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The Golden Age of Civic Pride

The Golden Age of civic pride in the U. S. happily coincides with the heyday of the penny postcard.

I have long maintained that postcards represent the most egalitarian architectural history course you’ll ever take, because they depended solely on the desire of a corner druggist to sell postcard images of local buildings, evidence of community pride; cards that could be inexpensively printed in Chicago or Milwaukee via traveling salesmen who took the photo and processed your order. From a rack near the druggist’s cashier, impulse buyers could purchase a card for a penny and mail it for the same amount to distant friends or simply across town, a boast that everything’s up to date in Mugwump City, but we haven’t begun to go as far as we can go. Any why do them as egalitarian education? Because the choice of subject depended only on the eye of a Main Street business person, a minister, the president of the library board, or the mayor. Postcards are not the product of orthodox architectural history, for if they were, we’d never see the likes of this noble panorama.

Do you have any idea how badly I want this image to represent Agincourt? Some of you will recognize it; many won’t. It’s actually a panoramic shot of Broadway and N.P. Avenue in Fargo taken some time after 1900. The street on the right telescoping back to the horizon is Broadway. The one on the left is Northern Pacific disappearing into the haze of a late summer afternoon. How did those Edwardian ladies stand the heat in their layered floor-length skirts?

Image*

The building at the central hinge is the Fargo National Bank, a site later occupied by Fort Noks. Merchants National on the far right has long since been replaced by Dakota Bank, alias State Bank of Fargo, alias Alerus Bank and god knows what other subsequent banks in the current musical chairs of downtown financial institutions. At the far left is the building currently occupied by Old Broadway, though you’d hardly recognize it beneath coats of dryvit® (or what my friend Crazy Richard calls “puss”).

For this purported Agincourt exhibit in 2015, we hope to represent the city by such artifacts of civic mindedness. It would be amazing, in fact, to create a panorama like this—as soon as I learn Photoshop®.

Anyone want to take this on?

*This card is from my own collection, numbering close to 3,000, perhaps more.

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