Next time you take a stroll up Broadway, don’t forget to look down.
The story of Fargo’s history is being retold, right under your nose with updated granite mosaics on the sidewalk corners echoing downtown’s past.
When the reconstruction of Broadway began in the early 2000s, ceramic tile mosaics and corresponding columns were installed on the street corners to pay tribute to the history of Fargo. Scenes from the railroad boom, Red River activity, the use of the local farmland and more were built into the foundation of downtown.
With the high sidewalk traffic and harsh weather over the years, the tile began to wear, and talk of replacing the mosaics began. Meagin Elshaug, planner at City of Fargo, has been organizing the project since this spring.
“They (tile mosaics) were slowly degrading over time, and so it had been on people’s radar for while. We knew something needed to get done, so last year we started getting something moving for the reconstruction,” Elshaug says.
Over the past six weeks, the city of Fargo, Downtown Community Partnership, Dakota Monument and Accelerated Greenworks have been pounding the pavement to get these revived pieces of public art in before the winter weather.
“The mosaics along with the columns have been so ingrained in the Broadway streetscape that they’re often overlooked as public art. They tell the history of the region,” says Mike Hahn, president of the Downtown Community Partnership. “The original ceramic tiles were too fragile for our winters. Replacing them was very expensive. The new mosaics are granite and should hold up better through winters.”
Kristy Schmidt, civil engineer for the city of Fargo, had the idea to salvage what was left of the tile to save for artwork in the new City Hall and other projects and use granite as the new, more durable material.
“The goal was to keep it functional and in compliance, but to also keep the integrity of the original artwork,” Schmidt says.
The original concepts for the tile artwork came from architect Kevin Strehl, and the tiles were created by Wilson Custom Tile, both based out of Omaha, Neb. Fargo-based Landscape Architect Craig Larson helped implement the project locally.
“It was quite the task to get all of that artwork done, getting those completed and shipped and installed,” Larson says. “It was a significant piece of the whole streetscape project.”
Though the original drawing plans for the mosaics were unable to be located, photographs and some line drawings of the old designs were on record. Dakota Monument was commissioned to keep the new mosaics as identical to the originals as possible, and Accelerated Greenworks was contracted to do the installation.
Though Larson was only involved in the beginning phases of planning the new pieces, he is happy to see them stay a part of downtown.
“It’s important to continue to have them,” Larson says. “It’s a part of the fabric of the pedestrian community and identifying history and being connected to all of those things.”
There are total of 18 mosaics, located on the corners of Broadway and NP, First, Second, Fourth and Sixth avenues. The granite pavers are 3 inches thick, and the mosaics are 2 feet by 2 feet.
“They look great, and it’s always exciting to see something new downtown,” Elshaug says. “Hopefully people can come and check them out.”
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, October 3, 2016, issue of the paper.