Minot’s M building has history, seeks future
M Building has history, seeks future
The big M on its roof established the eight-story former Midwest Federal Savings Bank as a Minot landmark, and many memories were made by folks who entered the building’s doors over the past 57 years.
The glass-walled building currently is shuttered, but it’s on the short list of potential sites for a new Minot city hall. The Minot City Council is favoring the former Wells Fargo bank building, although it is having construction consultants take a closer look at both downtown buildings. A preliminary review of the Midwest Federal building concluded it should be dropped from consideration. Renovation was estimated to cost as much as $18 million for the building, currently on the market for $3.25 million.
Colorado businessman Gary Copperud purchased the building in April 2016. He has been working with Colorado real estate broker Fred Croci in talks with the city.
Copperud and Croci say they haven’t seen the city’s plans for retrofitting the two buildings but believe the cost estimate of $190 a square foot to renovate the Midwest Federal building might be high. The city figures there is 50,795 of usable space – all on the above-ground floors.
“We feel the M Building is a great candidate and offers additional perks, such as the M Building is almost all glass, providing for a natural light work environment, a basement and a subbasement where there is a ton of room for records storage or other municipal uses and an additional vacant lot,” Croci wrote in an email. “The M Building when renovated will offer more square footage and its primary entrance is right across the street from one of the new parking garages where the City has already made a major investment. Because of its size and height, the M Building is the focal point of the downtown, visible from a large portion of the city.”
Cooperud and Croci acknowledged the anticipated renovation costs will require a large user, such as the City of Minot.
“So our question is, will the City see the need to start rejuvenation of the downtown area with its largest building or let it continue to sit vacant for the foreseeable future, waiting for a large tenant user?” Croci wrote.
“We are happy to know that the City is engaging an architect and a general contractor to review and compare both buildings to get a better picture of what they both offer and what comparable costs and benefits might be. We would be willing to get involved in the early stages of this process to discuss the cost of retrofitting the M Building to accommodate the City’s use of the building and how it might be retrofitted using some less conventional finish methods, such as open ceiling grids and polished cement flooring as well as other more modern energy efficient design concepts,” he added.
The initial analysis by the city indicated several key building systems need significant upgrades or replacements due to age, lack of use or damage. Just starting up the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to perform a detailed inspection is estimated to cost $200,000, the report stated. The HVAC system is on the upper floors. During construction, the contractor used a crane to install three boilers, each weighing 5,000 pounds, and two cooling units, each 8,000 pounds. The units were dropped in from the top and then lowered to the seventh floor.
The city’s analysis found flooding in the basement created an unknown amount of damage to the electrical and mechanical systems. Asbestos abatement from structural columns, beams, floor and ceiling tile and walls is estimated at $1.3 million. Although the building appears in good structural condition, the analysis concluded it would be less costly to construct a new building.
During the building’s heyday, the bank operation occupied the first three floors, as well as making use of the subbasement and part of the basement. The subbasement held inactive bank records and served as a civil defense shelter, with its own outside door and a special elevator to the second floor. Upper floors were rented for a variety of uses, from doctors and dentists to barbers and beauticians.
To accommodate a mix of tenants, the bank constructed the upper floors with movable partitions. In a court case involving the partitions, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal in 1970 found in favor of Midwest Federal for a refund of federal income taxes paid erroneously in the amount of $2,943.50 plus interest for the calendar year 1963.
The savings and loan contended that the movable partitions, for which it spent $84,100 in 1963, were “tangible personal property” and not a “structural component” of a building, and thus subject to investment credit under IRS rules. The government had argued the partitions serve the same purpose as a wall so constitute a structural component.
Betty Lewis, a long-time agent with New York Life, recalled the insurance company moving to the fourth floor of the newly opened bank building.
“It was a brand new, beautiful building,” said Lewis, who spent 25 years working in the building, moving to a larger office on the sixth floor in later years.
“When I was on the sixth floor, I was on the north side, and at night it was really beautiful up there looking out the windows,” she said.
She recalled the building at that time was full with tenants. It included a luncheonette and theater in the basement, along with the bank’s safety deposit boxes. The Shirley Room was a popular eatery, and the Arnold Theater was available to nonprofit groups. Many a dance and piano recital were held there.
The restaurant was named for E.A. Shirley, the bank’s top officer from 1935 to 1945. The theater was named for Arnold Christensen, a former president of the bank association whose son, Ralph, also became a Minot community leader. A fine dining restaurant known as Embers, owned by the Tsui Wong family, served food on the eighth floor, where the bank association library also was located. The inability to obtain a liquor license is blamed for the Embers’ eventual closing.
The bank also later closed the theater, leveling the sloped floor and moving in its bookkeeping department.
At one time the bank had more than 350 employees, including those in its 24 branches. Minot branches existed at Dakota Square and Arrowhead shopping centers.
Chartered as Minot Federal Savings and Loan in October 1935, the name changed to Midwest Federal Savings & Loan Association in 1974 and later to Midwest Federal Savings Bank in 1983. Former bank president Dick Muus of Minot recalled a Minneapolis institution with the Midwest Federal name took issue with the Minot bank’s logo. To pacify them, the Minot bank altered its logo to include buffalo and wheat.
After entering government receivership and closing in January 1990, the former Midwest Federal operated as part of Metropolitan Federal Bank and moved from Minot to Fargo in 1995, eventually merging into First Bank and later into U.S. Bank National Association.
“Dick White and I closed the doors for the last time – pulled the curtain on the first floor,” recalled Phyllis Burckhard of Minot, who joined the bank in 1972 as a teller and whose last title was vice president of retail services. White was the last bank president.
Muus, who left as president in 1985, said Midwest Federal, at the government’s request, had absorbed a couple of savings and loans in the state that were in trouble to close them out. The government promised to cover the losses on the books but reneged.
Robert Jensen, who had been a senior vice president, said money from the Federal Home Loan Bank no longer was allowed to be considered as reserves, negatively affecting the bank’s finances. With a national crackdown on improperly operating savings and loans around the country, the hammer came down on Midwest Federal without an opportunity to work its way out from under the new financial rules.
Former bank employees recall how impressive the building was for its day, although not without its flaws. The glass wasn’t insulated so both heating and air conditioning operated in the spring and fall. The president’s office was equipped with an intercom, but it may not have functioned too usefully. Muus said he never used the intercom, but he did use the remote buttons to close his door and operate the window blinds, which were unique features back in the day.
Burckhard recalled the awkward design of the drive-through with its two teller windows in the same driving lane.
“Sometimes it was so busy we had to open both of them and, inevitably, the person that was in front took longer than the person in the back who wanted to get out,” she said.
Muus also remembers the installation of the M in 1971.
“I know it cost $17,000,” Muus said, recalling one unhappy customer who complained, “A waste of money. You should have paid that out in dividends.”
“Now it would be petty cash,” he laughed.
Burckhard also remembers the name change from Minot Federal to Midwest Federal. Tellers would habitually say the wrong name when answering the phone so they determined anyone misspeaking would put a quarter in the kitty for the next office Christmas party, she said.
Behind the tellers’ cage was a stairway that entered a small switchboard office, where the officer could see through a one-way window to watch over the coming and going from the bank as a form of security, Burckhard said. When tellers went to get their cash, the officer would separate it as needed on the teller line from her secure location.
Bank employees and former Minot students alike recall the little house banks that bank employee Ruby Crites brought to the schools each month so students could deposit their savings and have them recorded in their passbooks.
Kevin Burckhard of Minot recalls working the 3:30 p.m. to midnight shift in maintenance and security for about two years as a college student in the early 1980s. Tasks included taking out the garbage and taking cash register drawers on a cart to be stored overnight in the vault. Burckhard said he became acquainted with everyone in the bank as he collected garbage from tellers all the way up to the bank’s chief financial officer and president.
“I also got to go up and down the side of the building on scaffolding to clean all the windows,” he said. The scaffold followed window tracks so it felt secure. Burckhard said his biggest concern was potentially dropping a squeegee and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, it never happened.
His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, would bring pizza during his break, and they would dine on the rooftop with a view of the city.
The M building was last used by construction managers on the downtown parking ramps, which were finished in early 2016. Although now empty, in recent years, there’s been some interest in the building, including from an oil-field company interested in two floors for 20 years, said Tim Knutson with eXp Realty.
The building has seen many people come and go. Trinity and St. Joseph Hospitals Student Nurses held its association meetings in the basement in the mid-1960s. A number of doctors and attorneys had offices in the building. The building’s various tenants had included Ward County Abstract, Weber Spaulding and Co., Girl Scout office, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Prudential, Baukol Noonan and Tom’s Coin Shop. The UND Center for Family Medicine had a clinic in the building until 2005. The building housed telemarketing companies ProMark, which operated in the 1990s, and Z-Tel, which operated from 2000 to 2002.
Horizon Christian Fellowship took ownership of the building as a gift from previous owner, Manley Goldfine of Duluth, Minn. HCF moved into the property during the summer of 2006 and began developing the eighth floor as home for a new national radio network, Horizon Broadcast Network. Other floors were intended to be developed for potential renters but efforts were hampered because the company was unable to reach an agreement with the Minot Parking Authority for reduced lot rents necessary to attract tenants, according to the information from Bill Smith, pastor at Calvary Chapel in Minot. HBN began building scores of radio stations across the country but ceased radio operations in the spring of 2008. The building struggled to maintain occupancy afterwards in part due to lack of parking.
At the time HCF took ownership of the building, a “Z” for Z-Tel was on top of the building. In 2007, HCF hired Bacon Signs to create another “M,” using a font as close to the original as possible.
“We put an ‘M’ back up there because we kind of wanted the building to re-identify with the community,” Smith said.
‘M’ is for Memories
Minot residents and former residents shared memories of the Minot’s M Building with the Minot Daily News through Facebook. Here are a few.
Linda Hanson: I remember stepping in the elevator with my mom as a little girl and going clear up to the top! A very big deal back in those days. I still dream sometime of that……
John T. Gallagher: I just recall driving up to North Hill to show my date the “M.” It was a thing.
Barbara Boyeff: I remember a ballet recital my daughter & I performed in – my toe shoe got stuck in a light socket on the floor stage & my head was pretty close to being cut off from the audience view because I was over 6 feet tall when I danced on my toes!
Steph Kama: My orthopedic surgeon was there. I had multiple surgeries after birth and had to have checkups quite a bit after to make sure everything was good as I grew. I remember having numerous x-rays and looking out the windows thinking I was so far up!
Nancy Langseth: The Shirley Room was in the basement, too, many breakfasts and lunches were consumed along with vats of coffee! This is where the Minot Public School Foundation met and organized. Wonderful building!
— The building was designed by the architectural firm of Brunner, Hoeffel and Bohrer.
— The lighted M was put in place in May 1971 and turned on by Mayor Chester Reiten. Constructed of 20-gauge steel by Bacon Signs, the 2,700-pound letter was 18 feet wide and 13 feet, 6 inches tall and 14 inches thick. Morris Broschat, president of the savings and loan, said the M stood for both Minot and the firm, representing the company’s faith in the city and its trade area.
— Midwest Federal, formerly Minot Federal, went into government receivership and closed in January 1990. It took about two years for a core crew and the government to close out the books.
— The original Big M was acquired by Chuck Kramer with I Keating Furniture World and donated to Magic City Campus in 2001 for Duane Carlson Field after the telemarketing firm Z-Tel replaced the M with a Z.