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May 16: Former Administration Building in Grand Forks

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May is National Historic Preservation Month, and today we look at another historic structure that relates to North Dakota’s transportation infrastructure.

The Grand Forks Airport was “a dream of a few air-minded citizens” in 1927. After a failed effort to acquire donated land for a memorial airport that honored the cities early citizens, the local commercial club continued the search. After inspecting a few sites with Charles (Speed) Holman, famed aviator-turned general manager of Northwest Airlines, the group put $500 down on the land for the original Grand Forks Airport, one mile northwest of the city.

After a law passed in 1929 that allowed cities to purchase land outside city limits for airports, Grand Forks completed the deal, paying $8,000 for the 160-acre plot, which was already under development and getting some use. Originally, three planes were located at the site, doing “a taxi and amusement flight business.” However, not even a decade later, the “increased size of planes and the higher take-off speeds” made it necessary to enlarge and improve the airport.

The city was hopeful that the Works Progress Administration would take on the estimated $250,000 project, which would make the Grand Forks airport the “largest airport in the northwest.”

The airport essentially shut down for several years as the work was being done. In fall of 1941, a 21-passenger Douglas Airliner arrived around 9am, marking “the return of air mail, express, and passenger service to Grand Forks.” Planned celebrations ensued!

Around that time, the WPA also began construction on a city Administration Building at the Airport. Constructed in Streamline Moderne design, it served as office space and airport terminal.

However, with the increasing size and weight of aircraft, issues during the spring thaw, the expansion of the city, and the development of the Interstate Highway System, it became apparent by the 1960s that the airport should move.

The Administration Building’s services were moved, but the building remained. It’s now well-ensconced within the city and is listed in the National Historic Preservation Register, standing as a testament of early aviation, city growth, and the changing transportation scene in Grand Forks.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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