When I first heard the Dickensian-sounding name, “Smith, Follett & Crowl,” my brain conjured up images of a boot-blacking factory in Victorian-era London.
So imagine my surprise when, as a relative newcomer to the Kilbourne Group team, I checked out KG’s own Smith, Follett and Crowl warehouse and could not find a street urchin in sight. Instead, this building is more commonly known as The Lofts on Roberts — home to 21 modern, loft-style apartments — as well as Mezzaluna, one of the snazziest places to sip and sup in downtown Fargo.
We recently accompanied photographer Dan Francis to this historic building at 309 Roberts Street to capture updated images of these spaces, which were refurbished in 2008. Fortunately, tenants Cassi and Matt (just married, BTW!) allowed us to photograph their apartment, which is as cozy-chic as you’d expect from any space occupied by two hip, young, Fargo professionals. (It wasn’t too hard to see that Cassi has a background in interior design either.)
The building was originally built in 1917 for Charles O. Smith, Clarence O. Follett and Amos Crowl. The three men were partners, wholesale suppliers of dry goods (ready-to-wear clothing, towels, linens, sewing notions, etc.), according to a Forum column written by former Forum librarian Andrea Hunter Halgrimson in 2008.
The newspapers of the day described the structure as a “splendid” edifice — “the appearances of the front being plain, but attractive with large windows, with matt faced brick and stone trimming.” Reporters noted it was “one more evidence of the increasing importance of Fargo as a distributions point for the north-west.”
According to Halgrimson, the $30,000 building was designed by W. Kurke, the same Fargo architect who conceived the Pioneer Mutual Life Building (now home to NDSU’s Barry Hall).
The business thrived for decades. In the 1970s, Mel Paeper bought controlling interest in the business. In a couple of years, the company was supplying its goods to 350 stores throughout the Upper Midwest. But as regional shopping centers cropped up across the country, the demand for supplying merchandise to small-town merchants dwindled, Halgrimson wrote. Paeper closed the 68-year-old wholesale distribution business in 1982.
A year later, Knights Formal Wear bought the building to serve as a showroom and headquarters for its North Dakota stores. When KG General Manager Mike Allmendinger first walked through the building in 2007, he was struck by the surreal sight of a very old building packed with rentable Santa and Easter Bunny suits.
But it was also packed with potential. Allmendinger describes it as “the epitome of what a loft living space should be. It had hardwood floors, exposed beams, original wood posts and exposed brick walls. It hadn’t been carved up into all kinds of little Sheetrocked rooms.”
Kilbourne Group worked hard to preserve and maintain the integrity of the building’s historical features, including a pressed metal ceiling, numerous large windows, corbelled brick, simplistic stone trim, an oak-encased office, exposed wood beams and masonry exterior walls. The organization’s efforts were recognized in 2009 when KG received an Adaptive Reuse Award from the Fargo-Moorhead Heritage Society, an architectural preservation organization.
To see more photos of the Lofts on Roberts, please check out Kilbourne Group’s weekly blog: www.kilbournegroup.com/blog/