Grand Forks Riverside Neighborhood Historic District

Grand Forks City, Grand Forks County, ND

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Homes at Lewis Boulevard and Fenton Avenue

Photo: Homes at Lewis Boulevard and Fenton Avenue in the Historic Districtt, Grand Forks. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Photographed by user:Mathieu Nicklay (own work), 2011, [cc-by-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2023.

The establishment of Riverside Park Addition [†], on the high bank of a meander in the Red River of the North, was an attractive location for settlement from the earliest days of the historical period. Beginning with placement of the first rude settlers' cabins, and continuing with platting and planned development of the area as a residential community, the setting was envisioned as a desirable location for domestic life, related to the civic life of the broader community of Grand Forks while remaining detached and self-contained.

Grand Forks expanded in size and population after the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad reached the city in 1880, initiating what historian Elwyn B. Robinson called the first "great Dakota Boom" during the decade of the 1880s. In 1882, John L. Lewis (originally from Toronto or Montreal, by way of Minneapolis)^' purchased land from Mr. Aker and set about planning the Riverside Park Addition to the City of Grand Forks.Early plat maps show the scale, street patterns, and lot layouts that are still visible today, reflecting the developer's vision of the kind of residential community that would be marketable and welcoming to new residents. Lots that were originally platted at somewhat impractical 25-foot widths were soon consolidated into parcels of 50-feet or greater width, with generally narrow streets and alleyways.'® "Lewis, in partnership with Dr. C.J. Alloway, hired a 'professional landscape gardener' to lay out 'avenues, drives, roadways, terraces, [and] lawns' in the development in 1884." From the earhest days of planned development in the Riverside neighborhood, land planning made intentional, purposeful use of the natural landscape features of this setting, evidenced by the retention of a professional landscape gardener to design the layout of streets, lots, and overall neighborhood pattern. This conunitment to take advantage of the natural landscape was continued with the planning, layout and design of Riverside City Park as a civic park amenity in 1909.

John L. Lewis began constructing homes in the Riverside Park Addition in 1883, collaborating with itinerant architect/builder Mr. Jordan to construct what were almost certainly pattern-book houses. Four identical Queen Anne houses, built in 1883, survive today, albeit in new locations and/or in restored condition following the 1997 Flood. The speculatively-built houses reflected the nationally popular and "showy" Queen Anne style and presumably would attract the right kind of buyers to the new neighborhood. Four smaller, less expensive houses of similar style were also built in 1883.

John L. Lewis intended to build seventeen dwellings in his Riverside development, but only nine or ten were built in 1883-1884. Given that several of these surviving historic houses have been carefully relocated and sited consistent with pivotal architectural features anchoring the residential district context. Residential growth in Riverside Park Addition was slower than some other parts of Grand Forks in the 1880s perhaps compounded by Lewis's unsuccessful efforts to attract the new University of North Dakota to the Riverside neighborhood site.

An early brick home was constructed at 1418 Lewis Boulevard by Henry Langard in 1884 (no longer extant). The largest house constructed in Riverside Park Addition was probably the house of George H/ Walsh (founder of the Grand Forks Plaindealer), listed in the 1891 City Directory as being located "east of Lewis Boulevard. In 1886, just to the northwest of the platted Riverside Park Addition, the T.B. Walker lumber company of Minneapolis built a sawmill alongside the river (in a location north from current-day Third Street North), reinforcing the "industrial" quality of the area west of Third Street North and effectively deferring that area's development until late in the 1930s. At the lumber mill, white pine logs were floated down the Red Lake River to Grand Forks and milled to provide building material for residents and new settlers in the area. Today, a shelterbelt alongside the north-south alley west of Fourth Street North marks the western boundary of the originally platted residential neighborhood, aligning with the site of a former dam on the Red River to the north and separating industrial uses (outside the boundary line of the proposed historic district) from residential. "Third Street North also is the west border of the [Riverside Park] residential area, and forms the western limits of the pavement of east-west streets. "Beyond that implied boundary," shack houses of brickyard workers in the we stern (unpaved) part of Riverside Park are hemmed in by rail lines and spurs serving the Red River Brick Corporation facility." Three local, Grand Forks residents had business affiliations with the fledgling and ultimately unsuccessful Red River Brick Corporation west of Riverside neighborhood; James A. Dinnie (one of the area's principal building contractors), Adison I. Hunter, and W.T. Borden. Despite the apparent connections, only a few brick houses were built in the Riverside Park Addition.

The 1890s were a time of economic difficulty and slow growth in Riverside Park Addition, necessitating John L. Lewis's sale of one-half of the addition to Frank Viets in 1891. The wooded character of Riverside neighborhood made it naturally attractive to homeowners, in contrast to most portions of the city that were quite treeless. Viets' early vision showed promise of bringing "a new order of things to that end of the city" through a thoughtfullyplanned, attractive and marketable working-class subdivision. Viets had previously established a successful residential subdivision south of downtown, before investing in half ownership of Lewis' Riverside Park Addition, where he named the main platted avenue after himself (later renamed "Riverside Drive"). That street—most of it never constructed—would have extended along lots fronting toward the Red River on the north (within the eventual park boundaries), and then bending southward to become what was later named Riverside Drive. Several prominent and locally important North Dakotans moved to Riverside Park Addition in the 1890s. Hoffbeck ' s well-footnoted social history survey of the neighborhood describes the roles of D. S. Campbell, E. C. "Moses" Norman, Lyman Newton, Dr. John Fawcett (and his son John), and William H. Standish as influential early residents of the community and the newly-formed state of North Dakota (1889).

E. J. Lander successfully sold house lots in 1907-1910, and twenty-one new homes were built in Riverside Park Addition from 1912 to 1919. Lander also sold 36-acres of land to the City for establishment of Riverside City Park as a bona fide public amenity. Residential patterns reflect the growth and development of a middle-class suburban neighborhood between 1883 and 1942, with houses constructed by numerous, mostly-unnamed builders. Most houses were constructed on speculation, and sold quickly based on the appeal of single-family home ownership with private yards. Most purchasers were middle-income wage earners, as indicated by City Directories (business owners, clerks, mechanics and laborers; relatively stable occupations attracted to affordable "mechanics' cottage" houses),

Pattern-book houses, prefabrication techniques, and the national movement toward industrialized building methods are all represented by houses in the Riverside neighborhood. Circumstances by which houses were planned and constructed reflect the popular taste for pattern-book houses aimed at middle-class income pricing points.'^* It was a residential construction and marketing model based on fixed-price package designs (often illustrated in published popular literature) with standardized materials delivered on a largely pre-cut and ready to assemble basis. The T. W. Harvey Lumber Company of Chicago was one of the first proponents of the precut, "ready-built" system of house construction, for which materials could be feasibly delivered by rail car. In Grand Forks, easily obtainable mail-order building materials and floor plans led to the widespread predominance of certain housing types. T.W. Harvey Lumber supplied pre-cut lumber that was cut in its own forests and kiln-dried on its own facility, thereby "minimizing costs to the buyer by eliminating the need to contract out those services." This method of all or partial prefabrication (using precut housing materials) was later emulated by Aladdin and Radford plan services; Sears, Roebuck, and Company; Gordon VanTine of Davenport, Iowa and in the form of an early "affordable housing" initiative by Grand Forks' own A. F. Simonson Lumber company during the economic hard times of the 1930s.

The 1909 installation of an electric-powered streetcar line serving Riverside neighborhood further enhanced this residential neighborhood's connections with downtown businesses and the university district. As early as 1887, the Grand Forks City Council began planning for improved transportation between the commercial district and emerging, outlying residential areas of the city. As residential districts continued to grow (and as the cost of keeping horses continued to increase) residents increasingly sought reliable public transportation. The 1908 proposal for extended streetcar service included a line along "Conkling Avenue" (today's Conklin Avenue) and Skidmore Avenue (today's Gateway Drive). A second Riverside Park trolley line was extended from the State Fairgrounds at Fifth Street North and Ninth Avenue North to the junction of First Street North and Park Avenue in 1911 or early 1912. In 1921, more modem type, single-ended trolley cars replaced the double-ended cars when a turnaround loop was installed at the end of the Riverside Park streetcar line, near where the current gateway entrance is being built through the floodwall to Riverside City Park.

Improved and affordable streetcar transportation made Riverside Park Addition m ore attractive to middle-class residents of Grand Forks. The streetcar track to Riverside neighborhood ran along First Street North where the streetcar tracks are still visible at the time of this writing, embedded in the asphalt pavement of First Street North, south of Gateway Drive near the Simonson Lumber yards. Though it ultimately contributed to the demise of the excellent streetcar system, the advent of private automobile ownership also fostered growth of the Riverside Park Addition, especially after Lewis Boulevard was paved with patented Granitoid (concrete) pavement in 1911. The Blome or Granitoid concrete system, still visible on Lewis Boulevard and other residential areas of Grand Forks, utilized granite aggregate and was scored to resemble brick pavers. Granitoid pavement is a historically significant feature of the Riverside neighborhood.

Behind almost every house built in the Riverside neighborhood after 1910, builders erected a single-stall garage. During the 1920s, Americans acquired millions of automobiles, a form of transportation that hastened suburbanization of the nation's cities. Many surviving garages in the Riverside neighborhood are of the same historic period as the houses, and thus they contribute to patterns, associations, scale, and character of the district. Several unaltered garages form alley "gateways" and match the style of related houses. As utilitarian accessory buildings, they contribute to the significance of the neighborhood setting, where the functional utilization of alleys reflects the priority given to automobiles as a preferred mode of transportation that, by the 1920s, could be owned by every family. Ten prominent examples of detached single-stall garages in relationship to alleys exist'9 and are included in the district's resource count. Many of these utilitarian outbuildings originally had dirt floors. Subsequent to recent floods, many have been raised and placed over a concrete floor slab.

Housing design for newly-forming communities in the 1880s, 1890s, and the first decade of the 20th-century borrowed liberally from Midwestern precedents of Classical Revival-influenced mechanics' cottages and traditionbased Victorian Queen Anne designs. By comparison, the first three decades of the 20th-century reflect consumer awareness of a more modern, scientific approach to "better homes" and the "Country Life Movement," and progressive exploration of two contrasting dwelling styles. In the Riverside Park Addition, these divergent trends are expressed by large, efficient, and architecturally formal American Foursquare designs, contrasted with the modest, Craftsman-influenced "bungalow" fashion. The Foursquare reflected upright values of efficiency and overt order; an expression of respectability. Bungalows reflected a more relaxed, unpretentious approach to efficiency and humility.

A trend toward smaller, less expensive, Bungalow style houses dominated the neighborhood from 1914 until 1928, counterbalancing the number of Foursquare houses built in the same time period. The term "bungalow" was applied somewhat derisively to modest dwellings until about 1904. A large number of stylistically pure, moderately-priced bungalows were constructed in Riverside neighborhood, generally west of First Street North, through the 1920s. In popular literature of the 1920s, the bungalow porch feature was derived from architects' familiarity with sleeping porches in the Bengal region of India. This feature was then adapted in popular architecture of California and the western United States. Popular connotations of the "exotic" (India and California) and warm climates, plus a connection with craft traditions, probably made the bungalow style especially pleasing in North Dakota. During the time period when a great many houses were being constructed in Riverside neighborhood, the bungalow style was especially popular. Popular appeal of the bungalow among middle-class homeowners coincided with national popularity of the Craftsman style more commonly found on much larger residences.

During the Progressive-era heyday of the streetcar system, residents of Riverside Park Addition developed employment relationships with several nearby institutions. Therapeutic effects of the park-like, wooded setting along the river in Riverside Park addition also seems to have attracted recuperative sites for sanitoria and other medical treatments. Though located to the south of former Skidmore A venue ( now Gateway Drive), St. Michael's Hospital (which opened to much fanfare in 1907) was a significant feature in its connection to the neighborhood. Wellrespected doctors resided in Riverside neighborhood. As an extension of the larger Grand Forks community, Riverside City Park continued in its usage for civic and social purposes. The early relationship of workers' housing to the industrial area west of Third Street North was enhanced with more permanent and architecturally respectable workers' houses serving grain milling and downtown retail businesses.

The pattern of historic architectural resources in the Riverside neighborhood exemplifies economic hardship of the Great Depression throughout North Dakota. Economic effects of the Great Depression and World War II curtailed most residential development in the Riverside Park Addition. Fewer than half a dozen houses were built between 1929 and 1935 in the area surveyed by Martens in 2005 (which included a survey area extending beyond the western district boundaries on Third Street North). This is, in part, a consequence of economic factors and also reflects that most lots in the neighborhood had been developed by the thirties. Construction of homes in the Riverside neighborhood on small lots during the Depression years—largely through local initiative by homebuilders like A.F. Simonson—reveals a significant aspect of local history worthy of acknowledgement.

The entrepreneurship and residential investment of A.F. Simonson's lumber enterprise during the 1930s is an aspect of local history tied to the significance of the Riverside neighborhood. Archibald F. Simonson established a lumber business in Grand Forks in 1932 with encouragement from his father Nels, a timber-buyer in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. Milled lumber was brought in from the Crookston area of Minnesota, among other sources. Simonson's "flagship" lumberyard is located just across Gateway Drive to the south of the Riverside Park neighborhood district. Small homes were built speculatively by Simonson (and others) in the 100-block of Seward Avenue and along First Street North, revealing experimentation with affordable housing in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s. As such, they form an interesting, modest example that combines small size, efficient planning, and minimal stylistic e mbellishment intended to appeal to entry-level buyers.

Late Depression-era houses are concentrated in the southeast comer of the district and along Third Street North, the last parts of the addition to be developed. As homebuilding began to resume in 1936 and 1937, a cluster of homes was constructed in the vicinity of First Street North and Seward Avenue. The house and garage at 15 Seward Avenue, and the set of three houses built speculatively by A. F. Simonson at 1404, 1408, 1412 First Street North all remain in very good, unaltered condition. Basic, modestly-designed working-class houses are an important feature of the Riverside neighborhood. The house at 1408 First Street North, characterized as a "storybook cottage" style, is embellished with elements that evoke the Tudor Revival style in a very restrained way. Elsewhere in the district, the Tudor Revival-influenced, English cottage style is more overtly (and more confidently) represented by earlier houses at 202 Conklin Avenue and 201 Fenton Avenue, employing picturesque features like prominent exterior chimneys, steep roofs, arched entryways, and flared eaves. Modest houses and related garages constructed between the end of the Depression and beginning of World War II contribute to the unity and continuity of the district based on their embodiment of a type of construction familiar in workingclass homes, and based on their feel and association with other houses in the neighborhood. Like the earlier mechanics' cottages, and the small-scaled affordable bungalows of the 1920s, these economical homes continued to successfully target a segment of the home-buying public motivated by modest, "penny-wise" expectations.

Within the Riverside City Park, planning and construction of improvements to the park pool was another important undertaking during the depression years. Significance of Riverside City Park as a central feature of the Riverside neighborhood is tied to planning principles and residential development beginning with Lewis' and Viets' vision of a park-like residential neighborhood in thelSSOs. Over time, various activities were accommodated in the park, ranging from recreational (sports, swimming, camping) to social and cultural (religious gatherings). Riverside Park Addition never had a church building, but the Church of God operated a church campground and tent revival site within Riverside City Park during the summer months. Camping (tourist camps), band concerts, hunting, and other forms of outdoor recreation were popular along the river corridor and within Riverside City Park. Samuel Teel DeRemer constructed a "hunting shack" at the rear of his residential property, proximate to the parkland prop3er.

During the stifling, hot summers of the Great Depression, public pools and bathing facilities afforded an important venue for recreation and relief from persistent heat. Pools were promoted and funded nationwide as both public works and appropriate recreational diversions. The existing swimming pool and bathhouse building in Riverside City Park are highly-significant. National Register-eligible, depression-era resources, important for their relationship to historical events and as pure architectural examples of Streamline Modern style, executed in a sitecast concrete building designed by "Lium and Burdick."

The pool and bathhouse remain important to the integrity and identity of the Riverside neighborhood because Riverside City Park functions as an extension of the residential community. The swimming pool and the bathhouse are architectural focal points important to residents of the neighborhood. The floodwall alters spatial continuity of the park landscape, creating a much stronger sense of enclosure, but the park's usage and visible relationship to the Riverside neighborhood will surely continue into the future, albeit somewhat isolated by necessary flood protection structures

† Steve C. Martens; Architect/Architectural Historian, Grand FOrks Riverside Neighborhood Historic District, nomination document, 2006, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
1st Street North • 2nd Street North • 3rd Street North • Conklin Avenue • Fenton Avenue • Lewis Boulevard • Park Avenue • Riverside Drive • Seward Avenue

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