Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published January 24 2009
600 block has changed much in timeIn my mind’s eye, I can still see the 600 Block on First Avenue North as it was before all the buildings were razed for a parking lot and the Lark Theater was built in 1970.
I’ve never been so glad to see a building go down. At the time it was built, it was said to be a major step forward in the revitalization of downtown Fargo. I don’t think so. The revival of downtown Fargo took another 30 to 40 years.
Since most of that half-block has been destroyed, it remains in my memory as a neighborhood within a city, just like any other small enclave.
The building that was just to the west of an alley – which runs halfway down the block behind the stores on Broadway – was built in 1900 as the C. R. Stone Block. The businesses that I remember from my youth in the 1950s are the Pheasant Café at 614 operated by Philip C. Wong, and the Nestor Tavern at 616 operated by Wilmot Swanick.
The next building to the east was built in 1898 and housed the Grand Recreation Parlors at 618 operated by Steve Gorman Sr. and later by John Fortune.
Both of the buildings mentioned above were two stories tall. But the third building in the row was only one story high and was home to the Grand Theater at 622 1stAve. N.
The Grand Theater was built in 1906 and came to George (Dad) Fowler in a real estate transaction. It was a vaudeville and movie house until 1927. It burned in 1932 but was apparently rebuilt.
When Fowler died in 1933, his obituary mentioned that both Al Jolson and Charlie Chaplin had appeared in vaudeville shows at the Grand.
The little neighborhood changed over the years. The buildings that were home to the businesses listed below were razed in 1970.
In 1925 there was the Liberty Candy Co., Nestor Cigar Store, Elks Club Rooms, Grand Bowling Alleys, Grand Billiard Parlors, Grand Family Theater, Grand Theater, Grand Confectionery, M.A. Baldwin (farmland and loans), Western Realty, Hatcher Bothers (insurance), Herbert Hodge & Son Realty and the Frank McKone Cigar Co.
The 1951 City Directory lists the following businesses: Eagles Fargo Aerie, Barber Eddie Gall and Dorothy Geerdes’ beauty shop, Great West Life Assurance Co., The Secretary Shop, Service Printers, Toledo Scale Co., Tri-State Excavation Co., Frank McKone Cigar Co., State Employment Service, State Unemployment Compensation Division and the U.S. Bureau of Apprenticeship.
The 1962 City Directory lists the following: Pheasant Café, Nestor Tavern, Grand Recreation Parlors, Eagles Fargo Aerie, Grand Theater, Grand Barber Shop, Alice Beauty Shop, Main Line Inc. Jewelry, F-M Tailoring Alterations, Northwest Hearing Aid Center Inc., The Secretary Shop, Service Printers, Toledo Scale Co., Tri-State Excavation Co. and the Frank McKone Cigar Co.
A lot of buildings have been torn down with local history disposed of to make way for parking lots. But the Nestor and the Frank McKone Cigar Co. live on in other locations in Fargo. I’m just glad that the rest of that block didn’t come under the wrecker’s ball.
Two other buildings occupied the remaining stretch of First Avenue North to Roberts Street. The Improvement Block, an apartment at 630 and the YMCA at 632, will be covered in my next column.
Sources: Forum files, Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU,
www.fargo-history.com. Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at firstname.lastname@example.org