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Chester Fritz, Baukol Historic District added to National Register of Historic Places

Posted 11/27/23 (Mon)

By Matthew Voigt

November 26, 2023 

GRAND FORKS – Two examples of Grand Forks’ mid-20th century architectural history have been formally recognized as the newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places.

UND’s Chester Fritz Auditorium and the Baukol Historic District were added to the national register this month after the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and State Historical Society applications were approved by the National Register, which is run by the National Park Service.

The process of adding things to the national register can take months to years. Research and a lengthy application have to be submitted to the register for consideration. In August, the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission voted to recommend both the Chester Fritz Auditorium and Baukol Historic District to be added to the list.

For prospective entries, the Historic Preservation Commission considers projects that would preserve Grand Forks’ history. The commission then makes the nomination and sends it to the State Historical Society, which coordinates all the North Dakota nominations.

“We were funded to do National Register nominations for the Chester Fritz Auditorium and the Baukol Historic District,” said Susan Caraher, coordinator of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission. “Each year our commission considers projects that are relevant to preserving Grand Forks’ History and these two were part of our grant application.”

The Chester Fritz Auditorium was built in 1972 as a performing arts venue for UND. In more than 50 years of existence, it has hosted a variety of performances ranging from UND’s orchestras to Johnny Cash. The closest equivalents to the auditorium for size and acoustical quality are Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall, which were each built between the 1960s and 1970s.

The auditorium was designed by architect Myron Denbrook, who was from the Grand Forks Wells, Denbrook and Adams Inc. Denbrook also consulted with Robert. C. Coffeen and Associates, now Avant Acoustics, to design the acoustics of the auditorium. It was one of that firm's earliest projects.

“The building itself has significant architectural integrity; it looks very much the same as it did when it was built,” Caraher said. “It’s part of the campus fabric, and some of the campus is already part of a historic district.”

UND Vice President for Finance & Operations Karla Mongeon-Stewart said the Chester Fritz Auditorium’s inclusion on the National Historic Register is fitting.

“We are excited that we are able to continue to use the auditorium as a key venue for the arts for the region,” she said. “Additionally, we are looking to make some updates to the lobby area this year as it continues to be a key space for UND.”

The lobby looks much the same way it did when the auditorium’s first event was held on Oct. 12, 1972, when the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Choir performed. According to the register application, the biggest changes were replacing worn-out carpeting and updating “the prominent 1970s monochromatic color palette to be more agreeable to today’s visitors.”

But the auditorium was designed with the unknown future of the performing arts in mind.

“It is impossible to predict the precise nature of all the activities to take place in the auditorium in the years ahead because the performing arts are dynamic,” a souvenir booklet dated from the time the building was opened read. “They are different from yesterday. They will change tomorrow.”