MOORHEAD — As work on the 65-unit Simon Warehouse Lofts on Center Avenue in Moorhead nears completion, developer and architect Kevin Bartram has applied for the 1922 building to be on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bartram, a partner in Mutchler Bartram Architects of Fargo, said he is in the midst of the lengthy application process that goes through the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office and then to the National Park Service for final approval that could take another six months.
Meanwhile, he said the apartments will likely be finished in just a few months.
The massive, three-story building with a basement that was primarily used for storage would be the 19th building in Clay County on the national listing.
Some of the others are the nearby 1924 Fairmont Creamery building that houses an Eventide assisted senior living facility on Second Avenue North and the 1915 Federal Courthouse and Post Office that is now the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum on Main Avenue.
Bartram has been instrumental in saving a few other historic buildings in downtown Moorhead, including the 1898 Kassenborg Block along Main Avenue that houses businesses and apartments and the 1873 James Douglas House, home to a hair salon, just behind the Kassenborg building.
He also plans to turn the city's first Minnesota National Guard armory into a $4 million events center. Some of the roofing and exterior work on that early 1920s building next to the warehouse apartments is complete, and the next step will be seeking bids in February for interior work.
In addition to preserving the former warehouse building as a historical site, there is another benefit to putting it on the national register: Bartram would receive tax credits for rescuing and improving the building.
He said the windows were a big part of saving the historical appearance of the building and qualifying for the register, and most remain in place.
Bartram said they saved other historical features in the $8 million renovation of the building, including a 200-foot-long loading dock on the north side of the building that they rebuilt and will use as patios for some of the apartments. Of course, the entire familiar brick exterior remains.
Most of the roofing, electrical and mechanical work on the project has been completed, and he said the renovation is currently down to the finishing touches, such as flooring and doors.
"It'll be a neat fit for Moorhead," Bartram said.
When the 84,000-square-foot structure was originally built for $100,000, it was hailed in the Moorhead Weekly News in 1922 as "one of the biggest things that ever came to Moorhead," adding that it was one of the largest buildings in either Moorhead or Fargo.
It was the Moorhead Storage & Transfer Co. building at that time.
The building was advertised as being able to hold 400 carloads of potatoes as it was home to the Leo Wright potato buying brokerage, Northrup King & Co. Wholesale Seed and Klenk's Modern Printery when it first opened.
There were 12 rooms for offices on the west side, although Bartram said that space will be used for apartments. There was also a garage for company cars and trucks on the east side, which has been turned into housing units.
Potato magnate Leo Wright and associates were owners of the building, said the Moorhead and Fargo Forum news articles, while the building was designed by Moorhead architect J. Howard Hess.
There were loading chutes on the north side dock that carried potatoes into the basement, where they were kept "until the market insures a fair profit on them," said the Moorhead newspaper article. Another unique feature for the time was a huge electric elevator in the center of the building that could carry up to 6,000 pounds.
In the late 1960s, the building was purchased by furniture dealers Jack and Leon Simon, who offered public rental storage, according to research by archivist Mark Peihl of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. That's how the Simon Warehouse name developed, and it remained listed under that name until recent years.