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Loretta gets bettah: 100-year-old building begins to shine again after two-year renovation

Loretta gets bettah: 100-year-old building begins to shine again after two-year renovation

To Doug Burgum, a boarded-up storefront is a challenge.

Rip away the plywood from the windows, and you’re bound to find beauty, potential and history underneath.

“I can barely contain myself,” says Burgum, the Great Plains founder who now works to restore downtown Fargo’s heart, one building at a time. “The idea of bringing light back into these spaces is somehow enormously satisfying.”

Burgum believes in salvaging old buildings for reasons both artistic and pragmatic. Restoring old structures preserves the character, history and inherent good bones of old buildings, but he believes it also makes long-term, practical sense. Attracting new life and commerce to existing, downtown structures makes more fiscal and social sense than it does to contribute to suburban sprawl on the fringes of town, Burgum says.

Fitting then that he is founder and chairman of Kilbourne Group, a company dedicated to redeveloping and revitalizing downtown Fargo. One of Kilbourne’s most recent and visible projects has been resuscitating the Loretta Building, which covers 208, 210 and 212 Broadway. The historic building was the brainchild of one of Fargo’ early founding fathers, Peter Elliott, who arrived in Fargo by ox cart in 1873. Elliott proceeded to build successful businesses, serve on the city council and be elected mayor. He named the classical-style Loretta Block, which was built in two phases in 1909 and 1912, after one of his daughters.

Upon its completion by J.B. Bergstrom and George R. Crowe, the southern two-thirds of the Loretta Block became the site of their furniture store for the next 60 years. Throughout the 20th century, the well-built structure business as diverse as a cattle company, the original Scheel’s Hardware, a paint store, a stereo shop, Vanity III, several jewelry stores , Young America, a miniature golf course, a hot dog shop and Boerth’s Frame and Mirror Co., a downtown Fargo fixture since 1902. The building also had been home to Billiards on Broadway, billiard hall/bar since 1991.

When Burgum purchased the Loretta in August of 2010, he found a Grand Dame who had weathered decades of neglect. Only about 9,000 square feet of the sprawling structure was used; the other 75 percent of the building was uninhabitable. Roof leaks had caused layers of rot throughout the upper portions of the building. A basement apartment looked like it had been hastily vacated and still contained numerous items from the previous tenant.

“It was a lady in distress,”Burgum says. “The buildings are like kids who can’t defend themselves on the playground.”

But through the disrepair, Burgum and Mike Allmendinger, Kilbourne’s general manager, saw the past glimmers of an aging beauty. Yes, the walls were shrouded in a thick, black paint, but underneath that primer was beautiful brick. The building was supported by massive wooden beams unlike anything you’ll find in modern construction. The original floors were hardwood. And once the boards were peeled away, the large windows promised to fill the building with warm, natural light.

And so began a two-year process that turned out to be more challenging than even they could have predicted. Along the way, they never lost sight of the goal: transforming some of downtown’s most seriously under-used spaces into prime retail, dining and office space.

To check out a gallery of “before” photos of the Loretta Building, go to:


Friday: Careful, thoughtful restoration starts from the ground up. Learn the lengths that Kilbourne Group went to in efforts to ensure this 100-year-old building would stand at least another 100 years.


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