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Fargo downtown YMCA sign nominated for National Register of Historic Places

After asking for a few tweaks to the nomination, the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Review Board approved the idea and forwarded the nomination to Joy Beasley, the keeper of the NRHP.

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The YMCA in downtown Fargo on Feb. 1, 2022. The North Dakota State Historic Preservation Board met Jan. 28 to talk about possible National Register of Historic Places status for the Fargo YMCA sign, which went up in the early 1960s.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — The big letter "Y" that stands tall outside Fercho YMCA in downtown Fargo has been a fixture of the neighborhood since 1962.

Now, an effort is underway to secure a place for the sign on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last week, the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Review Board met to discuss whether it would pass along a nomination for the sign to be included on the NRHP after Anna Sather, vice president of marketing and communications at YMCA Of Cass & Clay Counties, suggested the idea.

After asking for a few tweaks to the nomination, the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Review Board approved forwarding the nomination to Joy Beasley, the keeper of the NRHP.

A decision is expected in about 60 days, said Lorna Meidinger, national register coordinator with the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Review Board.

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She said North Dakota has more than 400 individual properties and about 28 historic districts on the NRHP, including a number of historic districts in Fargo.

Those districts include the downtown historic district, a district on the North Dakota State University campus and a historic district on Eighth Street.

To be considered for the NRHP, something has to be at least 50 years old, unless a case can be made for exceptional historical importance, according to Meidinger.

Meidinger said that in promoting the Y sign's inclusion on the national registry, the folks at the YMCA said they strongly identify with the Y symbol and they argued the sign is a prime example of the sign art of the early 1960s.

Month of the Young Child
In April of 2006, about 80 children from the downtown Fargo YMCA released balloons in conjunction with April being the Month of the Young Child. Notes were attached to those released by the 25 kindergarteners in the crowd. Darren Gibbins / The Forum
Darren Gibbins/Forum Communications Co.

"Those classic large signs trying to grab your attention and pull you in," Meidinger said, adding that other arguments for placing the sign on the national register include the social importance of creating a community and "and the Y as a symbol of that."

If the sign does gain NRHP status, Meidinger said the benefits are largely symbolic and a matter of prestige, as inclusion on the registry doesn't prevent owners of properties from doing what they want with them.

"First and foremost, it's documentation and recognition that this is an important place and why," Meidinger said.

She added that the staff at the YMCA also believe register status will help them preserve the sign should the national YMCA organization decide the sign no longer fits with the organization's branding efforts.

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And that is indeed the case, according to Sather, who said the sign no longer follows updated branding guidelines released by the national organization and is therefore supposed to come down unless it receives NRHP status.

"Throughout the application process, we have received an overwhelming amount of guidance, support, and encouragement from the state historical society, Y patrons, and local community members and we are beyond grateful," Sather said.

Sather said historical signage is one of the most effective ways to celebrate the community’s past while continuing to build patronage — for the Y and the community.

She added that the look of the sign, "proves the rich history of the organization and that it has survived and thrived in the community through challenging times, like the Great Depression, Word War II, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic."

When the building that would become the Fercho YMCA was being planned in 1961, the community raised about $1.2 million for the project, the first time, Sather said, that $1 million had ever been raised for a project in Fargo.

"Along with so many other businesses in the 1960s, our local Y decided to install a big 60s-style, neon-lit sign, which has become such a visual symbol of longevity for the organization," Sather said, adding the sign was created and installed by Cook Sign Co.

She also noted that when the sign went up in 1962, the local Y had already been in the community for nearly 70 years.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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