FARGO - On a street in the Clara Barton neighborhood is an old house that looks like a Spanish mission lifted from some coastal road in California.
It has off-white stucco walls, red tiles over the entrance and decorative log ends, now hidden by ivy, that simulate the rough log rafters of actual missions.
A few blocks away are a house that looks like an Italian villa lifted from the shores of the Mediterranean, a mansion like the hunting lodge of a Scottish laird, and three grey houses in a row in a sleek style that used to be futuristic.
The Italian villa was designed by an Italian-American architect popular in Fargo-Moorhead, and the hunting lodge was built for former Gov. Louis B. Hanna, whose ancestors likely came from Scotland, according to local historian Dawn Morgan.
These are among the hundreds of historic Fargo-Moorhead homes on the National Register of Historic Places, a key source of information about the area's architectural history. While the register often focuses on significant buildings or buildings linked to significant persons, these ordinary homes tell their own stories about homeowners of the past.
According to Paul Gleye, a member of Fargo's Historic Preservation Commission, homeowners here followed national trends and the diverse styles of historic homes in the area show how these trends changed constantly.
Unfortunately, documentation for many of these historic homes is sparse - the focus tends to be on commercial and institutional buildings or homes of famous persons - and not always online where it's easy for the public to access. The Forum recently collected these documents in search of a few stories to tell. Here are some of the stories:
Rejecting the past
Walk along Fargo's Fourth Street North from 14th to 13th Avenue, and it looks like Merrie Olde England minus the thatched roofs. This block has one of Fargo's densest concentrations of Tudor Revival homes, a very common style among older homes here. Emulating houses that might have been built in Medieval England, this style includes cottages and half-timbered homes, typically with steep roofs and big chimneys. Ivy covered walls are a plus.
To understand why Americans of the early 1930s would embrace such an anachronistic look, architectural historians point to the previous era. Revival styles are a reaction to Victorian architecture, which was thought to be over-decorated in a mish-mash of different styles. Consider, as an example, the Queen Anne house at 823 Eighth St. S., with its complex roofline and mix of decorations that include shingles on the gables and several kinds of trims. Revival architects looked for pure designs rooted in history, producing such styles as Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival and Spanish Mission Revival.
"In general, when it comes to things having to do with style, clothing or architecture or anything else, nothing is uglier than that which has just gone out of style," said Gleye, an architecture professor at North Dakota State University. "About 1900, people began to see all those ornate Victorian houses as really ugly."
He added that people of later generations would rediscover the grandeur of Victorian homes and treat them as "historic treasures."
Tudor as well as Colonial Revival homes are very well represented among historic homes in the area because they happened to be in vogue during Fargo-Moorhead's building boom in the 1920s, which ended a couple of years into the 1930s as the Great Depression set in. A good concentration of Colonial homes can be found one block over on the east side of Third Street North.
If many of these homes look vaguely alike, it's likely because they came from standard plans that builders would buy at lumber yards, according to architectural experts Mark T. Fiege, Jack Crowley and Fredric L. Quivik, who wrote the application for this district to be on the register. "In fact, several building permits for houses in District B list a lumber company as 'architect.'"
They called this the "Builder's Residential Historic District," in contrast to the nearby "High Style Residential Historic District," which features homes custom designed by architects.
Other anti-Victorian styles common in Fargo-Moorhead include Foursquare - see 1238 Fourth St. N. for an example - the Prairie School popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright - see 1124 Fifth St. N. for an early example - and the Craftsman bungalow, of which more will be written about below.
On the west side of Fargo's Eighth Street South from 13th to 14th Avenue is a dense concentration of Craftsman bungalows, a style also in vogue during the 1920s building boom.
The typical bungalow is a house, with a covered porch, that appears to spread along the ground. Instead of ornaments, the main decorations are exaggerated structural features such as columns, exposed rafters and brackets, showing off the craftsmanship of the builder.
Craftsman was the name of a magazine that popularized bungalows, a California design borrowed from the British who borrowed it from the Indians. Both the California bungalows and the magazine were part of the Arts and Crafts movement, originally a British movement emphasizing craftsmanship and traditional design in reaction to the industrialization of the Victorian era.
According to Arts and Crafts Homes magazine, builders of the 1910s and 1920s embraced the simple design of the bungalow as a way to build affordable and yet appealing homes for the growing middle class.
Ironically, it was industrialization that made a lot of this possible.
Gleye said Fargo-Moorhead residents could follow all the national trends and have houses just like houses in other parts of the country because the housing industry had mass produced all the materials. Columns, windows, stair railings could all be ordered from catalogs and shipped by rail, he said.
The Spanish mission
Not all homes fit the mold, of course, especially the ones built for those with the means to hire an architect.
Built in 1925, the house at 1505 Eighth St. S., Fargo, looks a lot like it could have been moved here from southern California where the Spanish Mission Revival style was most popular. There are no other homes in this style on the register in this area so far from warm Pacific shores.
Not much information is available about the house in the register application. No owner or architect is named so there is little clue as to why the design was chosen. The likely owners were Arthur Ruplin, a branch manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and his wife Esterre. They were the first persons listed at the address in the Polk City Directory. He apparently sold it to a colleague at Goodyear and moved to Cincinnati by 1932.
The seaside villa
Built in 1924, the Lashkowitz house at 1202 Eighth St. S., Fargo, is among several Mediterranean Revival homes designed by local architect Joseph E. Rosatti. Rosatti's client was Harry Lashkowitz, a prominent local attorney and father of Herschel Lashkowitz. The future five-term mayor of Fargo would've been 6 when the house was constructed.
With sturdy stucco walls, an arch over the front door and wrought-iron railing over a set of windows, it's typical of this revival style based on Italian and Spanish villas that was popular in California and Florida. Rosatti designed the Von Sein home at 1105 Seventh St. S., Fargo, (the only other home on the register in this style) and similar homes not on the register at 1122 12th St. N., Fargo, and 516 Seventh St. S., Moorhead.
Steve Martens, an NDSU architecture professor who has written several books on North Dakota's historic buildings, said by email that Rosatti was fluent in a variety of styles and probably built Mediterranean style homes because clients asked, having read about them.
Mediterranean and bungalow styles, he said, "were popularized in homebuilders' magazines as departures from historical northern European styles that were also popular at that time."
Built in 1939, the Sherdahl house at 1216 Ninth St. S., Fargo, is described in the register as a "Colonial Revival with Spanish elements." The house was built for Clair Sherdahl, president of the Fargo Food & Equipment Co.
The rectangular form, shutters and millwork above the doors suggest Colonial, but the balcony and the wrought-iron railing suggest Spanish. The city's Historic Preservation Commission described it as "Monterey Revival," a Californian blend of East Coast Colonial and West Coast Spanish from the 1930s that was common in the Monterey area.
Gleye said California, or more specifically, Los Angeles, may have had an outsized influence on American architecture simply because Hollywood was rising in prominence at this time and homes there would've gained widespread exposure.
For Fargo-Moorhead, the 1920s building boom coincided with the start of Hollywood's golden age.
Other homes with fusion styles include 1312 Ninth St. S., combining English Cottage and Spanish Revival styles, and 1550 Eighth St. S., combining Prairie and International styles. Both the latter eschewed historic details, but Prairie style emphasized more earthy materials that fit with the setting.
The hunting lodge
The mansion at 707 Eighth St. S., Fargo, was built in 1926 for Louis B. Hanna, a businessman and North Dakota's 11th governor. It features half-timbering, slate roof tiles and clinker bricks, a kind of brick heated to high temperatures until it partially turns to glass, arranged in different patterns.
"It is the most impressive residence in Fargo commanding a large lot and appropriate setting for its Tudor Revival design," architectural historian Norene A. Roberts wrote in her application to put the south-end historic district on the register.
Morgan, who conducted research on the house for its now owner, Leland Swanson Jr., said it was inspired by the Scottish hunting lodges owned by British aristocrats. "The whole idea is these lodges existed out in the countryside for people that lived in castles and whatever to get away."
"Once you get inside of it you'll see it wouldn't have been a family home," she said. "It's not designed for that. It's designed for entertaining."
The stark houses at 1502, 1506 and 1510 Ninth St. S., Fargo, are good examples of what happens when architects try to make a clean break with historic styles. Built in 1938, 1939 and 1936, respectively, in the International style, they look like boxes for living composed of grey stucco walls, some windows and a flat roof.
The house at 1502 was designed by architect Paul W. Jones for contractor Charles Rue and his wife Blanche, according to NDSU architecture professors Steve Martens and Ronald Ramsay in their book "Buildings of North Dakota." The others were designed for the Rues' two children.
The International style came out of 1920s Europe when architects, rejecting historic styles, developed purely functional buildings using the most modern materials available: steel, concrete and glass. Today, the best known examples are glass-walled skyscrapers because it never took off as a residential style. The name of the style may allude to it having no style and is therefore applicable everywhere. Martens and Ramsay wrote that Jones was probably exposed to the style when he studied in Paris in 1930.
Gleye said these kinds of houses were very much in vogue in Los Angeles and big cities of the time and, no doubt, Fargoans would've read about them in national media and decided if they wanted such houses for themselves. One other International style home on the register here is at 1526 Eighth St. S., Fargo.
History in the making
This year saw the addition of the George and Beth Anderson house at 1458 South River Road, Fargo, to the register. Built in 1958 by Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, granddaughter of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it's among the newest now on the register. The average home on the register was built in 1924, nearly a century ago, meaning many homes of recent history aren't represented.
Of the more than 420 buildings that were designed as homes on the register in Fargo-Moorhead, 11 were built after World War II.
Gleye said construction virtually came to a halt during the war and, in the intervening years, housing styles had changed greatly.
Also not well represented are homes in Moorhead. Only four homes on the register are in Moorhead, which only has individual buildings on the register. The majority of the Fargo homes on the register are in the city's five historic districts.
Homes not on the register, which is primarily an honorific, could have historic significance, but they often aren't as well known to the public or as well documented as those on the register.
Morgan said the register defines historic buildings as those 50 years or older, which means buildings built as late as 1967. Many of the more recent homes, such as ramblers, have made it on the register, she said, but often because of who lived in them or if an architect was involved.
In Fargo, she said, she could see some north-end neighborhoods, where a few developers with big lots built near identical homes in the 1950s and 1960s, making it on the register as examples of post-war suburbanization. "History can't stop. It keeps moving forward."
To see a map of historic homes in Fargo-Moorhead, click here.