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The Civic comes down

The fa?ade is still intact, but, on the inside, Grand Forks' Civic Auditorium is mostly rubble after construction crews sent backhoes and bulldozers into its guts Tuesday.

Civic Auditorium
Workers begin the process of dismantling the Civic Auditorium Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010, in Grand Forks.

The façade is still intact, but, on the inside, Grand Forks' Civic Auditorium is mostly rubble after construction crews sent backhoes and bulldozers into its guts Tuesday.

By the end of the week, there will be nothing left standing as workers head into the basement to pull out the concrete.

The dump trucks will come and most traces of the building will disappear. But it's hard to let the 50-year-old downtown landmark go without retaining some memento. Workers will keep some of the bricks, ceramic tiles and wooden beams that arched over the big hall where Grand Forks residents once enjoyed concerts, dances and wrestling.

Kevin Ritterman, the developer that now owns the Civic, said the new $5.5 million 53-unit apartment building he's putting in will have "a small little token of what was there." The bricks will probably go into the entry way, he said, and some of the beams could become benches. The hallways will have photos of the auditorium, he said.

"We'll try to save as much as we can," he said. "It costs more money the more things you want to save."


Construction of the apartment complex is scheduled to start Oct. 4 and be completed by the end of 2011, according to Community Contractors owner Craig Tweten.

Concert venue

The Civic Auditorium was built in 1957 as an armory for the National Guard. At the time, the 300,000 square-foot building was the biggest armory in the state and, as it was used by the city as an events center, it was also a hot venue for concerts.

Grand Forks resident Gary Swanson remembers seeing many country stars there as a teenager in the late 1950s. In an e-mail, he ticked off the likes of Hank Snow, George Hamilton IV, Bobby Bare, Kitty Wells and, most memorably, Marty Robbins.

Swanson said he remembers the concert where Marty Robbins' band was interrupted by the 10 p.m. whistle at Northern States Power a few blocks away. The band stopped, looked at each other, shrugged, checked watches and filed out silently. About a minute after the whistle stopped, one of the band members peeked back in and they all filed back in.

"As everyone laughed and cheered," Swanson wrote, "Marty and his boys picked up their guitars, gave each other one more puzzled look and suddenly started up the same song on the very same word they had suddenly stopped on when the NSP whistle had blown!"

By 1984, the Civic Auditorium was beginning to show its age. A group called the Events Center Committee proposed an addition to the building around that time, but voters turned it down. It tried again in 1992 to build a new convention center, and again voters turned it down.

Gathering place


Still, the auditorium was a key community gathering place.

Paul Fladland, a 1973 UND grad, said in an e-mail that he remembers a Sioux Booster club meeting that was so big -- there must have been 900 attendees -- it had to be moved from a local hotel to the Civic. This was in the 1980s when UND and the University of Wisconsin were fierce rivals for the national hockey title.

Eileen Nelson said she remembers going on her first date with her late husband, Carlton, in 1974. He took her to the Symphony Ball where they danced to Dick King's Orchestra to songs such as "Tuxedo Junction" and "Moonlight Serenade."

"I can still hear the music and remember what a good time we had," she wrote in an e-mail.

Powwows used to be held there, as well, and Cynthia Ramirez remembers going with her family in the late 1980s and early 1990s and spending all day there.

"There were food, music, dancing, and a lot of colorful beadwork to be admired," she wrote in an e-mail. "It was always nice to meet new people there. This is one of my favorite memories of the Civic Center, because I was so young, and just being there with Mom and Dad so long ago made everything much more memorable for me."

The Civic hosted many smaller events, too. Jean Murph recalls a wedding dance where her little brother pulled the fire alarm and summoned all the fire engines.

By 1996, though, the Events Center Committee had persuaded voters to support a new building, which eventually became today's Alerus Center on South 42nd Street. The center opened in 2001 making the building instantly extraneous.


The city tried to find interested developers, but found none even though it was willing to essentially give away the land. The estimated $300,000 cost of demolition was too hard for many to swallow. Ritterman's Dakota Commercial and Development was the first firm willing to take the city on, though only because of tax incentives and a federally funded grant of $1.2 million.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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