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May 20: McVille Art Deco Auditorium

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History is all around us, if only we open our eyes to see it, and sometimes get off the main highways and find it. One such historical gem is in McVille, in Nelson County. It’s the McVille Auditorium, a reminder of the 1930s Great Depression-era.

McVille’s town leaders got WPA funds for the building, and construction began in November, 1937. Contractor Mike Orskog and his local workers completed the project in 18 months. It was on this date in 1939 that the Fargo Forum ran an announcement from McVille’s civic leadership about the upcoming grand opening of the new municipal building.

The workmen had built the city auditorium out of solid “reinforced monolithic concrete” so that it would last a long time. The term “monolithic concrete” meant the building was constructed using concrete poured into wooden forms. The concrete was reinforced with metal mesh or rods to give it greater strength and adaptability, forming the walls seamlessly.

The auditorium was of a “modernistic design,” otherwise known as Art Deco. The Art Deco exterior was not considered high-style. Instead, the front of the building featured seven simple vertical lines above the front entrance and alongside the front door. The exterior walls on the sides were similarly highlighted by numerous vertical lines, two-and-a-half stories high, that resembled columns.

An Art Deco detail, called a triglyph, was placed all along the roofline, a series of three vertical lines grouped closely together, repeated again and again around the top of the exterior walls.

Inside, the basement of McVille’s building had a ballroom for dancing. The hardwood floor was recycled from the recently-dismantled Gem Theater in town. The thrifty ways were in keeping with the Scottish foundations of the town. Back in the 1880s a “group of Scotch families” came to live there, and “like most families of that nationality,” their last names began with the sound of “Mack,” including the “McDougalls, the McPherson[s], the McWilliams,” and the McCrackens. So, when these settlers established a post-office “what better name could they choose than the town of Macs – or McVille?”

If you drive through Nelson County, consider stopping to look at McVille’s old auditorium, which still stands tall, with its Art Deco vertical lines and rock-solid “monolithic concrete” walls.

Dakota Datebook by Steve Hoffbeck, retired MSUM History Professor


  • “M’Ville Prepares Dedication Of New Auditorium Friday,” Fargo Forum, May 21, 1939, p. 12.
  • “Plan New Auditorium,” Bismarck Tribune, May 8, 1937, p. 7.
  • Maxine Mueller, “McVille Opera House,” Nelson County History, Vol. 2 (Larimore: Nelson County History Committee, 1985), p. 1215.
  • “Michael and Margrette Orskog,” Nelson County History, Vol. 1 (Larimore: Nelson County History Committee, 1985), p. 764.
  • “Michael Orskog,” 1894-1983, Find A Grave Index, ancestry.com, accessed April 15, 2024.
  • Steve C. Martens and Ronald H.L.M. Ramsay, “McVille City Hall and Auditorium,” SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville, UVaP, 2012, sah-archipedia.org/buildings/ND-01-NES, accessed April 15, 2024.
  • “McVille, One of North Dakota’s Livest and Cleanest Of Cities,” Fargo Forum, July 17, 1916, p. 14.
  • “McVille,” Mary Ann Barnes Williams, Origins of North Dakota Place Names (Washburn, ND: Bismarck Tribune, 1966), p. 214.

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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