Friday, August 11, 2006

Downtown Grand Forks 60 years ago


A while back, I came across this old postcard of downtown Grand Forks. The postcard is used and the postmark is from 1946, so I'm guessing that's around the time this picture was taken. In other words, this means that we're looking at downtown Grand Forks as it appeared 60 years ago...right after the end of the war and before the time of "urban renewal".

When I look at the picture, I can see many of the same landmarks that are still standing to this day. You can probably pick out obvious structures like Central High School and the Courthouse. I can see many other familiar faces, too. The old First National Bank building is still downtown. So is the old Griffith's Department Store, St. Johns Block, and the Ryan Hotel.

However, it's clear that, while much of downtown looks close to the way it did 60 years ago, much has changed as well. Look in the back of the picture...where's the Kennedy Bridge? It isn't there yet. Where are the parking ramps? They wouldn't come for years. The old library would stand for a couple more decades before the first ramp would be built on that property. Other unfamiliar sights to us include the old Security Building on the north side of downtown. The fire which would devastate downtown 50 years later would start in the Security Building. How about all those buildings so close to the river? They would slowly vanish over the coming years and the flood would have the final say.

It might be confusing for some to look at the old postcard and pick out individual buildings and areas. That's why I made up this annotated version...


It's interesting to look at some of the areas that I have boxed off. These show whole sections of downtown that have succumbed to "urban renewal", new developments, or disaster over the years. Clearly, a good portion of downtown circa 1946 is no more. Kind of fascinating, huh?

(BTW, If you want to get a closer look at the pictures, just click on them.)

23 comments:

Dave Miller said...

The 60's and 70's ruined downtown's all over the country. Soon, all of those mentally challenged architects and city planners will be looking at the bottom side of a grass blade and downtowns can possibly try to rebuild what once was great and wonderful.

"Urban Renewal"... two of the three worst words in city planning. The third word? Sprawl.

I am entirely anti-sprawl. Grand Forks is going right down the black hole of sprawling death like Fargo already has. It's sad and it makes me vomit.

Dave Miller said...

Oh, urban sprawl also makes people fat. Just thought I'd throw that in.

GrandForksGuy said...

It's sad and it makes me vomit.

You seem to have some problem with vomiting, don't you? :)

I think it is really interesting to see how much of 1946-era downtown GF is simply gone.

GrandForksGuy said...

Oops, obviously that one area on the annotated photo should read "Urban Renewal Area". My bad.

Peder Rice said...

It's more computer g33ktastic when it's "Renewl." I see you're trying to "keep it fresh," as the kids say.

Dave, I can't agree that sprawl is a deathtrap. I believe that it is the best method for development and land use in today's superstore world.

Of course, the vein of money that is oil that we cut open to have sprawl (yay! for traffic) potentially entirely negates any savings that Wal-Mart could offer.

Oh well, that's what we have wars in the Middle East for!

GrandForksGuy said...

Yep, keep'n it real fresh...

GrandForksGuy said...

Peder, I'm curious. Don't sprawl type developments often require more extensive and costly public infrastructure than denser developments would? As a fiscal conservative, does it trouble you to support a style of development that can often times be more costly for taxpayers?

GrandForksGuy said...

I put up a better annotated version. Fancy, huh?

dadinggf said...

Great entry Grand Forks Guy, where can we GF laypersons go to find more of this stuff?

GrandForksGuy said...

More of what exactly?

Peder Rice said...

GrandForksGuy,

Have an alternative? One, Americans love their cars, and bucking that trend locally isn't exactly an option. Two, the high-traffic 32nd Ave. corridor would be, I dare to say, impossible without the capacity of sprawl. Grand Forks is a regional destination city and we must accommodate. Three, the citizens of Grand Forks love suburban sprawl. Look at all of the development along the river in the southeast corner. Look at the growth around 47th. The lots on which these homes are built are large, signalling to me that high-density development - antithetical to sprawl - is exactly the opposite of what our citizens want.

GrandForksGuy said...

Peder, I actually agree with you 100%. I just wanted to better understand your personal opinions on sprawl.

Myself, I like seeing both "sprawl" types of development and also higher density developments in Grand Forks. I love seeing the new relatively dense housing being built downtown, but - at the same time - I am thrilled everytime I hear about another chain coming to 32nd Avenue South. I think we really need both types of developments in a city like Grand Forks. I think that it is unreasonable for anyone to think that a decent sized city can survive on just one type of development. I personally welcome both forms.

As someone who is not a fiscal conservative, I don't mind the city spending some of my taxpayer money to improve/expand infrastructure. What else can you really expect in a growing city?

Dave Miller said...

When the city of Grand Forks starts looking at further expansion on the west side of I-29 or even further south take a gander at the infrastructure costs. These costs are enourmous. A big box store wants to come to GF but they want to be in an area that isn't fully developed. Obviously they aren't going to move in unless the infrastructure is there. So, the city spends the money... invests in what should be a sizeable economic boom to the city. The cost of the infrastructure is pushed to the side. We are told that the expansion will be a wash because of the sales tax that the business will generate and the sales tax that will be generated from the gas that needs to be bought in order to get to this gigantic store on the prairie.

You can be a fiscal conservative and favor urban sprawl. Fiscal conservatives are usually very business orientated and urban sprawl is all about business.

On Thursday I will have a show on urban sprawl. I am actually going to be back in Grand Forks this upcoming week and won't be able to do my podcast everyday. So, I have prepared to specials. Tuesday's is on presidential signing statements and Thursday's is on urban sprawl. Please check out both shows... they are doozies! www.themillerreport.com.

Sorry for the plug, but I could have typed for days on this subject.

Look out Red Pepper here I come!

Dave Miller said...

And I forgot to mention the property taxes that these huge developments pay... granted the city doesn't give these new business's long term tax breaks. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Anonymous said...

I think there's an alternative between urban sprawl and high-density urban center development that no one talks about around here. Smart growth is what some developers are calling it. Not new, really. Just means as new development on the fringes takes place, it combines walkable distances between schools, shopping parks and residential. Its centerpiece is usually something as simple as a well-conceived grouping of strip malls with three or four stories of apartments or condos above them.

NanoBison said...

On terms of sprawl, I think Fargo-Moorhead is starting to get that that point where the city might be spreading the services thin as the developers continue to develop on the fringes of the city each year. We're not, in my opinion, at a point were we should be alarmed, but it would be nice to see some higher densities, especially in the urban core. Grand Forks would be wise to develop that way as well.

Nano
http://fargo2050.blogspot.com/

JGS said...

Grand Forks looks so much more of a downtown 60 years ago. Today, downtown doesn't seem like what it was 60 years ago. I mean, we can blame the flood for a lose of our original downtown buildings, but I guess we'll have to wait for more years to come for more development.

wolfgf said...

The deterioration of downtown started decades before the flood. After Columbia Mall was built, all development downtown stopped and retail activity was refocused on the southwest end.

avocadoinparadise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
avocadoinparadise said...

Wow, it's neat to compare those pics side-by-side. Downtown has really changed a lot. I wonder if those big new buildings were really worth tearing down the historic buildings that are shown on this postcard.

The big greenway was probably a nice addition, most downtowns could use more park space.

On the above comments -- I really don't see how anyone can praise urban sprawl if they have a sense of local pride at all. Suburbanization and sprawl are really nothing except homogenizing forces trying to convert the entire country into one big sprawling sameness. In my opinion, yuck.

ben said...

I don't think any of the old buildings were torn down due to construction of new ones. The flood, fire and deterioration led to the buildings leaving open space and then new building following behind. The newest additions to downtown are all being built on open land that is unoccupied. There is quite a difference, though...including a police building where it looks like there was a grain elevator...neat pics

GrandForksGuy said...

I agree, Ben. Most downtown construction in the last couple of decades or so did not result in the demolition of buildings...the flood/fire did the demolition instead. New downtown construction is almost exclusively taking place on vacant property or parking lots. You would have to go back to the days of "urban renewal" to see construction crews actually tearing down block after block of historic buildings...

Anonymous said...

The exodus from downtown didn't involve a wrecking ball, it just left big block-size buildings, like the old Norby's and Griffith's, dark.