Auditorium (Armory)

Auditorium (Armory).

The building was originally built as a municipal auditorium. It was also used as the National Guard Armory and is referred to as both Auditorium and Armory. I do not know when it was built but the postcard to the right is dated 1916. The building sat just west of Broadway at the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue South.

I recall that the second floor had a stage and was the "auditorium" part. I believe the lower floor was used for the National Guard or Reserves and was likely the "armory" part.

One can just see on the right edge of the postcard a white walkway that extended from Front Street (Main Avenue) to allow direct entrance to the second floor.

The second floor is best remembered as the "Crystal Ballroom." There was a large ball covered with tiny reflecting mirrors on the ceiling. As it rotated and lights shown on it, light reflected throughout the room. Many big bands played here, from Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey to Benny Goodman. The auditorium was also used for boxing, wrestling matches and other events. For many years it was likely the largest gathering place in Fargo with the possible exception of Festival hall at NDAC. Most of the events in the auditorium were brought to Fargo by Ralph E. "Doc" Chinn (1895-1968).

The Saturday night dance was a fixture from October 19, 1929, until April 1957, when dwindling attendance and receipts caused the Saturday night dance to halt. During the early days a four-page newsletter, the Crystal Gazer, was published. The house band for many years was called the Red jackets.

On a characteristically grueling tour of one-nighters, Duke Ellington and his band rolled into Fargo on November 7, 1940, hungry and grumbling. But once they hit the bandstand of the Crystal Ballroom, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Tricky Sam Nanton, Rex Stewart, et al. remembered why they had reached the peak of their careers as Duke's sidemen. The two-CD set still available includes "Ko-Ko," "Rumpus in Richmond," "The Flaming Sword," "Sophisticated Lady," "Across the Track Blues," "Rose of the Rio Grande" (with Lawrence Brown's exultant trombone solo), "Warm Valley," and 39 other tracks. Also vividly present is Duke's most astute and distinctive singer, Ivie Anderson. As Stanley Dance said in the notes, what happened that night "cannot be recreated or recaptured." Fortunately it was recorded in Fargo. See story on this concert published in the NDSU Magazine.

I recall going to the wrestling matches with my father in the early 1950's. I remember seeing midget wrestling, women wrestling, Gorgeous George, and all of the famous wrestlers of that era. My father was friends with Doc Chinn and worked at the refreshment stand. I went with him and got in free. I also saw, after everyone left, the friendship between the wrestlers that was hidden from the crowd.

Edgar Peterson writes that "Since I am now 85 years old my memory is getting pretty foggy. I do remember we had a lot of good music and some big bands. I also remember Alice Duffy, Fargo Police Woman, who tossed me out of the Crystal a number of times for dancing too close."

David Smith writes that "My most significant memory of this building ironically was the destruction of it. My dad took my brother and I to watch part of the 'tearing down' of this building. It was built so well, that it did not come down easily. Most of the concrete was reinforced with much 're-bar' (I believed it was called). After the wrecking ball was swung many times, workers with acetylene torches were sent up in the bucket of the crane to cut through the steel before it would collapse. This process took much time. A testament to a 'well built' building."

The building was torn down in 1962.

Donald Simpson remembers "The lower level, when I was growing up, was used as a roller skating rink and was run by a man by the name of, I believe, Doc Chinn. We used to skate there after the ice was gone from the arena across the street."