When I first heard the Dickensian-sounding name, “Smith, Follett & Crowl,” my brain immediately conjured up images of a boot-blacking factory in Victorian-era London.
So imagine my surprise when, as a relative KG newcomer, I recently checked out Kilbourne Group‘s own Smith, Follett and Crowl Warehouse and could not find a street urchin in sight. Instead, this building is now more commonly known as The Lofts on Roberts – home to 21 modern, loft-style apartments — as well as Mezzaluna, one of the snazziest places to sup and sip in Fargo.
We recently accompanied photographer Dan Francis to this historic building at 309 Roberts Street to capture updated images of these spaces. Fortunately, tenants Cassi and Matt, (who were just married!), allowed us to photograph their apartment, which was as cozy-chic as you’d expect from any space occupied by two hip, young professionals. (It wasn’t too hard to see that Cassi has a background in interior design either.)
And, if we must admit ourselves (while spraining our arms to pat ourselves on the back), we gave Lofts residents a prime blank canvas to work with. Especially when you consider the transformation of an interior that for decades was used chiefly as warehouse and office space.
The building was originally built in 1917 for Charles O. Smith, Clarence O. Follett and Amos Crowl. The three men were partners/wholesale suppliers of dry goods such as ready-to-wear clothing and household supplies like towels, bedsheets, blankets, linens, notions, sewing materials and piece goods, according to aÂ Forum of Fargo-Moorhead column written by retired Forum librarian Andrea Hunter Halgrimson in 2008.
The newspapers of the day described the structure as a “splendid” business edifice — “the appearances of the front being plain, but attractive with large windows, with matt faced brick and stone trimming.” Reporters noted it was “one more evidence of the increasing importance of Fargo as a distributions point for the north-west.”
According to Halgrimson, the building was designed by W. Kurke, the same Fargo architect who conceived the Pioneer Mutual Life building at 203 10th St. N. (now home to NDSU’s Barry Hall).
The completed warehouse cost a then-considerable $30,000 to build. It featured a full basement, four stories of brick and stone, 30,000 square feet of display area and a then-modern sprinkler system.
Give or take a Crowl, the business persevered for decades. In the 1970s, Mel Paeper bought controlling interest in the business. By then, the company supplied its goods to 350 stores in small towns throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. But as regional shopping centers began to crop up across the country, the demand for supplying merchandise to small-town merchants diminished, Halgrimson writes. Paeper closed the 68-year-old wholesale distribution business in 1982.
A year later, Knights Formal Wear bought the old building to serve as a showroom and headquarters for its retail stores in North Dakota. When KG General Manager Mike Allmendinger first walked through the building in 2007, he was struck by the surreal sight of a very old building packed with rentable Santa and Easter Bunny costumes.
But it was also packed with potential. Allmendinger describes it as “the epitome of what loft living space should be. It had hardwood floors, exposed beams, original wood posts and exposed brick walls. It hadn’t been carved up into all kinds of little, Sheetrocked rooms.”
Kilbourne Group worked diligently to preserve and maintain the integrity of many of the building’s historical features, including a pressed metal ceiling, numerous large windows, corbelled brick, simplistic stone trim, an oak-encased office, exposed wood beams, hardwood flooring and masonry exterior walls. The organization’s efforts were recognized in 2009 when the organization received an Adaptive Reuse Award from the Fargo-Moorhead Heritage Society, an architectural preservation organization.
Today, the building boasts lovely, sun-filled, open-plan apartments on the second, third and fourth floors. The Lofts are centrally located so most downtown attractions, from NDSU’s downtown campus to coffee shops and art galleries, are within easy walking distance.
And tenants need amble no farther than the first floor for a special night out at Mezzaluna. That’s where husband-and-wife chefs Eric and Sara Watson turn out European-inspired cuisine with a comforting flair. (Think Garlic and Asiago Tater Tots!)
Halgrimson couldn’t have said it better than in her 2008 column: “It’s a long way from bedsheets, blankets and bedspreads to beef bourguignonne and blue nose bass.”
And don’t forget “bunny suits.”