Grand Forks and the Cold War

As summer winds down and I’m starting to gear up for an uncertain fall semester, I’ve started to think about ways in which some of my little research projects this summer work together.

At the start of the summer, I spent a good bit of time working on a big “windshield survey” of mid-century housing in Grand Forks. This project had three main goals: (1) identify architecturally significant housing from between 1945-1970, (2) develop a sense for the overall character of mid-century housing including trends in housing styles, and (3) trace the expansion of residential housing and neighborhoods in Grand Forks from 1945-1975.   In compliance with our contract, we have no only surveyed around 37,000 houses and produced maps showing the development of housing over time in the city. We are also preparing about 20 more detailed reports on houses that are architecturally distinctive or are representative of particular styles of housing in town. 

At the same time that this project was underway, I started to work on a pair of chapters for my slowly progressing book that considered the impact of post-War and Cold War architecture and ideology on the American landscape. From the rise of communities centered around 20th-century monuments to consumer culture (e.g. malls and shopping centers) and reimagined forms of schools and churches, to the privileging of new high-tech, synthetic, “space age” materials, late-20th century, the Cold War’s emphasis on capitalism, the social conformity mediated by “mainstream” Protestantism and new educational ideas and practices, and the use of technology permeated everyday life in Grand Forks. 

While these trends were national in scope, Grand Forks also had a more proximate reminder of the Cold War. In 1955, the US Air Force started construction on the Grand Forks Air Force base which was initially designed to serve the Air Defense Force’s 478th Fighter Group and the 18th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. The base ultimately became a center for the Strategic Air Command’s B-52 bombers (and later B-1Bs and refueling plains), and a range of dispersed radar installations and ICBMs as well as the Sentinel Anti-Ballistic Missile system. In short, the Grand Forks Air Force Base was an important node in Cold War nuclear deterrent as well as the defense of the United States from Soviet missiles.

In some way, then, the GFAFB and the city of Grand Forks represented a complimentary pair of places that reflected the reach of Cold War ideas from the military to the civilian landscape. The growth of the University of North Dakota supported in part by the post-War GI bill and federal grants designed to accelerate the development of science and technology and the construction of Interstate 29 in the late 1950s as part of Eisenhower’s efforts to create a network of standardized roads that would allow for the rapid movement of military equipment throughout the US. 

That the first wave of post-War development in Grand Forks occurred between the early 20th century downtown and the campus of the University of North Dakota is hardly surprising. This pattern of development continued pre-War trends, but also reflected the growing significance of UND to the local economy and community. The construction of Interstate-29 emphasized the north-south development of residential and commercial areas in the city and encouraged development to the south of town. This, paradoxically, drew Grand Forks away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base west of town creating a clear geographic division between the civilian world of the city and the military world of the base. As housing in Grand Forks extended to the south so did new commercial corridors including shopping centers and shopping malls that benefited from easy access to the interstate 

 As we start to wrap up this project, we’ve also begun to think of other features that associate Grand Forks with the Cold War. For example, we wondered how many buildings in Grand Forks included bomb or fallout shelters. We know of at least one or two examples of houses with private fallout shelters in their basements and as well as a few rusting fallout shelter signs that remain visible on public buildings. We also wondered about the relationship between architects and construction companies working in Grand Forks and those on the GFAFB. We know, for example, that both schools on the GFAFB –  Carl Ben Eielson Elementary and Nathan Twining Middle School – share the mid-century modern design of contemporary Grand Forks schools. More than that, the USAF championed mid-century modern design throughout their bases. The affinity, then, between the designs of homes, schools, and commercial establishment in Grand Forks and at the base reflected reciprocal paths of influence that defined how the modern world should look architecturally, geographically, and, of course, politically.

Trends in Grand Forks Housing 1945-1970

One of the things that I’ve been gently working on over the last few weeks has been the analysis of some of the data that we’ve collected from Grand Forks on mid-century housing. We’re still at the early stage of trying to understand patterns and it goes without saying that what we’ve documented are the houses that still exist, rather than those that were built or lived in.As a result, our data will be skewed by preservation.

That being said, when we look at the location and date that the houses were built, they appear to follow larger trends in the development of the city. While a few outliers exist — that is houses that are much earlier or later than the houses around them — most of the houses in Grand Forks are consistent with their neighbors. Of course, certain neighborhoods were lost entirely, but Lincoln Park and parts of Riverside appear mostly to have been pre-war meaning that they might not skew our data on post war housing, by too much. 

For example, the chart below shows the main types of housing present in Grand Forks.

UntitledImage

The most common type from the mid-1950s on were the 1-storey ranch or rambler. Prior to that period, though, there was considerable variety in housing with Cape Cods, Hip-roofed boxes, and various plain residential styles side-by-side in neighborhoods. In the mid-1950s, Grand Forks saw the construction of a number of houses in the “Prairie” or “Desert” contemporary style. It’s tempting to connect these with the construction of the iconic Wells-Denbrook studio building on Cherry Street which was built in 1954 in the Desert Contemporary style, but it’s more likely that their studio was part of a larger trend.

Another little query that we could run simply was the rise of the attached garage. This was the manifestation of two trends. First, most detached garages faced alleys and by the late-1950s, most homes in Grand Forks no longer had alley access.  

UntitledImage

By the early 1960s, the convenience of an attached garage which mostly opened onto the front of the house was a desirable, if not mandatory feature, for new construction. The role of the front facing garage (sometimes puckishly called “garage with attached home”) in defining late-20th century domestic architecture (and a scourge of 21st century architecture) emerged as part of the changing relationship between the house and the alleyway and the rise of automobile culture. 

It’s nice when the data we’ve collected reveals these trends so clearly.

Houses also got bigger in Grand Forks between 1945 and 1970. Again, this shows their square footage TODAY rather than when they were built, but I would guess that the basic trend toward larger homes is consistent. 

UntitledImage

In 1945 and 1946, the average home was under 1000 square feet; by the late-1940s, home had gotten larger and the trend continues through the 1960s. The year 1960 remains a strange anomaly in our data with only 50 homes built and they tend to be a bit larger than pervious or subsequent years. We need to try to figure out what’s going on then (and whether it’s a data problem or something “real”). By the early 1960s, the average home was over 1200 square feet where it remained for the rest of our study period.

An Inventory of Midcentury Housing in Grand Forks, North Dakota

This summer, I’ve been working with the local Historic Preservation Commission here in Grand Forks to prepare an inventory of mid-century housing in community. For my part, I’ve mostly been doing the data and GIS side of the project, while Susan Caraher has been handling the field work side of things.

I know that I’ve blogged on this post before (here and here) and posted the following images as well, but since we’re directing some members of the Historic Preservation Commission who were not about to do video or attend last night’s meeting, we thought it would be useful to post them again.

Our work had three goals: (1) to identify any notable houses associated with prominent local or regional architects, (2) to inventory existing housing from this period, and (3) to make a contribution to the history of the growth of Grand Forks in the post-war period.

The first three images below show the expansion of Grand housing from 1945 to 1970. The first image shows 1940s housing in green and the empty squares represent pre-war housing as it currently exists in town. 

HPCM 1940s June6

As I noted last night, in Riverside, the Baukol Subdivision, at the very top of the map, represents one of the earliest and best preserved post-war subdivisions and it would make sense, in the future, to add this to the Riverside neighborhood historic district. At the southern most part of the 1940s development is the innovative Lentes’ Subdivision with its curved street which is another well preserved development of the immediate post-war period. The final area of growth is infill between the downtown and campus. 

The 1950s saw the area between downtown and campus to continue to infill and expand to the north following the street grid established at the turn of the century. The most vigorous area, of growth, of course was south of town (i.e. the “Mid Southside”) on both sides of Washington Street.

HPCM 1950s June6

Note the appearance of curving streets suggesting new ideas of urbanism influenced by suburban developments elsewhere in the US, but also the persistence of alley ways which were fundamental feature of Grand Forks from its earliest development.

The 1960s saw both infilling to the west of Washington Street (the Burke’s addition) which continued to feature alleyways between blocks. South of town (between 24th Avenue S and 32nd Avenue S) continued the trend toward curved “suburban streets” with developments that embraced many of the modern trends in planning.

HPCM 1960s June6

Over the last three weeks, we’ve also worked to identify the types of houses present in Grand Forks between 1945 and 1970. To do this we used established typologies common the region.

HPCM TYPES June6

It will hardly surprise anyone that that ubiquitous North Dakota “Rambler” is the most common type of house in the post-war era. It is, however, worth noting that areas developed in the 1940s and early 1950s were characterized by pre-war housing types including Cape Cods, Hip-Roofed Boxes, and the Plain Residential styles. Desert Contemporary style homes with their flat roofs, deep eaves, and recessed entrances were clustered in areas developed in the mid-1950s and in more affluent areas of town such as Belmont Drive and Chestnut Street. It is interesting that houses in the Plain Residential style make a return to popularity in the later 1960s.

We identified a number of houses that are worth follow up documentation owing to their distinctive styles or their representative types from various periods. The red blobs on the map below show houses identified for further documentation.

HPCM NOTE June6

As we noted at the onset of this project, this is just one step in our effort to understand, document, and hopefully preserve the mid-century landscape of Grand Forks. 

Update on the Grand Forks Project 1920 Project

Every project worth doing needs a catchy name. With that in mind, I’m christening my strange effort to reconcile the 1920 census with the 1920 street map of Grand Forks, the Grand Forks 1920 Project. Sadly, this does not have a catchy acronym, but hopefully some of the content will be intriguing enough to make up for it.

Over the past week, I finished assigning any available 2020 addresses to the addresses in the 1920 census. This is a challenge in some areas because our urban landscape has changed considerably over the last 100 years with entire neighborhoods being removed, large buildings with a single address replacing smaller residences each with their own address, and a change in street names and address numbers on some streets.

My main approach to reconciling the 1920 and 2020 street grid was using the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1916 which were a close enough approximation to 1920 urban grid to allow for a mostly convincing overlay. This allowed me to reconcile approximately 2000 of the 2800 distinct street addresses presented in the 1920 census.

Unfortunately, the Sanborn Maps do not cover the entire urban area of Grand Forks. The burgeoning Lincoln Park neighborhood, for example, was not on the Sanborn Map and is also not present on the contemporary parcel map for the city, having been removed after the flood in 1997. As a result, this neighborhood can only be recovered through a combination of 1960s aerial photos and a 1934 USGS map. So far this effort at recovery remains a work in progress.

One of the strange things is that the looping route of Boulevard Avenue caused the house numbers go up in number as they move toward the river unlike nearly all the addresses in Grand Forks with increase in number as they move west away from the river. Boulevard Avenue is preserved today as “Lincoln Drive” which runs through Lincoln Park.

I was far more successful in my effort to reconstruct the neighborhood immediately south of the Great Northern Railway line into town. This neighborhood was lost to urban renewal in the 1970s and stood approximately where the current Grand Forks Housing Authority apartments now stand. In 1920, this was a Jewish neighborhood centered on a Synagogue and a Hebrew school. 

The neighborhood is visible in the 1916 Sanborn Maps.

NWSouthSide Sanborn

This 1960 aerial photos.

NWSouthSide 1960s

And I was able to reconstruct the neighborhood here in GIS in light blue. These GIS units will allow me to place the census data on the map. 

NWSouthSide Recon

While I haven’t gotten down to the hard work of coding and then analyzing the 1920 census data, it’s hard to resist writing a tiny bit about some of the small things that have already come out of this work.

One thing that popped out to me was a small apartment building which stands on 624 5th Avenue N in what we call the Near Northside of Grand Forks. I’ve long worried that the Near Northside should be a designated historic neighborhood but for various reasons is not. This building today is called the Hampton Apartments, but when it was built between 1892 and 1897 it was known as the DeRoche Block.

DeRocheBlock

It’s interesting in the 21st century because it’s the only standing turn of the century apartment block in town that is not either part of a historic district or individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For a listing of the turn of the century apartment blocks, check out the National Register nomination of the Skarbro Apartments. Moreover, it’s probably among the earliest standing apartment blocks in Grand Forks, predating the better-known Dinnie Apartments (with the nomination here) on S 6th Street and Gertrude/Belmont by about a decade.

With the 1920s census data we can say something about the folks who lived in the DeRoche Block. Of the 7 apartments, 4 were occupied by immigrants from Mexico, Norway, and Russia (two groups of Germans from Russia). The families tended to include adult children and seem to also include other adult relatives with different last names (whether through remarriage or as adult siblings). The apartments average 5 residents each. The residents worked across a range of jobs including for the railroad, as a blacksmith, at a candy company, grocery, and a bakery. One resident, an immigrant from Mexico, was a chef at a restaurant; a Norwegian immigrant was a retired farmer; another was a washer woman whose adult daughter was a housekeeper. 

We can compare, just for kicks, the residents of the DeRoche Block with those in the Dinnie Block built approximately 10 years later. Like at Deroche, half of the apartments had immigrant families. The Panovitz family were Russian (Lithuanian?) Jews, the Brynjilfams are listed as Irish, although I suspect they were Icelandic, Mary Maloney was a German from Luxembourg, and Maude Hinze was from Canada. The average number of residents in the 8 apartments was 3 and the residents tended to work in more affluent or at least respected professions including in real estate, as a conductor on the railroad, as a clergyman, a furniture merchant, and in commercial trades. It is notable that some of the families are multigenerational with grandparents and adult children living together. Mary Maloney’s granddaughter was a school teacher, for example, and Richard and Grace Mills and their daughter lived with Bjoinstefan and Mary Brynjilfam. 

This is just a start to this project, of course. Once I reconcile the addresses and reconstruct the street grid for some of the more disturbed areas of the of the city, I’ll need to return to the census and assign to each individual the proper address. This will take some time, but hopefully will provide a foundation for talking about the Grand Forks of 1920 in a more historically nuanced and detailed way. 

Stay tuned. 

The Mystery of the Missing Building

If you follow me on The Twitters, you probably know that I’ve been fascinated lately by a building included on several 20th century Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Grand Forks, ND.

The building is always shown on a separate sheet and labeled as Aaker’s Business College. According to the maps, it stood on Belmont Road somewhere north of the intersection with 13th Avenue South and Lincoln Drive (formerly Boulevard). This is pretty close to my house and on my regular walking and running route.

SB 1912 27

SB 1912 01

A bit of research made it clear that this was not a casual building. I was an impressive three-storey structure an elegant, Second Empire-inspired mansard roof built in 1892 to house Grand Forks College which was a Lutheran “Classical College” and “preparatory school.” Grand Forks College closed in 1911 and soon thereafter the building and its 6-acre campus was acquired by Hans H. Aakers as at the Grand Forks campus of his Aaker’s Business College. 

Aakers012  1

Aakers010

Aaker’s was a business college founded in Fargo, ND by Hans H. Aaker, the second president of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He stepped down from that position in 1902 to found a business college in Fargo which opened a branch in Grand Forks several years later. There’s some confusion on whether this is in 1905 or in 1912 when the Fargo campus was closed. The latter date appears to coincide better with the purchasing of the Grand Forks College building.

The building remained Aaker’s Business College until 1918 when Aaker traded it for the smaller building of the Lutheran Bible School. This building then became home to the Lutheran Bible School, a Lutheran Brethren preparatory school that would eventually become the Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It would seem that Aaker’s Lutheran connections served him well as Aaker’s Business College continued on into the 21st century until it merged with the for-profit Rasmussen College. The Lutheran Bible College likely sold off some of the land from the original 6-acre campus which was then developed along Chestnut Street. They stayed in the building until 1933 when the upkeep of the large and aging building become prohibitive. At some point soon thereafter, the building must have been razed. The 1934 USGS map still shows the building (to the east of the larger and labeled “Junior High Sch.”), but the data for that map is probably from earlier in the decade.

Bill Caraher on Twitter  The missing link came in a 1934 USGS map It shows the school as a little block with a flag This sug 2020 05 28 07 45 44

Today, this stretch of Belmont, however, appears to be just typical pre-war Grand Forks houses. There’s no obvious sign of a large building here, but there are a few subtle hints preserve the history of this property. First and most obviously, 12th Avenue S is a very strange street. It is part alley and part road that sort of lurches its way between Belmont, Chestnut, Walnut, and Cottonwood.

12th Ave S  Google Maps 2020 05 28 07 48 36

Secondly, the alleyway that runs between Belmont Road and Chestnut Street does not continue all they way through to 13th Avenue S. While this isn’t entirely unprecedented in Grand Forks (see, for example, Independence Avenue between Belmont and Reeves; see below), it’s a bit odd and usually suggests some kind of zoning or platting irregularity. The houses on 

SB 1916 01

Third, a keen observer might notice that the houses on the lower end of the 1200 block are different from the homes on the upper end of Belmont. Closer to 13th Avenue, you’ll recognize an American Four-Square (1216) and a pair of Gable Front style homes (1220 and 1224) which were common to the first decades of the 20th century. Closer to 12th Avenue S, there are a series of homes showing some influence of the “Cape Cod” style (usually called “Plain Residential” in local architectural history-speak) which are pretty rare in Grand Forks prior to the 1930s. Indeed, the houses at 1202, 1206, 1210, and 1212 date to 1937-1939. The last three houses on the block date to the 1917 and 1907. Oddly, the conventional American Four-Square at 1216 Belmont does not appear in the 2004 National Register Nomination for the Near South Side Neighborhood. The four-square is listed as having been built in 1913, but oddly enough it doesn’t appear on the 1916 Sanborn Map that shows Aaker’s Business College. 

GF GIS

And, finally, looking at a map of subdivisions in the city, I noticed that the a 227,500 square foot area (or about 5 acres) labeled as Lutheran Bible School Addition. Today this addition consists of 26 houses built between 1913 (that’s the mysterious house 1216), 1918 (this is 1124 (probably 1328 in the original numbering of the streets; oddly this house does not appear in the 1920 census) Belmont and the rest build after 1928 when I suspect the Lutherans sold off part of the property for development. 

So, there you go. The mystery of the missing building is solved as yet another chapter is “why Bill doesn’t get more work done each day.”

Mediocre Map Monday: Census Data, Sanborn Maps, and Modern Grand Forks

This weekend, I started to play around with the 1920 census data from Grand Forks. My project started with a pretty simply question.

Where did the immigrants live in our city one hundred years ago? This question was prompted by David Pettegrew’s and Kostis Kourelis’s work on the Greek communities of Harrisburg and Lancaster respectively. I got curious about the 16 or so Greeks in Grand Forks in the early 20th century and this led me down the rabbit hole of the 1920s census.

The first step was to assemble the transcribed census data for Grand Forks into a spread sheet, which turned out to be not very hard (via Ancestry.com), but a bit tedious. The census was conducted according to the 7 wards of the city each of which had particular geographic boundaries. 

The fun began when I started to try to associate the census data with particular addresses. Fortunately the Library of Congress has digitized Sanborn Maps for the city of Grand Forks from 1916. These are close enough to the city plan of 1920 to be very useful. I also have the contemporary address and parcel data from the city of Grand Forks to use as a kind of base map. This approach produced three exciting challenges.

First, in 1921, Grand Forks shifted its street addresses to better align with a change in street names that occurred in the early 20th century. As a result, contemporary addresses do not correspond to the addresses from the 1920 census. For the nearly 13,000 census records, I have around 2800 addresses. 

Second, the names of streets have changed since 1920. The renaming of Grand Forks streets was an ongoing project and some street names from 1920 no longer appear in 2020 maps. This is further compounded by the sloppy handwriting of the census takers which made it difficult to determine the street name recorded on the form. There were also some small shifts in addresses between the 1916 Sanborn Maps and the 1920 census which required a certain amount of “best fit” fiddling.

Finally, as residents of Grand Forks know, several neighborhoods and parts of downtown close to the Red River were lost in the 1997 flood. As a result, these no longer exist on the 2020 parcel maps. Less well known is that another neighborhood between 4th Avenue and the railroad tracks that was apparently removed in the 1970s in the name of urban renewal. This neighborhood was home to a large community of Jewish immigrants from Russia who lived around the Congregation of the Children of Israel Synagogue at 2nd and Girard and the Hebrew School on the next block to the west. 

Going through the data in this way has prompted a series of research questions that, if I were more motivated and better trained in US history I’d turn into a series of public blog posts or newspaper columns. 

First, from the perspective of heritage management, mapping the 1920s residential addresses against existing addresses allows us to get a sense for the state of preservation of residential districts in the city over the last 100 years. The 1920 census indicated not only whether the individuals were renters or owners, foreign or US born, but also their occupations. Combined this gives us a sense of the economic status of these individuals and allows us to consider what parts of the city are preserved and how this speaks to contemporary views toward preservation and heritage.

It’s hardly a stretch to hypothesize that neighborhood with more renters, more foreign born residents, and more wage laborers (as opposed to salaried employees) worked are less well preserved. This shapes how current residents of Grand Forks imagine their past and their present. 

Second, by mapping Grand Forks neighborhoods we can more easily visualize the  dynamic and diverse character of the city in 1920. More than 20% of the city was either aliens or naturalized citizens and while the group consisted of the predictable number of “Scandewegian” immigrants, it also featured Jews from Russia, Greeks, various British folks (Irish, Scots, Welsh), Japanese, Austrians, Belgians, Canadians, Hungarians, Poles, and even a few Luxemburgians!  For some perspective, in 2015 about 3.5% of Grand Forks were immigrants, but I’m not entirely sure how many of them are aliens versus naturalized citizens.

Third, the 1920 census listed individuals by profession allowing us to map the influence of various economic drivers in the community. Identifying, for example, where individuals associated with the railroad, the university, or other major occupations lived in town will give us a sense for the social landscape of the community. Of course, the census data is messy with the fields of “Industry” and “Occupation” not being rigorously separated. As a result, the over 3000 combinations of the two must be condensed into more rational categories, but this is a doable kind of sorting that would ideally produce some interesting results.

Finally, the fiddling that I’ll likely do with the census data and the 1916 Sanborn Maps is just a start. Once I get some basic “data cleaning” done, I’ll make the datasets available for anyone. It’s easy enough to output georeferenced maps to Google Earth files to allow anyone to check out how Grand Forks of the 1920s differed from Grand Forks of today.

 

Settlement in Grand Forks 1945-1970: A Draft

Last week, I started to write a bit about changing patterns of urbanism and suburbanization in Grand Forks, North Dakota. This is part of a larger study of mid-century urbanism in Grand Forks that I’m working on with my wife, Susan Caraher. This summer, we’re preparing an inventory over 3,500 mid-century homes construction between 1945 and 1970. 

As part of that work, I’ve started to write some basic descriptions of the development of Grand Forks during the period. This is a pretty rough draft, but it’s starting to take some shape. Needless to say, I’ll be revising, filling in gaps, and tightening up the entire thing, but it’s a start:

 

Suburbanization is generally understood to be a trend that took place around the core of established cities. Spurred by improvements in transportation, the economic boost of the GI Bill and the post-war economy, and, in many cases, racial and ethnic fears, new rings of housing emerged around large and mid-sized cities across the US from the 1940s to the 1970s (Jackson 1985; Hayden 2003). The communities amplified new ideals of domesticity, intensified interwar consumer culture, refashioned longstanding religious landscapes, and shaped American political life. Modern suburbs both served as a backdrop for mid and late-20th culture and instilled values which would become distinct to characterization of the American way of life. The apartment dwelling Honeymooners (1955-1956), with Ralph Cramden’s persistent threats of domestic violence, gave way to rationalized domesticity of the Brady Brunch (1969-1974). The popular music of the ”garage band” came to challenge the urban sounds of the jazz club, urban concert hall, and Maxwell Street busker. The New Topographics (1975) challenged the views of the American frontier pioneered by Ansel Adams by replacing scenic vistas with the orderly sprawl of suburban homes and the Crabgrass Frontier of Kenneth T. Jackson (1985).

Small cities like Grand Forks experienced suburbanization as well, but in a slightly different form than more established cities with dense urban cores, and recent scholarship has sought to survey and understand the range of different responses to the proliferation of the post-war suburban ideal (McManus and Ethington 2007, 318). In many areas, the ideal post-war suburb conformed to certain elements of “Garden City” planning with access to green spaces, gently curving streets and limited access in accordance with a series of influential FHA standards published between 1936 and 1941 (Ames and McClelland 2002). In smaller cities like Grand Forks, earlier standards for urban expansion held greater sway owing as much to the limited resources on the part of developers and the community, the smaller size of subdivisions, and even the absence of topographic features that encouraged development designed to accentuate the landscapes. As a result, the plan of Grand Forks’ expansion, particularly to the south of the city showed greater affinities to the style developed by J.C. Nichols for the Country Club District in Kansas City (Ames and McClelland 2002, 37) where city blocks with occasional curving roads formed the basic unit of development. This innovation, most visible south of 15 avenue in Grand Forks, followed the arguments proposed by urban planners such as Clarence Perry in the 1920s and 1930s. Perry’s “neighborhood unit plan” with its emphasis on hierarchically organized roads and arterial routes assigned to the perimeters of neighborhoods, the central place of the school and the peripheral location of shopping and commercial spaces, and reserving space for parks and open spaces had significant influence in practice throughout the development of Grand Forks (Perry 1929). These and similar ways of reimagining the organization of the neighborhood had a profound influence on the shape of the new suburb and an emerging post-war ideal. The relationship between the physical structure and the mid-century community appears most famously William H. Whyte in his widely read, The Organization Man (1956), attempted to show how attention the arrangement of suburban developments shaped social relationships between neighbors. More recently, works like D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoire (1996) have explored the intermingling of personal narrative, economic motivations, and spiritual experiences in the space of post-war suburban landscapes. In contrast to the self-contained, expansive, and carefully planned suburban spaces considered by Whyte and Waldie, the post-war expansion of Grand Forks remains a hybrid of new suburban influences and established urban patterns. The curved streets with idyllic names remain backed by alleyways even as urban planners during the interwar period recommended against them for aesthetic, cost, and functional reasons.

More broadly, the expansion of the city from 1945-1970 largely followed the existing urban grid and extended along established arteries. Only after the 1970s did development prompt the addition of new arterial roads in the city with the 32nd Avenue and Columbia Road becoming major thoroughfares in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Development of any scale south of 32nd Avenue commences only in the early 21st century.

00 Year Built All NN

The 1940s

The earliest post-war housing was largely infilling in established residential areas.

1940s Year Built

The Riverside neighborhood expanded to the north with the Baukol’s Subdivision which saw construction as early as 1946. Several of these homes (301 Park Ave. (32GF3427) and 302 Park Ave (32GF3428) are listed as a contributing property to the Riverside Historic neighborhood as are two nearby homes on 3rd Street which is part of the Skidmore Addition (1705 (32GF3295) and 1715 (32GF1396); a modified bungalow and a plain residential home respectively). The homes of the Baukol subdivision show considerably continuity with development in this area in 1920s. The founding of Riverside Park in the early 20th century undoubted drew early residents to this neighborhood as the construction of the Riverside Pool by WPA in 1941 attracted families in the post-war period.

BAUKOLS GIS DETAIL

A similar form of development which largely followed interwar patterns of urban expansion also occurred between downtown and the University of North Dakota especially along 1st and 2nd avenue in the Decotah Place and Budge and Eshelman’s 3rd Addition subdivisions.

South of town likewise saw infilling particularly to the west of Cherry Street and south of 10th Avenue North. The growth of this area contributed to the construction of Lewis and Clarke Elementary School in 1953 and sometime in the late 1950s, Calvary Luthern Church at the intersection of Cherry and 15th avenue. One of the most significant subdivision of the 1940s in this area and Letnes Subdivision is interesting for the shape of the evocatively named “Sunset Drive” which curves to the north and divides leaving a small, leaf-shaped island of grass in the middle fo the two roads. Curiously this area of the city lacked alleyways suggesting that the neighborhood followed more progressive design standards that were not seen in Grand Forks until the 1960s.

LETNES GIS DETAIL

The 1950s

Throughout the 1950s, Grand Forks continues to expand to the west and south.

1950s Year Built

To the west, housing continued to fill in the neighborhoods between the university and downtown, with the much of the neighborhoods between Washington Street and the University, south of Gateway Drive (US Route 2) being filled in by mid 1950s. This prompted the construction first, in 1949, of West Elementary and then in the mid-1950s Valley Junior High. The neighborhoods in this area, the Swangler, Westacott, Westwood, University Place, and three Kelsey Subdivisons surrounding University Park, largely follow the urban grid and lack curved roads or other features associated with suburban trends elsewhere in the city. They also maintained the presence of north-south running alley ways.

UNIVERSITY GIS DETAIL

A similar tendency to follow the urban grid occurred in the earliest subdivisions established to the west of Washington Street and south of Demers. The names of several of the subdivisions in this area, however, evoke bucolic images of suburban idyl and the concept of the Garden City: Westward Acres and the Garden Home Addition. These developments extend along the developing commercial corridor of Washington Street which experienced the construction of several retail establishments, restaurants, and businesses including the towns first shopping centers. These new commercial building were set back from Washington Street and were fronted by large parking lots designed to accommodate customers who used the new arterial roads of Washington Street and Demers to move from their homes to work, shopping, school, and other activities throughout the city.

South of 15th Avenue several new subdivisions appeared which continued to follow the urban grid of Grand Forks, but incorporate curving streets continuing a trend initiated by the Letnes Subdivision in the 1940s. Chestnut Street swoops south of 15th and provides access to a group of homes set into the center of the block. The contemporary Robertson Subdivision developed throughout the mid-1950s features a gently curving road and a cul-de-sac, which emerged as perhaps the quintessential form of suburban planning. The sinuous shape of Campbell Drive that connects Cherry Street and Chestnut between the 17th and Park Avenue in the Hvidston Subdivision even allowed for three, open, fanshaped lots on the outside of a curve that served as a baseball field for nearly a decade before being filled in with homes in the mid-1960s.

HVIDSTONS GIS DETAIL

To the west of Cherry, the urban grid remained largely intact and the area developed with slightly smaller homes and smaller lots through the 1950s. East of Cherry, few new homes stood south of 24th by 1959. In contrast, Belmont Avenue with its larger lots and homes was nearly all developed up until 32nd Avenue. Most of the development north of 24th avenue in the 1950s continued to feature alleys even when developers incorporated more curved roads into the suburban plan.

The 1960s

The 1960s witnessed more adventurous development.

1960s Year Built

Olson’s subdivision east of Belmont featured large lots set along curving roads that suggested the shape of the Red River. Park land near the river offered opportunities for recreation and mitigated, to some extent, the risk of flooding which after the 1997 flood required the installation of the flood wall and the removal of some homes.

OLSONS GIS DETAIL

To the east of Belmont the White Clover subdivision and Sunset Acres Subdivisions with curving roads that complicated the urban grid with bucolically named roads like Olive and Clover Drive. On 32nd Avenue between Cherry St. and Washington, Schroeder Junior High opened in 1961 in anticipation of Grand Forks’ southern growth and, next door, Kelly Elementary opened in 1966 to serve these communities. On the northeastern corner of the block, the new building of the local Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints opened its doors in 1966. Unlike Schroeder, designed by Wells Denbrook, this modern church followed the Adams 1 (AD 61-577) plan developed my the central Mormon Church committee which was thoroughly modern in form and could be easily expanded to accommodate a growing congregation.

1960sSubdivisions GIS DETAIL

To the west of Washington Street, the second level of development occurred south of west of 17th street and south of 11th avenue with the large Burke’s Home Addition anchored to the north by Ben Franklin Elementary which was opened in 1960 and Red River High School in 1967. The most significant mid-century addition to this area, however, was North Dakota’s first indoor shopping mall, South Forks Plaza (now Grand Cities Mall) in 1964. Designed by the firm of DeRemer, Harrie and Kennedy, which also designed Ben Franklin Elementary, Holy Family Church and School (1961) just east of Washington, and Lewis and Clarke Elementary (1952/3) several blocks to the north, it included a K-Mart and a Sears store and a modular design that allowed the Kmart to open before the mall was even complete. To the west of the mall, the Valley Park subdivision, built slightly before the mall, consisted of two u-shaped roads, Willow and Dress, that were not through streets. The subdivision included walking paths connecting it to the mall and the burgeoning Washington Street commercial and retail corridor. The balance between the design which limited through traffic and the convenience of walking paths to retail shops embodied many of the key design elements of mid-century suburban design.

VALLEY GIS DETAIL

Mid Century Housing in Grand Forks

This month, I’m working to write up a very basic analysis of the expansion of housing in Grand Forks between 1945 and 1970. During this period the population of Grand Forks nearly doubled from around 20,000 residents in 1940 to almost 40,000 in 1970.

The reasons for this growth, in general, involve the movement of people from smaller rural towns to bigger population centers after the World War II which in many ways followed a pattern that had emerged in the interwar years. It accelerated in the post-war decades owing to the expansion of the University of North Dakota, the opening of Grand Forks Air Force Base in 1957, and the expansion of the regional medical center. The late 1950s saw the opening of Interstate 29 (originally Interstate 31 and before US Route 81) which ultimately connected Winnipeg to Fargo and then Kansas City, and this amplified the significance of Grand Forks as a regional transportation hub at the intersection of US Route 2 and the Meridian Highway (US Route 81) and both the Great Northern Railroads and a trunk of the Northern Pacific Railway. The confluence of these trends spurred a consolidation of schools, businesses, and government services in the city which led to a boom in new housing construction, building of new schools and churches, and, of course, the opening of new commercial establishments and the consolidation of 20th century consumer culture in Grand Forks.

The present study focuses on mid-century housing in Grand Forks, but it draws significantly upon a recently completed study of six mid-century modern schools by Susan Caraher, the Coordinator of the Grand Forks Historical Preservation Commission.  

This study will also produce a preliminary inventory of mid-century housing in Grand Forks constructed between 1945-1970. Following the “50 year rule” these houses are potentially eligible, by dint of their age, for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Needless to say, it is highly unlikely that any single home from this period would receive individual nomination to the Register. At the same time, preparing a preliminary inventory of these homes allows for a more sophisticated approach to managing and understanding the cultural resources in our community. 

At present, there remain over 4000 houses that built during those years. “Named architects” designed relatively few of these homes with the local firm of Wells and Denbrook being the most prominent among them. It seems reasonable to assume that DeRemer, Harrie and Kennedy also designed homes for local residents.  

Most of the homes, however, followed a fairly limited number of plans and were single-storey ranch style homes (called “ramblers” in Grand Forks as many places in the Western US), split-level, or two-storey homes with pitched roofs.  Interspersed among these houses are a few “Desert Modern” houses with flat roofs, recessed entrances, large overhanging eaves, and open floor plans. Attention to natural light, through the use of horizontal banks of windows and corner windows characterized many of these plans as did prominent vertical, brick chimneys which served to balance the strong horizontal character of the roofline. While only a few homes in Grand Forks reflect “Desert Modernism” in anything approaching a pure form, many incorporate some designs elements into their plans and complement the architecture of the contemporary mid-century modern school buildings and contemporary church buildings which stand in the same neighborhoods.

While the ubiquitous character of mid-century modern design elements in Grand Forks stands as part of wider national trends, it also has strong regional roots. Over the course of the mid-20th century Minneapolis became an important center for mid-century modern design and Minnesota architects not only contributed to the architecture of Fargo and Grand Forks, such as Edward Sovik’s Calvary Lutheran Church, but also influenced the work of local architects and consumers who looked to Minneapolis as an inspiration for suburban life.

Like other examples of mid-century architecture in the US, mid-century homes in Grand Forks took advantage of new materials and techniques. For example, the use of asbestos siding shingles in a wide range of colors became an almost defining characteristic of the post-war suburb prior to asbestos being identified as a cause of cancer in the 1970s. Manufacturing techniques and capacities developed through wartime aircraft production led to the widespread adoption of aluminum windows which by the later 20th century became less popular do to maintenance challenges and poor insulation factors. The use of synthetic material such as formica and vinyl in counters and flooring gave homes a distinctly modern touch. From the mid-1950s, wall-to-wall carpeting in synthetic fibers allowed aspiring new homeowners a chance to enjoy carpeted floors which have before mid-century been the reserve of more affluent residents. The growing use of refabricated architectural elements in both housing and commercial construction brought assembly-line industrial production to home building and accelerated the rate at which homes could be built and sold. The introduction of new materials and design influences transformed the character of communities such as Grand Forks on a large scale. At the same time, as Steven Martens has shown in his context study of the Wells Denbrook firm, many of the innovative materials that gave mid-century homes a feeling of futuristic luxury presented significant maintenance challenges. Moreover, the material and designs associated with mid-century modern architecture became associated with the use of technology to replace craft, dehumanizing aspects of ready-made institutional practices, the dangers of industrial manufacturing, and disposable amenities. As a result and, to some extent, by design, institutions often deigned mid-century modern architecture as obsolete as it was unappealing. By Martens’ estimate fewer than 50 examples of architecture “that can be shown to meaningfully reflect and closely follow the design principles of twentieth century Modernism with distinction.” This has not only impoverished the architectural record of the state, but also undermined the architecture and historical context for mid-century housing.

Grand Forks, however, remains distinct in that many examples of mid-century modern architecture continue to stand amid mid-century neighborhoods preserving an impression of 1960s life in town. 

The Shores of Lake Agassiz

Each spring a version of Lake Agassiz re-appears on the Northern Plains. Lake Agassiz was a large glacial lake that once occupied most of the Red River valley and extended north of Lake Winnipeg. Some have associated the discharge of water from Lake Agassiz around 13,000 years ago with the rapid cooling of the Younger Dryas. Another substantial discharge around 8000 years ago likely resulted in a measurable change in global sea levels and has been associated with the 8.2 kiloyear climate event. This event occurred with the infusion of fresh water into the Arctic which disrupted the circulation of the Atlantic Ocean leading to climate change in Europe. This change, around 6400 BCE may have contributed to the end of the Neolithic in the Near East and Southeastern Europe. Some have linked the change in climate during this period to the Biblical floods. 

Agassiz

In short, Lake Agassiz was kind of a big deal. 

Today, the Red River of the North follows the border between North Dakota and Minnesota and separates the cities of Fargo, North Dakota from Moorhead, Minnesota ad the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The Red River caused the flood of 1897 and the more famous flood of 1997. While our town is now protected by imposing flood walls, it remains a dramatic event when the river floods.

As the waters retreat from the swollen Red River, I like to walk along the shores of the temporary lake and look at the things the current has left behind. The “wrack” lines created by the retreating waters create interesting patterns across the landscape.

IMG 4944

IMG 4947

IMG 4942

IMG 4951

Last year, I became interested in the trash carried by the river and left behind by its retreating waters. I did a little informal survey of the trash that I found in the wrack zone. It yielded dog poop bags, golf course pencils, sections of PVC pipes, aluminum cans, and the ubiquitous extruded polystyrene. I reported it here. This work not only got me thinking of Matthew Edgeworth’s work on rivers (here, here, here, here), but also Þóra Pétursdóttir 2017 article in Archaeological Dialogues, “Climate change? Archaeology and Anthropocene” (24, 175-205) and the recent volume, Rivers of the Anthropocene, edited by Jason M. Kelly, Philip Scarpino, Helen Berry, James Syvitski, Michel Meybeck.

If I had all the time and energy in the world, I’d organize a little research project that walks the wrack zone of the retreating Red River in our local park and documents the trash present there. The challenge with this kind of research is that it involves not only trash, which is kind of gross, but also the vagaries of the Red River floods (as well as access to the retreating waters which is not practically problematic, but often involves a kind of legal grey area because many of the parks are closed during the floods and their aftermaths). These are not insurmountable problems, of course, and maybe even now as the flood of 2020 is receding, I could do another informal survey (complementing the one that I conducted last year). 

Remembering Joel Jonientz

This time of year my thoughts always turn to my late friend Joel Jonientz and his family. He passed away 6 years ago this week. This is the fifth installment (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, I seem to have missed 2019).

On a long walk with the dogs, I thought back to our time together at UND and felt a sense of deep nostalgia. If we’ve learned anything from our current politics, it’s that nostalgia can be pretty toxic. It erodes a faith in progress and often leaves us longing for a past that often exists without consequences. 

At the same time, as a historian, I often find that nostalgia guides me toward formative times in my own life. While I try not to dwell too much on my own experiences, following my sense of nostalgia pushes me to think more critically about how my own memories transform, occlude, or emphasize the larger experience of the community. My recent interest in the archaeology of the suburbs, digital technology, and early 21st century material culture has roots in my own past. I try to remind myself that this past has and had consequences both for myself and for the wider world.

Reflecting with nostalgia on Joel’s time at UND evoke warm memories: sitting in Paul Worley’s backyard smoking some kind of meets, watching Seahawks games with Joel’s family in his crowded TV room, scheming with Tim Pasch, Crystal Alberts, Paul, and Joel to showcase our digital work at public events, and organizing the punk archaeology conference with Mike Wittgraf, Aaron Barth, and Tim. These were good times personally and professionally. They not only gave me a taste of the heady intellectual freedom of tenure, but also introduced me to the potential of small, college town collegiality. 

These memories have nudged me to think about the history of the institution in the 21st century. To be clear, I don’t mean to reduce Joel’s identity, somehow, to just his institutional affiliation or his work at UND. He was a family man, a good friend, and had hobbies, interests, hopes, and dreams that went well beyond his job. 

At the same time, our shared experiences at UND entangle my nostalgic recollections. I’ve sometimes wondered whether the early 21st century at UND was a special time at the institution. This is not to suggest that it wasn’t as fraught with politics, challenges, and disappointments as any other time. Instead, what I remember is that the period from 2004-2015 or so, was that campus had the feeling of hope. This has since been lost.

When I think about UND in the first decade and a half of the 21st century, I think about the paradox that during the “Great Recession,” my corner of UND — the arts and the humanities — continued to experience growth. There was a saying that North Dakota was “insulated and not isolated” for the economic issues facing most of the country. More than that: the Bakken oil boom gave the state a sense a hope and even the idea that there might a future. 

As someone in the humanities, I remember musing about how the Gulf States recognized that their oil wealth could be invested in higher education and cultural institutions despite the conservative character of their political culture, the austerity of their environment, and the history of colonialism and marginalization. Maybe North Dakota would follow suit?

After all, the university supported our Working Group in Digital and New Media (from the archive: report 1, report 2, and report 4), a new “Arts and Culture” conference that was a fall pendant to the thriving UND Writers Conference, had expanded the reach of UND Arts Collections, encouraged the development of the IPPL, and supported new hires in History, English, and the Arts. This support was paying dividends too with UND faculty and students pushing to collaborate, produce new art, and develop new long term projects. It’s hardly surprising that The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota emerged from this period. It was the product of this optimism. 

Of course, I realize that not everything was rosy. My colleagues in the communications program at UND who contributed so much to the creativity and vitality of UND in the 21st century watched their department disappear and had to find new homes at UND, create a new program, and navigate a complicated political landscape. Other programs, of course, showed signs of strain as well as ambitious new faculty members clashed with long-serving colleagues. New faculty, especially those hired during the Great Recession, often brought with them different expectations cultivated in top tier graduate programs than an older generation of faculty leaders. The shuffle to accommodate a wider range of outlooks in campus culture invariably left damaged feelings on both sides.

The steady hemorrhaging of talented early-career faculty was the most obvious manifestation of the tensions on campus. At the same time, it served as a kind of endorsement for the culture UND produced. That early-career faculty could come to UND and continue to be productive, creative, and ambitious suggests that something positive was happening on our campus, even if the outcome, in the end, was for these folks to leave.

At the level of upper administration, the long-standing controversy over UND’s Fighting Sioux logo came to a head with the NCAA and while it was eventually resolved, the financial, political, and emotional costs were steep. At the same time, UND athletics transitioned to Division I suggesting that despite the rifts caused by the logo controversy, there was optimism. 

The revolving door of deans, provosts, and even presidents, likewise offers a two-edged sword. The lack of stability in the administration made it challenging to plan things that required substantial administrative support. In fact, we attempted on several occasions to develop a digital humanities program, but these all foundered at the administrative level. At the same time, the lack of strong positive direction created space for faculty to maneuver and develop their own ways of collaborating, setting goals, and advancing agendas. While this may have left the university a mishmash of irregular and often incompatible curricula, research projects, and programs, the semi-benign neglect of the early 21st century also has created a strong spirit of independence among faculty. 

On a “Zoom call” last night with a group of UND faculty and members of the post-Jonientz diaspora, we joked about an oral history of UND in the 21st century. This is certainly a tempting project. Whether our reflections on this period would end up being idle nostalgia or something more substantive and revealing, is hard to know.