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Historic Preservation Month: Grand Forks Schools, Part 2

May is National Historic Preservation Month. Today, we continue a look at Grand Forks schools on the National Register of Historic Places.

Between 1949 and 1965, Grand Forks added a number of new schools. These schools drew on the skills of local architects and marked the progression of the budding population. Theodore Wells and Myron Denbrook designed some of these schools and some later additions.

Wells was born in Grand Forks in 1889. He attended the University of North Dakota and did a great deal of architectural work around the area. Denbrook was born in Ohio in 1922 and was younger than Wells by more than three decades. Denbrook graduated from the University of Washington and began his career in Washington, but according to his son, he sent out “a bunch of letters” requesting to be a partner somewhere. He planned to go wherever he heard from first. That response came from Theodore Wells in Grand Forks. In 1948, they created the Wells and Denbrook partnership.

West Elementary School was designed by Wells, and built in 1949. Typical of mid-century design, it has a flat roof and long banks of windows. It is also located near University Park, allowing the school to take advantage of greenspace, landscaping, and playgrounds, typical of the mid-century school design.

Wells and Denbrook also provided mid-century additions to Lewis and Clark Elementary, which had been built in 1953 by local architect, Samuel Teel DeRemer; and in an interesting turn of events, they rebuilt Wilder Elementary School, preserving a gymnasium added by DeRemer in 1955. Denbrook designed that new 1965 school so it would match the style of the gymnasium.

Although Wilder Elementary sustained damage in the 1997 flood, the exterior remained largely the same. It’s also the only mid-century school in Grand Forks without a separate kitchen and lunchroom; instead, the gymnasium is used for this purpose.

West and Denbrook designed many buildings in the region from the 1920s to the 1990s, and it’s been said that Denbrook designed many buildings on the UND campus.

Listen for more stories of preservation in North Dakota as Dakota Datebook continues to acknowledge National Historic Preservation Month.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


West Elementary School National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

Valley Junior High School National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

Wilder Elementary School National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

Ben Franklin Elementary School National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

Who’s Who for North Dakota 1955

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