Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Fargo Inc!
Since several hundred people gathered to watch its cornerstone be placed on November 17, 1930, downtown Fargo’s Black Building has captured imaginations of North Dakotans. The 8-story art deco tower, wrapped with banks of large windows in intricate cast iron frames, would serve as the bustling center of commerce of Fargo for decades. As Kilbourne Group and the Black Building’s many long-standing tenants embark on writing the next chapter for the iconic landmark, we are inspired by its storied past.
George M. Black, proprietor of the Black Building, was an experienced merchandiser, having grown up in the business. His father Leslie Black, had emigrated from Ireland in the 1860s and set up his first store in Parsons, Kansas. As a young boy, George worked long hours in the store cleaning, stocking shelves and taking care of customers. When he and Leslie decided to seek new locations in which to set up a chain of stores, Fargo happened to be a train stopover.
A beautiful day in May, 1912, reads the autobiography of George M. Black. Lots of women out shopping. I visited the stores Herbsts, deLendrecies, and Moodys. They were busy. Prices were good. It was an exhilarating experience.
On June 12, 1912, The Black Store opened at 112 Broadway.
Black ran a successful store and continuously expanded its footprint along Broadway. He became well known for throwing turkeys off the roof to celebrate Thanksgiving, originating a one cent sale, and the unique Gold Dollar Sale, in which each purchase came with a free dish of ice cream. If a lucky customer found a capsule in their ice cream, it would mean a prize up to a five dollar gold piece.
As the depression of the 1920s intensified, more stores were consolidating or closing. Black was in New York on October 29, 1929 to witness the stock market collapse, an experience that prompted him to sell The Black Store in Fargo to Sears, Roebuck. He would use the proceeds of the sale to build the Black Building.
The basement, first and second floors would be home to the new Sears store. The remaining six floors would be the most modern, professional office space the city had seen. The top floor was the showpiece home of WDAY Studios.
T.F. Powers & Co., the Fargo construction company, called the Black Building its masterpiece. Other superlatives used to describe the structure included center of activity that was flooded with merchandise, pride of Fargoans, and veritable cathedral of business activity.
Black stated in his autobiography, “During the erection of the new building, it was my duty to keep the store going. Departments would have to be moved from one place to another as construction proceeded. Business must be kept intact.”
Today, as the building nears 90 years old, Kilbourne Group begins the most extensive renovation the Black Building has ever seen. The first step was adding the vintage structure to the National Registry of Historic Places, ensuring its care for decades to come. Historic details that will be refurbished include ornate elevator doors, terrazzo flooring, and marble baseboards.
Kilbourne Group’s vision is to return the Black Building to its rightful place in Fargo’s history as a destination unto itself and serve as an anchor of the downtown Fargo restaurant and retail district. The Black Building will remain true to its use as retail and office space.
As a tribute to our shared history, we hope the Black Building will again be a celebration of unique, local, authentic offerings and uniquely Fargo experiences.
Office space will be efficient with shared amenities such as conference rooms, break rooms, restrooms, etc. The Black Building will offer the opportunity to work from an historic tower of commerce with its sweeping views of downtown Fargo, which today is hailed as a tech hub.
If you are interested in space in the Black Building, contact Claire Anderson at 701-298-7000 or click here.
Join us on the 86th anniversary of the laying of the Black Building’s cornerstone for the Black Bazaar, a one-night, uniquely Fargo shopping experience. We’ve invited local artisans and shop owners to pop up shops in the Black Building retail space during this time.
We look forward to celebrating with you!