FARGO - A couple of downtown Fargo’s centenarians have found each other, and it looks like they are a long-term match.

Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, moved into the historic Ford Building just before Thanksgiving, bringing together all of the personnel from its two Fargo offices at the grande dame of north Broadway business.

The wait through months of extensive remodeling of the Ford’s first and mezzanine floors was well worth it, said Tom Dawson, the firm’s president and CEO.

“It’s like moving into a new home,” Dawson said during a mid-December meeting at the 104-year-old Ford Building.

Dawson said he wanted to maintain the 102-year-old insurance firm’s downtown presence, while drawing on the old city center’s resurgent vibe and the distinctive Chicago School architecture of 505 N. Broadway.

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“Just the fact that we’ve always been here. But we also like the activity, the vibrance, the energy,” Dawson said. “Also, it gives us the kind of identity that we want. Everybody is concerned about the brand, and we think this supports the kind of brand that we want people to think of when they think of Dawson Insurance.”

A really special space

Dawson’s part of the Ford has room for about 85 people to work. With the consolidation of workers from the former downtown location at 721 1st Ave. N., and the office at 5675 26th Ave. S., just off Veterans Boulevard, about 60 people work there daily, with perhaps nine or 10 working from remote locations, Chief Financial Officer Steve Miller said.

That leaves plenty of space to add people should Dawson Insurance expand.

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Vice President Dan Armbrust said the early 20th-century architecture of the Ford Building - and going from tight quarters to being able to have everyone in one place - has added interest in the company and given the firm’s culture a boost.

In-office employees of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, gather for a photo Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
In-office employees of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, gather for a photo Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“Since we’ve moved in, there’s so many people that have wanted to come down and visit and get a tour. We went from a very nice, but somewhat ordinary space, to a really unique space with character,” Armbrust said.

Miller said the Ford also has a big something a lot of downtown offices don’t have - plenty of off-street parking plus routinely open spots on Broadway, which is not as busy as it is a few blocks to the south.

“You just don’t get it downtown,” Miller said.

The revived downtown also offers plenty of options for the firm’s workers.

“We can go out our door here and we can go to 20 different restaurants, without even deciding until you go half a block,” Miller said.

Tom Dawson said he wasn’t really invested in moving to the Ford Building when he was first mulling it over, but the reactions of people when he told them of the opportunity got his attention.

“When you talk to people (they would say), ‘Ah, the Ford Building. That’s my favorite building in town.’ So many people talk about the building. And then you start getting here and you look at it and you realize you’re in a really special place.”

A timeline of the early years of Dawson Insurance is seen Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A timeline of the early years of Dawson Insurance is seen Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Revamping the revamp

Architect and building owner Kevin Bartram had revamped the Ford Building several years ago, turning the old automobile factory’s first and mezzanine levels into space for upscale and business furniture stores. Once a deal was set with Dawson Insurance, Bartram embarked on the latest renovation, jackhammering cement floors, installing new electrical and communication wiring, framing out offices.

The result gave the Ford Building more functionality for Dawson Insurance, while maintaining its historic character.

The art deco entry now leads into a modern business space, with new tile, carpeting and high-walled cubicles, juxtaposed with century-old exposed brick and iron railings.

Offices and meeting rooms are clustered along the sides and (Broadway facing) front of the building to take advantage of the Ford’s large windows.

A meeting room of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, looks southwest onto Broadway on Wednesday, Dec. 18, from the Ford Building, 505 Broadway in downtown Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A meeting room of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, looks southwest onto Broadway on Wednesday, Dec. 18, from the Ford Building, 505 Broadway in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

On the southwest side of the first floor, a large conference room offers expansive views of downtown Fargo to the south and west. A moving divider opens to more space, making the room available for large staff meetings or training sessions.

“There’s a lot of action with the trains and cars. It’s a really fun location,” Dawson said.

Large southside windows stream in plenty of sun, and offer unhindered views of the old Great Northern Railway depot, Broadway and downtown construction, including the Block 9 mid-rise tower, which has shouldered its way up in the center of the commercial district.

The building’s conference rooms are named after famous or current Ford models. From the iconic such as Thunderbird and Mustang. to gas sippers and SUVs like Focus, Fiesta and Escape.

A large window was also installed in the rear of the building, throwing plenty of light into the firm’s employee break and lunch area.

Each meeting room of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, is named for a model of Ford car, such as the Thunderbird, seen here Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Each meeting room of Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, is named for a model of Ford car, such as the Thunderbird, seen here Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the Ford Building, 505 Broadway, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

A nice present

Dawson Insurance has had several homes in downtown Fargo, Tom Dawson said. It was started in 1917 by Charles Dawson on the 2nd floor at the corner of Broadway and First Avenue North, above what for a long time had been the Strauss clothing store (now Halberstadt’s on Broadway).

A few years later, the firm moved to 107 Roberts Street. In 1973, the firm moved to 20 S. 8th St. and 10 years later, moved to 721 1st Ave. N.

The firm was purchased in the fall of 2015 by Marsh and McLennan Agency.

The insurance company’s first day in the Ford Building was Nov. 25 and it should be there awhile. A 10-year lease with a 10-year option to extend gives both the landlord and tenant stability and security.

Dawson, Miller and Armbrust said the resulting space has been a nice early Christmas present.

“Our colleagues love coming to work here and they feel proud of being here,” Dawson said.

“The point is, we’re here to stay. This is a long-term commitment for our organization.” Armbrust said. “It’s just been a very exciting time for all of us,” he said.

Ford opened its assembly plant in Fargo in 1915. The building, seen in this undated photo, had showrooms and a garage on the first floor, offices and a shop on the second floor, and the assembly plant on the third floor. (Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University)
Ford opened its assembly plant in Fargo in 1915. The building, seen in this undated photo, had showrooms and a garage on the first floor, offices and a shop on the second floor, and the assembly plant on the third floor. (Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University)

Built Ford tough: A short history of Fargo's Ford Building

FARGO - The Ford Building has a history that reaches back to the early 20th Century.

According to North Dakota State University archival records:

The Ford Motor Co. assembly plant building was finished in 1915 at a cost of $150,000. John Graham, a Seattle architect, designed the 100-foot by 200-foot building in the Chicago School style, with red brick, light cream glazed tiles, and a polished granite water table.

Ford built such assembly plants to decentralize the manufacture of cars and trucks.

There were showrooms, stockrooms and a garage on the first floor. The second floor contained offices and a shop. The third floor was where automobile assembly was located.

About 75 people were employed at the Ford plant on opening day, which grew to about 200 when the building was fully staffed. The building was located at 505-511 Broadway next to the Great Northern Railway tracks, which had a spur going into the building, so assembled cars could be loaded onto railroad cars without going outside.

The city of Fargo designated Friday, July 23, 1915, as "Ford Day," to celebrate the completion of the building.

The company built Ford cars at the plant to service the Dakotas. It eventually became a sales and service center. In January 1956, Ford moved their operations to Minneapolis and closed the Fargo plant. That same year the building was bought by the F.C. Hayer Co., dealers in household appliances. By 1961, Kaye’s Printing Co. also started operating out of the building. The Hayer Company remained in the building until 1988.

In 1999, Forum Communications bought Kaye’s Printing, and made it a subsidiary. In 2004, Mutchler Bartram Architects bought the building and continued to lease the space to Kaye’s until that business moved out. At that point the building was completely renovated to house retail and office space on the first two floors, and condominiums on the third. The renovation was completed in 2006. The first tenants were Northern Home Furniture, Sterling Company and Highmark Realty.

Northern Home Furniture, which had operated on the first floor of the building, closed in fall 2018. InterOffice Workspace Furniture, which had been on the mezzanine level, was eventually relocated to the “Rail Yard Development” along First Avenue North about a half mile west of downtown.

At the end of November 2019, Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, moved its offices to the recently renovated first and mezzanine floors of the Ford Building