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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published February 07 2009

First Avenue site has seen changes

The land on which a building is rising at the northwest corner of Roberts Street and First Avenue North embraces a lot of Fargo history.

Some of the land’s past includes rubble from Fargo’s Great Fire on June 7, 1893, which had to be removed before building could begin.

In the past the buildings just to the west of the alley that runs halfway down the middle of the block on First Avenue North between Broadway and Roberts Street were given to retail establishments built from 1898 to 1906.

From my youth I remember the Pheasant Café, Nestor Tavern Grand Recreation Parlors, Grand Theater, Improvement Building (an apartment) at 630 1st Ave. N. and

next-door to the west, the YMCA at 632 1st Ave. N.

It’s the Improvement Building and YMCA that I’m writing about in this column.

The Improvement Building was built in 1910 by the North Dakota Improvement Co. of Fargo, headed by Ed Wilson. The five-story structure was built by his brother, Stewart Wilson, and occupied 11,000 square feet and had a frontage of 85 feet on First Avenue. It was the largest apartment in Fargo at the time.

In 1938, it was sold to Augusta L. Young, widow of George M. Young, who was an attorney, North Dakota state legislator, congressman and later U.S. Customs Court judge.

When Mrs. Young died in 1949, the building went to her daughter, who in 1961 sold the Improvement Building to Fargo real estate man James S. Reed.

Occupying the ground floor at that time were the North Dakota Employment Service, Frank McKone Cigar Co., Northwest Hearing Aid Center, Main Line Jewelry, The Secretary Shop and F-M Tailoring. The upper floors contained offices and apartments.

In 1968, the building was razed by the Fargo Parking Authority.

The YMCA was organized in Fargo early in 1886 at the home of Mrs. S.G. Roberts. It was chartered and incorporated later in the year. Officers at the time were T.E. Yerxa, C.T. Clement, J.M. Fisher, W.H. White, Levi Greer, A. C. Andrews, S.S. Lyon, H.C. Plumley and J. J. Shotwell.

The building erected at 632 1st Ave. N. was the third in which the Y was located. The land was acquired in 1905, and a building campaign to raise $60,000 was instituted. The new building opened in 1907.

It was three stories tall with offices on the first floor and rooms to let above. It apparently held the first indoor swimming pool in Fargo.

In 1961, more than

$1.2 million was raised to build a new facility, and in 1962 the Fargo-Moorhead Family YMCA moved to its new building in Island Park. The old YMCA building downtown was razed sometime in the 1960s, and in 1970, the Lark Theater was opened on the site. That, too, is now gone.

And a new era is under way. A building is being built that will replicate what was razed for parking. But this time, the parking will be below the structure so at least no one can, in the future, tear it down for parking space.

The 5-story, $18 million building will have about 40,000 square feet of retail space on the street level. The developers are hoping to attract a variety of retail shops including a bookstore, drugstore, fitness center, fast-food restaurants, a grocery store selling organic foods and even an upscale restaurant.

The upper floors will contain 104 apartments marketed and leased through NDSU’s housing department. The apartments will house about 220 students.

I love downtown Fargo, and I’m just happy that the developers didn’t get the whole damn block.

Sources: Forum files, Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU,


Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson

at (701) 241-5517