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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published September 12 2010

Halgrimson: Pence building in Fargo has had many tenants

In 1994, after many paperwork aggravations, the Pence Automobile warehouse at 301 NP Ave. in Fargo was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1990, the old three-story building built in 1919 for $175,000 had been occupied by Richtman’s Printing and Packaging.

But years ago, when I first noticed the sign in large letters painted on the north and west sides of the building that read “PENCE AUTOMOBILE CO.,” I thought, “I wonder why I’ve never heard of a car called Pence.”

Harry E. Pence, for whom the business was named, was born on Oct. 7, 1867, in Springboro, Ohio. He moved to Minneapolis at age 18 after the invitation of an uncle.

He founded the Pence Automobile Co. in 1903. Pence sold Cadillacs at first, but when the manufacturers would not agree to his suggestion that they build a two-cylinder engine, he switched to selling Buicks because the company was willing to build a two-cylinder engine. Pence at one time sold 29 percent of all Buicks being manufactured.

A few years later, the Pence Automobile Co. constructed an eight-story building at Eighth and Hennepin in Minneapolis. It is also still standing and also on the National Register of Historic Places. Both the Fargo and Minneapolis buildings are in the Classical Revival style.

Expansion eventually brought the company to Fargo.

The Fargo building had been home to many businesses, mainly automotive and home appliances, until it was purchased by Richtman’s Printing in 1990.

According to the Fargo City Directory, in 1934, Vincent-Kelly Inc., distributors of Dodge and Plymouth cars and trucks, occupied the Pence building. Principals in the business were D.G. Kelly, John C. Vincent, J.H. Snyder and S.C. Koppang.

By 1940, Dakota Tractor and Equipment Co. – distributors of Caterpillar Tractors, road machinery and contractors’ equipment – occupied the building. Principals were E.A. King, Earl Armstrong, Clifford R. Lanning and W. C. Clinton.

In July 1941, the Pence building, then occupied by Dakota Tractor and Equipment, was purchased by J.A. Fleck to be used as a reconditioning plant for used cars. The new car business, Fleck Chevrolet Buick, continued in its building at 82 NP Ave.

Reinhard Brothers, wholesale automotive supply dealers, bought the Pence building from the estate of J.A. Fleck. Reinhard was also distributor for Norge home appliances and Zenith radios and hearing aids.

When Reinhard acquired the Allis Chalmers building at 302 NP Ave. in 1971, the company had become distributors for Zenith electronics, Gibson appliances, Frost Queen appliances, Waste King appliances, Wheel Horse lawn equipment, R-Mark lawn equipment and Armstrong carpet.

In January 2007, Richtman’s Printing moved from the Pence building to 3401 Fiechtner Drive. Richtman’s Printing, founded in 1941, also has locations in Bismarck and Des Moines, Iowa.

And this year, it was announced that the Fargo Family HealthCare Center had an option to buy the Pence building and the two adjoining buildings at 307 and 309 NP Ave. from Fargo’s Kilbourne Group.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com