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As I recall: Big ideas for sports arena on thin ice

In 1937, the Fargo Sports Arena at Island Park was built. At the time it was touted as a "mammoth winter sports building" or a "sports palace." At the time, it was supposedly the biggest rink dedicated solely to ice skating in the world. It was l...

In 1937, the Fargo Sports Arena at Island Park was built. At the time it was touted as a "mammoth winter sports building" or a "sports palace."

At the time, it was supposedly the biggest rink dedicated solely to ice skating in the world. It was larger than an arena in Chicago that had 21,250 square feet of ice. Fargo's new arena would have 28,000 square feet.

The building, at 200 feet by 300 feet, was slightly larger than a football field. It was planned with bleacher space for 3,000 people and floor space to seat 12,000 to 14,000 people for non-skating events. The roof was 60 to 70 feet high with no supports to bar spectators' views.

Eight wooden trusses spanning 200 feet contained 7,000 feet of lumber and a ton of steel bolts and rods. The trusses weighed about 10,000 pounds and it was claimed that they were the largest wooden arch spans ever constructed. Crowds came to watch them go up.

A two-story concrete building 130 feet wide by 20 feet deep at the front of the arena faced 1st Avenue South; entry was made on the second floor which contained offices, concessions, ticket rooms and windows to view skaters on the lower level.

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Along with a 140-foot by 180-foot skating rink, and a hockey rink that was 85 feet by 180 feet, the lower level held warming and skate changing rooms, restrooms and boilers. The fa?ade of that part of the building still stands in front of the swimming pool at 1st Avenue and 7th Street South.

The building also contained a clubroom for the local Women's Athletic Club, rifle and archery ranges, a gymnasium and rooms for dancing lessons.

It was built by the Works Progress Administration, one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal cultural programs. The final cost of the building was $100,000 - $25,000 more than originally planned.

Fargo architects Ole A. Braseth and S. Marius Houkom, and Meredith E. Mattingly who was associated with their firm, designed the building.

Some local professional men - members of the Fargo Chamber of Commerce - who instigated the project were Percy. E. Mickelson, Albert R. Bergeson and Sam Stern. Dr. George C. Foster, president of the local figure skating club, promoted Park Board sponsorship of the undertaking. Ralph E. (Doc) Chinn and John Saul, who operated the Fargo Auditorium and the Crystal Ball Room, agreed to manage the new facility.

In January 1939, a hockey game with the Fargo Comets was the first official use of the new arena. In February of that year, Chinn and Saul brought in an ice revue sponsored by the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the St. Paul Figure Skating club.

However, the spacious new arena was not a successful venture. In December 1943, with war in the headlines, two photographs of the structure appeared. The first said T.F. Powers Construction company was dismantling the building and L.A. Roggensack, a Fargo house mover, was moving the girders to the airport with the help of the Fargo street department. The front of the building was left to form the north wall of another arena.

The second photograph shows one of the girders being set in place for a hangar at Hector airport. The winter sports arena was called a "white elephant." The grandiose dreams, according to a newspaper article, were to use the building for indoor baseball, tennis and wrestling matches, prize fights, bicycle racing, football and baseball practice, carnivals, stock shows, implement and auto shows, pageants and revues, community singing events, physical education demonstrations, National Guard drills and large conventions. These proposed events would be held in the spring, summer and fall, for there was no artificial ice in the arena.

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However, a new and much smaller arena was built and that is the one I remember with such fondness. In another column, I'll share my memories of ice skating at the second arena.

Sources: Forum files and the Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU, Fargo

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