might be the same room probably 30 years later. In 1937 this was the ballroom. Around this time we're getting into the swing era. The bands would come to the area and stay at the Cataract and the Carpenter. They'd play the Arkota Ballroom and return to the Cataract for a meal and rest.
Here is the Cataract's coffee shop in 1937. There's plenty of space at the counter for the lone businessman, and tables and booths for larger parties of diners. The coffee shop was accessible from the hotel or from the street.
The lobby, seen here from the east, looking toward 9th street was the first thing visitors would see in 1937. The enterance to the coffee shop is to the left. You can almost smell the coffee and hear the tinkling of the ice in the water glasses, can't you?
Behold: The Uglification. In th e1950s many buildings in downtown Sioux Falls were given "facelifts" to make them more modern... or as they called it then: Mod. In all fairness, this image doesn't really do the facade any justice. What looks like a concrete brick is actually shiny granite. Whatever it is, it's not pretty. I don't know if we can blame this on the Sheraton corporation, who at this point owned the hotel, but why not?
The Schlocky marquee above the main entrance announces a seafood buffet every friday night. That was not enough to keep business hopping in the downtown business district. On March 12, 1973, the Argus Leader reported plans for the razing of the Cataract Motor Inn, the Lincoln Hotel (aka New Chicago) building and the Elks Club building and other buildings not as well known to make way for...
The future... and parking. The early 1970s brought urban renewal just a few short years before This Old House made it cool to renovate. In 1973 the Cataract was razed. In 1974, the entire block was erased to make way for a bank and parking.
Look at that cold edifice. Doesn't it just shout "Get back to work, drone"? Can't you just hear the roar of 200 IBM Selectrics dutifully chattering away? I can imagine trudging into work here every day, weighed down by my ultra-wide brown polyester tie. It looks nicer inside, but the exterior architecture just says "move along, there's nothing to see here".
In 1975 Sioux Falls pried its head from where the sun don't shine and put together its historical preservation organization. If the demise of the Cataract had something to do with this, then there was some good that came from destroying it.
Since before Sioux Falls was a city there had been a Cataract Hotel. It was the social focal point of the city for decades. How could this city allow it to be discarded so callously? It was a time in which the Argus Leader suggested that the demolition of the Old Courthouse (Sept 11, 1962) might be a fine way to generate some parking space. Thankfully that kind of thinking has mostly fallen to the wayside. Alas too late for the Cataract.
The Story is not quite over for the Cataract, however. While the last three no longer exist there is another Skywalker.
Here is the first Cataract Hotel, living still as an apartment building on Duluth. There is no pomp and almost no resemblance to the original building (see above), but so far the Cataract Hotel lives on in some small way. Hopefully this bland old gal will survive the latest efforts to clean up the neighborhoods in its area.
Page Updated: 12/09/2009
Much of the info on this page was gleaned from:Sioux Falls, South Dakota A Pictorial History by Gary D. Olson and Erik L. Olson Click on the link for ordering info or go right to the Center for Western Studies on the Augustana College campus here in Sioux Falls to save on shipping.The Argus leader provided some info.1937 photos from Modern Sioux Falls in Pictures, published by the Argus Leader that year.