Hotel Albert dining room was the place to eat

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2004

By Ed Shannon, Looking Back

For just over 35 years, Albert Lea’s premier eating establishment was called the Spanish Dining Room. It was operated as a part of the Hotel Albert which was once located at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and College Street.

Now the drive-in portion of the U.S. Bank Albert Lea occupies the area that a 1929 issue of the Tribune said was &uot;one of the most unusual and beautiful dining rooms in this part of the country.”

Email newsletter signup

The Spanish Dining Room was built by Carl Jacobson at a reported cost of $50,000. Jacobson was the hotel manager and owner of the hotel’s coffee shop operation in 1929. The coffee shop had previously been known as the Jefferson Cafe.

Jacobson converted what had previously been used as horse stables for a livery stable, then as a warehouse, in a building just north of the hotel into a large dining room and kitchen on the ground floor and five apartments on the second floor.

What evolved from this conversion was an eating area with adobe-like walls and arches, wrought iron dividers and rails, and rough-hewn ceiling beams with stencil designs. All of this was intended to suggest a strong Spanish motif. Heavy draperies were used to divide the dining room into smaller units for meetings and private parties.

An undated menu cover now in the files of the Freeborn County Historical Museum had these comments about the Spanish Dining Room:

&uot;Here is a touch of Old Spain, transported to southern Minnesota. This spacious dining room carries out the Spanish motif with its wrought iron grillwork, its stucco walls, and its massive oak-beamed ceiling with all its beautiful appointments completes the picture of a luxurious dining room.

&uot;The Spanish Dining Room is designed to handle large groups of people with utmost efficiency. The proportions of the room facilitate many table arrangements suitable to the particular gathering, such as long banquet tables for as many as 250 guests, buffet suppers, or smaller tables for congenial foursomes, or whatever the size of your party may be.

&uot;The acoustics are ideal for both speakers and musical programs, and the view from every part of the room is perfect for movies, plays, or practically any type of entertainment, since there are no pillars or obstructions of any type.

&uot;The equipment includes a baby grand piano for recitals and accompaniment for orchestras or voice. A unique arrangement of curtains makes it possible for the room to be broken into sections to accommodate smaller parties if necessary.

&uot;You will find the Spanish Dining Room ideal for all gatherings, no matter how warm the weather, it’s air conditioned for your comfort.&uot;

The grand opening for the new dining room was held in March 1929 for 150 guests. Music was furnished by the Wolf-Abel Orchestra.

For many years, the Spanish Dining Room was used as the weekly meeting place for several service clubs. The undated menu cover listed these organizations as the Kiwanis Club at noon on Mondays (organized in 1922, with a membership of 98); Rotary Club at noon on Fridays (organized in 1922,

with a membership of 56); and the Lions Club at noon on Thursdays (organized in 1941, with a membership of 80).

Other organizations which once met at the Hotel Albert’s Spanish Dining Room, according to the undated menu cover, were the Y’s Men’s Club (organized in 1930, membership 40); Wa-Tan-Ye Club (organized in 1939, membership 40); Business and Professional Women’s Club (organized in 1917, membership 61); Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce (organized in 1881, membership 395); Junior Chamber of Commerce (organized in 1932, membership 43); Toast Mistress Club (organized in 1947, membership 27); Toast Masters Club (organized in 1937, membership 27); Y.M.C.A. (organized in 1928, membership 1,100); Y.W.C.A. (organized in 1928, membership 400); Salvation Army (organized in 1896, membership 70); Beta Sigma Phi (organized in 1938, membership 25); Nu Phi Mu (organized 1945, membership 15); J.M. Snyder Y’s Men (organized in 1947, membership 23); 87 Club (organized in 1931, membership 22); and

Phalanx Fraternity (organized in 1932, membership 15).

Passengers from the Jefferson buses that stopped at the hotel ate their quick meals in the coffee shop or dining room. Hotel guests didn’t have to leave the building to find a good place to eat. And for several generations of area citizens. this place became the focus for special eating-out occasions, meetings and parties.

During World War II, from 1942 to about 1944, the Spanish Dining Room was used as the eating place for a group of U.S. Navy men who were taking pre-flight training at the Albert Lea Airport and living in the hotel.

The Spanish Dining Room was operated jointly with the hotel’s coffee shop, and after 1954 with the Colonel’s Lounge which provided the beverage services.

Operations of the Spanish Dining Room ceased in 1965. The Hotel Albert became a student dormitory for Lea College. Then the place with the fancy fixtures where the salesmen, travelers, hotel guests and area citizens once ate became a dining room for the college students.

In the mid-1970s, as a result of the closing of Lea College, the five-story hotel building across from the courthouse was torn down to provide a new building location for the Freeborn National Bank (now U.S. Bank Albert Lea).

(Contact Ed Shannon at or call 379-3434.)