Lunch break above Fargo: Photographer recreates iconic NYC photo at Block 9

Fargo photographer Dan Francis recreated the iconic 1932 image of construction workers eating lunch high above the city, with this photo taken May 14, 2019 at the Block 9 building under construction on Broadway and Second Street North. Copyright/Dan Francis Photography
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FARGO — It is one of the most reproduced photos in American history: 11 construction workers seated on a beam more than 65 stories above the Manhattan skyline. And now, Fargo has its own version.

Kilbourne Group and McGough Construction asked Fargo photographer Dan Francis to recreate the famous "Lunch atop a Skyscraper" photo from 1932 with "Lunch atop Block 9," taken May 14 on Fargo's newest soon-to-be high-rise.

Block 9 will include headquarters for hundreds of team members of R.D. Offutt Co., retail on the ground floor, a boutique hotel, a restaurant and residential condominiums.

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The building, now under construction on Broadway and Second Avenue North, will only be 18 stories tall, but Francis says it's the perfect time to capture a good background image of downtown Fargo from the Block 9 site.


According to Adrienne Olson with the Kilbourne Group, the original idea came from Russ Klein, the McGough superintendent on the Block 9 project who likes the classic photo and always thinks of it when he sees structural steel erected on a project site.

"He called us and asked if we’d want to try to get a cool picture if he lined up the craftspeople on the steel beam," Olson says. "We instantly fell in love with the idea."

That meant when the time was right, Francis and his camera were going for a climb.

"I was brought up by the construction crew from their offices. We walked up to the fifth story, but realized that it would be over most of the downtown buildings, so we actually went down another story as it had the best background," Francis says. "For this image to work and to represent downtown Fargo, we of course wanted to show off the iconic Fargo Theatre sign and the buildings and churches in the background."

Francis, who has done other photo projects merging Fargo's past and present , says re-creating this image was surreal.

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"It felt like I was traveling back 87 years and watching history unfold. I had maybe 10 minutes with them and I used about five minutes to make sure I got the shot," he says. "I had a Kilbourne Group member go down and grab that day's Forum mostly so they had something to do with their hands. When we met with the crew in the offices, one person had a great lunchbox so I told them to bring it up as well which shows up in the middle of the image."


This photo of 11 construction workers having lunch on the beam of a skyscraper is one of the most reproduced photos in history. Contrary to popular belief, the photo taken September 20, 1932 was staged, using real construction workers, as a way to promote the nearly finished RCA building (now part of Rockefeller Center). Wikimedia Commons

The original photo was taken Sept. 20, 1932, and was long thought to be a random snapshot in time of the working men at lunch. But "Lunch atop a skyscraper" was actually a staged publicity photo to promote the soon-to-be completed RCA building, now part of Rockefeller Center.

The photo uses real construction workers, not models, but they were directed on what to do. Other photos show the men taking naps on the beams.

There were no nap photos for Francis, but he did find a minute to take another photo of two men standing on a beam and looking off in the distance, entitled "Working for the Future." Both of his photos will be available for sale on his website or by contacting him.

Francis says Block 9 will be a great addition to downtown and all of Fargo, and he says it will be rewarding when the workers can look at this image and remember their hard work.

"Even though it's a re-creation of an iconic image, I think it represents downtown Fargo and all the work people have done these last 10-plus years to keep investing into our great downtown," he says.

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience.
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