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The Powers Coffee Shop, Fargo, ND

Posted by sambr 
The Powers Coffee Shop, Fargo, ND
October 11, 2018 12:08AM
The commercial space in the old Hotel Powers in Fargo, North Dakota that housed the Coffee Shop where Peggy Lee entertained diners between 1938 and 1940 is about to see a makeover. The rehab will remove the last elements of the 1930s exterior. Many ventures took over the space during the last 80 years but the art moderne face of the Coffee Shop that Peggy Lee knew was still recognizable.

When the Hotel Powers was built in 1914 the northern half of the ground floor facing onto Broadway was divided into two commercial shopfronts. The one adjacent to the hotel lobby was used as the hotel cafeteria and the other was rented to a druggist, Casselman and Elliott.


[i]Advertisement in 28 September, 1915 The Weekly Spectrum - ND Agricultural College, Fargo, ND[/i]


[i]Advertisement in 15 March, 1916 The Spectrum - ND State College, Fargo, ND[/i]

A 1928 makeover of the ground floor of the hotel included refurbishing the coffee shop: 'jade green and black will predominate with the paneled walls decorated complimentary colors.'
[[i]Bismarck Tribune: 22 May, 1928 'Powers Hotel, Fargo, Is Being Remodeled'[/i]]


[i]Advertisement in 12 October, 1928 The Spectrum - ND State College, Fargo, ND[/i]

The Casselman and Elliott drugstore was replaced by Green's Drug Store in 1928.


[i]Advertisement in 18 January, 1929 The Spectrum - ND State College, Fargo, ND[/i]


[i]Powers 'Famous Coffee Shop' & Pharmacy, early 1930s[/i]

The building north of the Hotel Powers, the Lowman Block, was built by TF Powers & Co in the same year as the hotel. The building had 3 street-level storefronts and residential apartments in the upper two floors. In April, 1916, shortly after it opened, the shop next to Casselman & Elliott's at 406 Broadway was occupied by Fargo Clothing Bazaar, soon renamed to A Davidson's Clothes Shop. It did not survive for long.

Leeby's grocery store moved into 406 Broadway in 1922 and stayed until 1929 when they moved to another building a few doors down at 420 Broadway. The occupants of #404 (Green's Drugs) and #406 (Leeby's) allow the dating of a photograph of the Hotel Powers and the Coffee Shop to 1928-9:


[i]Hotel Powers in 1928-29 (detail). The Coffee Shop is in the centre between the hotel lobby and Green's Drugs.[/i]

And so the hotel and the two shops remained until a remodel in 1937.


[i]Hotel Powers in 1936[/i]

Green's Drugs moved to the Hadeland building next to the Lowman Block and the two commercial spaces in the Hotel Powers were combined into one. The wall between the shops was removed leaving three support columns down the length of the space.

The overall design of the remodeled space was art moderne, which emphasized horizontal lines, rounded edges and corners, horizontal windows and man-made materials. Electric lighting was often incorporated into moderne design and colours were usually subdued.

The exterior of the double shopfront was remodeled to add a single horizontal window terminating at one end in a semicircle and at the other in the entryway with double doors. The complete frontage was clad in wine-coloured Carrara glass (a brand of structural glass). A neon sign advertising the shop ran along the top of the window ([i]the Powers COFFEE SHOP[/i]). A truncated circular canopy was placed over the doorway, with a neon sign extending over the pavement.

The internal space occupied by the Coffee Shop had rounded corners and a continuously curving soffit that was striped and held horizontal neon lighting all along its length. The colour scheme was far from subdued, however, being a combination of red, white, blue and black. The main wood featured in the café was white Mexican mahogany. The colour of the neon lighting was changed with the season, cool blue for summer, warm red for winter, with lavender and yellow for variety. High-backed booths were installed along the east-west walls and tables with moderne chairs placed in the central area. A soundproof ceiling was installed and the kitchen was updated with stainless steel appliances. Diners could view the chefs at work.
[[i]Bismarck Tribune: 26 August, 1937 'Fine Restaurant Opened in Fargo by Powers Hotel'
The Wimbledon News: 2 September, 1937 Powers Coffee Shop advertisement
Nomination for National Register of Historic Places: 1983[/i]]


[i]Hotel Powers Coffee Shop exterior c1937[/i]


[i]Hotel Powers Coffee Shop interior c1937[/i]

These images are taken from a postcard and are not photographic. Some of the details are not as the design was implemented (the text along the bottom of the window). The palette of the printing is limited and so the colours are not realistic, but they do give some idea of the design.

In 1938 the Powers installed a small riser in the Coffee Shop to accommodate the recently-purchased Hammond electric organ and their young musician, Frank Norris. It was from this stage that Peggy Lee serenaded the diners for two seasons. The family who bought the hotel from the Powers in 1981 apparently donated the riser to the Midland Continental Railroad and Peggy Lee museum in Wimbledon, ND.


[i]Advertisement in 14 October, 1938 The Spectrum - ND State College, Fargo, ND[/i]


[i]Powers Coffee Shop exterior in 1939[/i]


[i]Powers Coffee Shop interior c1939
[size=small]Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo (2023.90.2)[/size][/i]

The sign above the organ reads [i]... electric organ melodies by Lloyd Collins, 12:45-1:45 this noon. Remember the Powers Coffee Shop for lunch today.[/i] Lloyd Collins took over as organist from Frank Norris in 1939.

One of the circular tables in the Coffee Shop was large enough to seat 8 or 10 patrons. Its surface was divided into 10 alternately coloured segments. It can be seen in the centre of the c1937 postcard image above. The management dubbed it the [i]Round Table[/i], perhaps trying to resurrect the Algonquin Round Table. 'If aviation, gold mining, astronomy or wood carving happens to be your favorite topic of conversation – you'll find someone every day at the “Round Table” who will give and take with you.'
[[i]Fargo Forum: 9 February, 1940 the Powers Coffee Shop advertisement[/i]]


[i]Round Table in 1939[/i]


[i]Round Table in 2014
[size=small]Dave Olson / The Forum[/size][/i]

After Peggy Lee left Fargo in June, 1940 and headed off to Minneapolis to join Sev Olsen's band, Lloyd Collins continued to entertain the Coffee Shop customers alone. Early in 1941 he was joined by Kay Doyle, 'brilliant girl singer, is now starred daily at the Powers Coffee Shop in Fargo. You'll thrill to her enchanting Lullabies in Swing to a background of Lloyd Collins' electric organ silhouettes.'
[[i]Billings County Pioneer: 13 March, 1941 Powers Coffee Shop advertisement[/i]]

The Coffee Shop remained an integral part of the hotel until it finally closed its door in 1981. There had been a name change to [i]Coffee House[/i] in 1975 when the front of the shop was remodeled, covering over the structural glass and removing the canopy over the door. A mansard-style canopy was added across the front. The 1975 changes were reversed later.

Several restaurants occupied the Coffee Shop space over the years. The art moderne space (though not the colour scheme) survived the many changes of occupant and the current remodel plans do not include changing the space. The furniture also survived until relatively recently, appearing in photographs taken in 2014. The surfaces had been repainted and the seating reupholstered. Sadly, none remains today at the café though it may be elsewhere.


[i]Occupants of 402 Broadway 1996 – 2018
[size=small]The Forum, stock photos; Google Maps[/size][/i]
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