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Grael Gannon, Fargo, Published September 21 2013

Letter: 23-story building a bad fit

If the people of Fargo were not aware of the big plans for the U.S. Bank Plaza, they surely are now with the Sept. 8 spread in The Forum.

I have lived in Fargo for six years. I came after the renewal of Broadway was mostly done so I can’t compare it with what went before, but I do appreciate what is there now. The street has that special charm of rows of small individual buildings, each with some architectural decoration, and housing specialty shops, cafes, offices and apartments.

I have often thought how the U.S. Bank Plaza makes a very nice accent note along the way, even just as an unadorned parking area. If it is to be developed further, what I would like to see is a three- or four-story underground parking garage to serve area residents, office workers and the shopping public. On top, there could be a beautiful park with some lawn, some flowers, some trees and a few benches. This would wonderfully extend the current funky Broadway ambience.

What about the proposed alternative? I’m sure I’m a heretic, but I don’t particularly like extremely tall buildings. I’m a humanist and take great delight in buildings not more than seven or eight stories that are conceived in a great architectural tradition, especially that incredibly rich stream from ancient Greece, Rome, the Renaissance and their many creative reincarnations over the centuries up until about the 1930s when sterile modern began to take over.

Fargo is too new to possess much of this ancient grandeur. Our late Victorian and Edwardian buildings are not the greatest, but they’re not so bad either – especially when they have been lovingly restored. Apart from the neo-classical government buildings of the 1920s and 1930s, these late 19th- and early 20th-century commercial buildings and residences represent the last hurrah of the tradition of crafted buildings with humanely inspired decorative touches: flat spaces broken by ornamentation to caress the eye.

I lived in the Boston area in the early 1960s when the first skyscraper erupted to begin the relentless destruction of the great 18th- and 19th-century skyline. The same has happened in other famous towns. The only great American city that has largely escaped these raw wounds is Washington, D.C. The combination of its 18th-century planned French design, its marvelous classical architecture (with a few grisly exceptions like the monstrosity added to the National Gallery), and its buildings of limited height have made it the jewel of the land. People who haven’t been there should go, stroll Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall and believe.

The wisest great cities have kept the imposing but stultifying and soulless skyscrapers far from the historic inner core. Mexico City’s old historic center has miles of Spanish colonial buildings and 19th-century French Second Empire classics. The tall buildings are far off to the west along the great Paseo de la Reforma and neighboring areas. The beautiful southern Mexican town of Oaxaca is actually a fairly big city, but the immense downtown area is miles of colonial and 19th-century buildings, mostly one-story, and the long main street is completely restricted to pedestrians. It’s a lot like Fargo’s Broadway, and it’s hard to believe you are not in a small town as you stroll along, visiting craft and antique shops and old churches.

I don’t like to rain on someone’s parade, and I realize there are already a couple of tall buildings in the area. But Broadway is still itself. If we must have a 23-story building in Fargo, I’m sure there are some nice spots blocks away from the historic downtown.