Fargo, North Dakota, 1950 - the middle of town in the middle of the midwest in the middle of the century. Almost everything you see here still stands. And almost everything you see is gone.
Take a look at this picture, and tell yourself that things are better today. Cities today: Big white malls, clean black parking lots with a superstore rising like a cheap brick glacier, fast-food franchises, landscapes indistinguishable from any other city. Bah. I don't want to short-shrift convenience or harangue the auto culture, but they're thin comforts, and they have no weight. You throw out your anchor and it clatters at your feet. This picture shows a town usually used as shorthand for America's arctic gulag, the end of the earth, a distant outpost of igloos and teepees. But tell me this doesn't look like a small civil corner of a long-gone golden time.
Okay, I'm romanticizing. I can't help it. I'm the worst sort of native son: I scoffed and rolled my eyes as a restless adolescent and lit out for the big city as soon as possible. Now, looking back, I want it all the way it was, better than it was, and I read too much into old photos. But this wasn't just the way things were - this was the look of America before every town was leveled flat by Wal-Mart and the malls. Downtown Fargo wasn't like any other place; the names on the stores were names that had fed, clothed, furnished, amused and healed fellow Fargoans for generations. Blacks. Herbst. DeLendrecies. Straus. Ivers. Monson. Shotwell. You knew where you were when you looked down the street. You were home.
This site is not intended as a historical account of Fargo or downtown - just a recollection of Fargo through the medium of postcards. I should note that the city has grown bigger than I could ever have imagined; that I am proud to have been born and raised there; and that I've spent more of my life in Minneapolis than Fargo, but Fargo is home in a way Minneapolis can never be. I remember it when it was smaller, when it seemed alone, and when it was my entire world. Never so big that I felt afraid, and never so small that there wasn't something new to discover.
As a teenager, I thought Fargo was a prison sentence. Consider this my apology.
(Note: so I wrote in 1999 when this site first went up. It’s still true, more or less. In the years since I put up this site, downtown has experienced a Renaissance of sorts, and I’ve collected many more photos and postcards. The site’s all new, and also under construction. As of April 2007, most of the site is up, with a few more entries to go. Enjoy, and more to come.)
------------------------------------------James Lileks 2007