A guest blog from Christian Belz, a junior at Concordia College, Majoring in Communications and Museum Studies. He enjoys singing in the Concordia Choir, spending time with his family, and has a passion for urban renewal and historic preservation.
A retro photograph on the front page of a recent edition of the Concordian was a colorful image of downtown Moorhead with bustling shops, turn of the century buildings, and dozens of parked cars. The article described recent discussions about revitalization efforts in Moorhead that included the community and the presidents of Concordia, MSUM, and M State. The engagement in dialogue between all of these parties made it clear that this revitalization effort was at a turning point for Moorhead. A drive through the downtown confirms that revitalization efforts are already underway. With renewed energy and dialogue within the community, Moorhead is on the cusp of something big.
Many leaders of the revitalization effort rightly highlight the fact that Moorhead is a blank canvas on which a city center can be created that serves the community both now and into the future. While this is a huge advantage for Moorhead, care should be taken in determining which of Moorhead’s historic buildings have the potential to be valuable assets in Moorhead’s vision for the future. Buildings like the Moorhead Hotel and the Moorhead Armory have great historic value and would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to replace. This time of revitalization is a hopeful time, full of possibilities and excitement, but the past reminds us that it is wise to exercise caution in times like these, when we decide on what stays and what goes.
Moorhead’s downtown is similar to other cities that were hit hard by the wave of urban renewal which reduced cities to a patchwork of parking lots and dark concrete buildings. Fargo was able to revitalize its downtown thanks to the preservation of Fargo’s important historic buildings, jewels in the rough, which were not destroyed and thanks to local visionaries including the Kilbourne Group, who had the foresight and know-how to revitalize historic buildings and create the renewed downtown with a great sense of place that exists today.
Historic, “jewels in the rough” buildings are rarely mentioned in discussions of Moorhead’s future, but those jewels exist. As the city of Moorhead and other local visionaries begin to plan for Moorhead’s future it is vitally important to notice the handful of historic buildings in Moorhead that were spared from the urban renewal.
It’s easy to see how Fargo’s investment in its historic buildings has paid off by allowing the city to retain a connection to its past. By preserving those buildings, Fargo was able to preserve its “sense of place.” Imagine Fargo without its historic buildings like the Fargo Theater or The Black Building. If Fargo had replaced these historic buildings with generic buildings, it would have lost a meaningful connection to its past. Now is the time to recognize Moorhead’s historic buildings and consider if they can coexist within the future vision of Moorhead.
Although many of Moorhead’s historic buildings are gone, some remain and offer an opportunity for Moorhead to connect to its past. Some of the remaining historic buildings are relatively unchanged since they were built, but others have been significantly altered almost beyond recognition. Through the use of archival photos from before the urban renewal of 1965 we can see downtown Moorhead’s remaining historic buildings in the context of the past.
The photos are grouped into four categories: Existing Unaltered Buildings, Existing Altered Buildings, Remaining Buildings with No Archival Photos, and Lost Moorhead Landmarks.
I applaud the efforts of the leaders of the revitalization effort and hope that this spotlight on Moorhead’s remaining historic buildings will contribute to the dialogue.
A special thanks to Mark Peihl at HCSCC and Lisa Sjoberg at the Concordia College Archives for use of the archival photos.