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Forum staff reports , Published December 17 2013

New Rourke Art Gallery owner: 'We want to keep it historic'

MOORHEAD – Blake Carlson wasn’t sure what to expect at Tuesday’s auction of the former Rourke Art Gallery. When it was all said and done, he was a little surprised to walk away with the house.

The Fargo architect was the top bidder at the auction, paying $95,000 for the 2,944-square-foot house at 523 4th St. S.

“I didn’t know to expect,” he said after his winning bid.

Carlson said he’s still not sure what exactly he and his family will do with the building but that he would maintain the structure.

“We want to keep this house here and keep it historic,” he said.

A brochure from Pifer’s Land Auction said the home was built in 1802 by Ole Martinson.

The Rourke Art Gallery moved into the space in 1961 and occupied it until earlier this year.

Rourke founder James O’Rourke maintained the house and added a number of details over the years before dying in 2011.

Carlson never visited the house as a gallery but had driven by it. He finally took a look inside during an open house after the Rourke organization announced in November that the property would be sold.

“It’s a beautiful house and a great opportunity,” he said.

The house sits on two city lots, 21,750 square feet total. The city of Moorhead had the house valued at $93,500.

Before the sale started, auctioneer Kevin Pifer said that any plans to change the property from an art gallery to anything else would have to be approved by the city.

The Rourke board of directors decided to sell the property and focus programming on the Rourke Art Museum at 521 Main Ave.

That decision angered some Rourke members and artists, particularly since they found out through a letter and were not asked for input in the decision-making process.

Tuesday’s auction was relatively calm, with only a few bidders on the house.

Among the estimated 30 people, there were some members who just wanted one more opportunity to go through the former gallery.

“I just love this building,” said Jeanne Aske, standing in what was called the Gold Room, pointing to where she sat when she served as volunteer coordinator.

“What I have to remember is that it’s the memories that count. Jim (O’Rourke) had a wonderful legacy, but it wasn’t this building,” she said. “Whenever we say goodbye to an important place in our lives, it stays in our hearts. And someone else will love this place. It just felt good to be here today.”

Rourke Director Tania Blanich was happy with the auction.

“I’m so pleased it went to someone who understands its potential,” she said. “He got a beautiful property, and we’re excited to have a new chapter and focus on the future.”

Blanich said three large outdoor sculptures on the gallery lot would remain until removal is possible in 2014.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533