MOORHEAD - RiverHaven Events Center is nearly ready to open as “the pretty little sister” of wedding and event venues in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The 1930s-era building on the Red River - originally an American Legion post - long ago earned grande dame status among Fargo-Moorhead area landmarks, but a months-long renovation is giving it a debutante turn.
The beautiful fieldstone exterior of 701 1st Ave. N. remains much as it has for decades, but the interior has undergone a transformative renovation, which includes removing an enclosed restaurant kitchen, bar and balcony seating area; glass bead-blasting of the ceiling and support beams to their natural wood finish; new flooring and a coat of fresh white paint also help create a modern, airy and beautiful space to declare “I do.” And, of course, after that, “Let’s party!”
It was a year ago that co-owner Aaron Duma revealed plans for the building.
Over that time, the ownership group, which also includes Kayla Cash, Jade Nielsen, Ted Duma and Jon Rustvang, have sunk nearly $1 million into buying and renovating the building.
All of those investors are also members of the group that owns and manages Fargo’s Sanctuary Events Center.
RiverHaven’s 4,300-square-foot main floor is breathtaking. Entering, your eye is drawn to the bare wood of the vaulted ceilings of the great hall, lighted by the distinctive double-hooped metal chandeliers.
The facility can accommodate 175 people with a wedding ceremony on the site, Duma said. That’s about half the capacity of Sanctuary Events Center, he said, giving area residents another option for more modest celebrations and events.
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Two large doors, framed with black steel beams, have been hewn into a fieldstone wall that once separated the kitchen from the north-facing dining area and its floor-to-ceiling windows. It took 10 men to lift each of the beams and set them into place, Duma said during a tour Monday, May 4. The result is that visitors entering the main hall are immediately teased by views of the forested banks of the Red River as it meanders between downtown Fargo and Moorhead’s riverside parkland..
“I’m still taking it all in. It’s an amazing room,” Nielsen said. “I think it’s an incredible, unique place for Fargo-Moorhead.”
The basement has rooms for brides and grooms to prepare, a family waiting and relaxation area, and a prep kitchen for approved caterers. Altogether, the building has about 7,000 square feet of space available for a variety of events, said Cash, who is also sales director.
In addition, the basement has a restored fieldstone fireplace that was uncovered as part of the renovation.
“We had no idea it was here,” Duma said.
Renovating the building was a longer process than expected.
“Hurry up and wait” was a catch-phrase for the project, Duma said.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and “things hit a screeching halt,” he said.
Flooring and chandeliers ordered from China were no longer available, so new sources had to be found locally and online.
Painting, electrical and other contracting crews were often down to working with two people, Duma said. Even hiring a cleaning crew proved tough.
Demand for cleaning services from businesses operating under pandemic restrictions helped triple the bid for what the partners had expected to pay.
“We’re actually doing it ourselves,” Duma said, of wiping up the minute beads of glass used to blast away the black paint and decades of accumulated grease that covered the ceiling and beams of the building.
While revealing the warm tans and browns of the wood was worth it, “it took a lot of work and a lot of mess to get there,” Duma said.
The building was built with federal Works Progress Administration funding. It was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal designed to help get Americans working and pull the country out of the depths of what we now know as The Great Depression..
When the building was finished in 1936, it became an American Legion post and community auditorium.
Stonemasons had laboriously shaped the fieldstone pulled from Sabin-area fields, according to the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.
“The building of the place fed the community during rough, rough times,” Duma said.
The Legion used the building until the mid-1990s, when the club moved to a new facility. For years, it sat vacant.
In late 2001, it was reopened as the Red Bear Grill & Tavern. The Red Bear being a reference to the Red River and two bears that had lived in a zoo at the site. (The old bear cage still remains on the property.)
Not long after the Red Bear closed, The Broken Axe opened in April 2006. That restaurant and music club lasted until Jan. 1, 2008. A few months later, the casual fine dining restaurant Usher’s House opened. Usher's remained open there until the end of 2017.
There are some graduation parties scheduled for the end of May, Cash said. There are about 70 events on the calendar now, several of them events that had been moved back as worries about COVID-19 and business shutdowns forced many people to reshuffle their plans, she said.
Duma and Nielsen have said they’d like to bring comedy shows, brunches and other seated events to the facility.
A gazebo/cottage on the west side of the property, nicknamed “the boathouse,” now holds furniture for RiverHaven, but could also eventually be used as a social space or for ceremonies or other events.
Duma said he had dreamed of what he would do with the building, going back to the days he first started working there as a bartender in 2006, then managing The Broken Axe.
“To me, it’s great to get out of my head,” Duma said.
Now, he looks on the finished project with satisfaction.
“I prefer to refer to it as the pretty little sister,” of the Sanctuary Events Center,” Duma said. “They will complement each other.”