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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published August 18 2012

Halgrimson: ‘Cruisin’ Broadway’ brings back fond memories of high school

On the first Thursday in September, the last “Cruisin’ Broadway” will be held in beautiful downtown Fargo. Sponsored by the Downtown Community Partnership, the event is hosted by the Valley Vintage Car Club.

Last month, I talked to one guy sitting with his wife in chairs on the sidewalk next to a pristine 1950s-era Chevy. I asked him if he was from Fargo. He said when he drove that car he lived in Pelican Rapids, Minn. I remember some of those cute out-of-town guys who drove to Fargo to drag Broadway.

Many of the cars you see on cruise nights are the same models we drove when I was at Fargo Central High School in the 1950s. They belonged to our parents, and no one I knew had a new car. I took my driver’s test in a ’55 Chevy owned by my boyfriend Terry Blue’s parents. The cars owned by teens were a lot older than the date on the calendar.

We called it “draggin’ Broadway.” The circuit started at the Bison Hotel across from the Great Northern Railway station, went south down Broadway where we made a U-turn just north of the Northern Pacific tracks in front of the J.C. Penney store and returned to the Bison. You could fill your gas tank for a couple of bucks in those days.

It was always busy on Friday nights when Teen Canteen was held at the Crystal Ballroom located above the armory at the south end of Broadway. Dances at the ballroom, named for the big mirrored ball that hung from the ceiling, featured local big bands.

Broadway was four lanes then, the better for visiting between cars. According to the 1957-58 Fargo city directory, a large assortment of businesses lined the street: three dime stores – J.J. Newberry, Kresge’s and Woolworths; three furniture stores – Bergstrom and Crowe, Coleman’s and Luger’s; five drug stores – Broadway Pharmacy, Mid Town Pharmacy, White Drug, Osco Drug and the Service Drug owned by my uncle Joe Halbeisen; three banks – Dakota National, Merchants and First National; four bars – Bison Tavern, Five Spot, Silver Tray and the Empire Tavern; four shoe stores – Hall-Allen, Johnson’s, Kinney’s and Mays; four jewelry stores – Anderson’s, Crescent, Hale’s and Royal.

Five men’s clothing stores – Fargo Toggery, Shark’s, Siegel’s, Straus and Ted Evanson’s; three women’s clothing stores – Arthur’s, Mary Elizabeth Frock Shop and Stevenson’s Ready to Wear; two movie theaters – the Fargo and the Roxy; three department stores – Herbst, Penney’s and Sears Roebuck; four restaurants – Fargo Café, Powers Hotel Café, Times Café, Uptown Café; three photography studios – Scherling, Homer Thune and Voss; and three food markets – Leeby’s, Piggly Wiggly and Red Owl. And I’ve probably missed some.

There was a Gold Bond Redemption Center and the S&H Green Stamp store, Harold’s Opticians, Hobbyland, Al’s Sport Shop, Broadway Hardware, Dotty Dunn Hat Shop, Dutch Maid Ice Cream, Quality Bakery, Singer Sewing Machine, and the Fargo Sport Center, which was the last bowling alley in town to have hand-set pins.

The only businesses that remain are the Empire Tavern, Metro Drug, which then was called Osco Drug, and Royal Jewelers.

There were insurance companies of every kind, dentists, physicians, appliance dealers, shoe repair shops, barber shops, and hundreds of people lived in apartments above the stores.

And who could forget Nick’s Popcorn stand near the Fargo Theatre and Pete’s popcorn stand by the Northern Pacific tracks.

And the above list does not take into account the many businesses on the avenues that crossed Broadway.

It was quite a different street before the malls and urban sprawl. Those were the glory days of downtown Fargo.

I try to do as much shopping as I can in downtown. And soon, my car will qualify as vintage and I can drive it in the parade. It’s 17 years old and has just over 100,000 miles. It’s red, but I don’t know who makes it. Ron Sahr of Sahr’s Sudden Service takes care of it.

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