RIP Myron Denbrook

While listening to the local 10:00 PM news, I learned that one of the architects that designed the Chester Fritz Library, along with dozens of other buildings, died Monday night. Myron Denbrook, who worked for years along with Theodore Wells (who died in 1976), was 89 years old. The Wells & Denbrook firm, as reported in an earlier post, was well known in the area and had a hand in several buildings around the UND campus, with the library being the most well-known. As reported on the WDAZ website, a memorial service will be held on April 28 at the Grand Forks United Church of Christ at 2:00 PM. Rest in peace, Mr. Denbrook.


Who Built the Fritz?: the Architects Behind the Building

While the library has been around for fifty years and has had an addition built onto it, as well as cosmetic changes on the inside, the firm that designed the building has a history reflected in numerous projects around the Red River Valley. By the construction of the Chester Fritz Library, the architectural firm Wells & Denbrook had an established reputation. Who were the men and what is the history of the firm?

According to their Architects’ Roster submitted to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in February 1953, the firm was a partnership between architects Theodore B. Wells and Myron Denbrook, Jr., with Wells being in sole proprietorship as an architect prior to entering into partnership in 1948. They were located at the Northern Hotel in Grand Forks, ND, which no longer exists, but was located in downtown at Fifth Avenue South and Kittson Avenue. Based upon a post on the Grand Forks Tornado of 1887, it appears that Wells’ father, Hugh N. Wells owned the Northern at one time.

The two men had interesting backgrounds, with Wells being the older of the pair, born in Grand Forks on September 8, 1889 and Denbrook was born on June 22, 1922 in Wayne County, Ohio. Wells attended school in town (though not specific, it is likely that he attended Grand Forks Central High School), then attended the University of North Dakota, and furthered his education in Paris. In contrast, Denbrook attended Ohio State University and earned his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Washington in 1945. Based on both their educational backgrounds, they were experienced in their field and Denbrook working with Wells was potentially an early opportunity for him to gain experience and success.

Based upon years in practice and professional affiliation, Wells was likely the senior partner in the firm, as he had been a practicing architect since 1923 in Nebraska and had served as past president of the North Dakota Association of Architects. Denbrook commenced his practice in 1948 and both men were pending members in the AIA. Both men were active in the community, with Wells being involved in the Kiwanis Club, Chamber of Commerce, and the YMCA, while Denbrook was in the Lions Club. Wells also served in World War I with the 307th Engineers, attached to the 82nd Division, serving 22 months, with 13 in France.

In the section of the roster dedicated to the qualifications of the firm for membership in AIA, the men noted their firm’s “reputation for careful design.” They also noted the large volume of business in the region, with many jobs being for the same client. Further, their goal was “not to build monuments to ourselves, but to design functional, economical, yet beautiful buildings that represent the best buy for the money.” Based on the projects they listed up to 1953, they demonstrated working on several projects for one client, with several buildings on the University of North Dakota campus to their credit, including the Medical Science building (O’Kelly Hall), Education building, and the Engineering building. In addition, they worked on several public building projects throughout North Dakota and northern Minnesota, mostly schools, courthouses, and a few churches.

While they also have the Chester Fritz to their credit, they did face a few problems after building the CFL. The firm was involved in a legal dispute resulting from exterior problems relating to construction of the Kittson County (MN) court house in 1966, where exterior finish of Granolux began cracking. Details about this case can be found here

The style of the CFL did reflect some of the aims of the firm as it reflects an element of simplicity, yet strength. The building is not very ornate, excluding the tower, which has scholarly images carved into the concrete. It matches many of the buildings surrounding it, several which were designed or worked on by the firm. Based upon AIA directory records, Wells died in 1976 and Denbrook became the principal architect in the firm by the construction of the CFL.

When reflecting on the CFL and many other buildings on campus, it is clear that Wells & Denbrook were good at their craft and that this area was fortunate to have these architects working in Grand Forks.

Harry Potter’s Photographs

Ok I’ll admit it…I’m fifty-five years old and I like the Harry Potter movies that are based on J. K. Rowling’s characters in her books. I cannot say that I’ve read a single book that she has written, but I do like the movies and the special effects that create the illusions of magic. One of the magical accoutrements that the inhabitants of Hogwarts have at their disposal are magically animated photographs that when viewed, seem to come alive and convey to the viewer something much more expressive than any flat two dimensional photograph in a frame ever could. It is in this area that the History Department has added our own “semi-magical photos” to the body of historical artifacts housed in the archives of the Chester Fritz Library.
During the preparation for the Fritz at 50 celebration the History Department has worked not only to preserve the existing historical documents and photographic artifacts relating to the Chester Fritz Library, but we have also incorporated current technologies—technologies that while not unheard of when the library was built in 1961were still not suited for use by local historians of the day. While the use of a digital “cam-corder” to capture a new era in the history of the library may not seem profound, the recordings made in reference to the Fritz at 50 commemoration stand in stark contrast to the “non-magical” black and white photos that constituted the bulk of the visual historical record of our library. In lieu of simply creating more photographs of the library and its inhabitants we have captured the clear images and voices of some of the people whose personal histories are intertwined with the history of the Chester Fritz Library. Filmed interviews conducted with members of the library staff, former University President Charles Kupchella, and others who have either been impacted directly or indirectly by the library or those who have had an influence on the shape of the institution today have now been added to a growing archive of historical artifacts. These “film clips” have been digitally recorded for posterity and will be available in the archives of the Special Collections of the Chester Fritz Library.
So instead of looking at a photo on the mantle that represents a frozen image in time, or even Harry Potter’s magically enhanced pictures that seem to slightly extend that brief moment, we can watch the people and listen to their unique voices recorded just days ago in a future that will undoubtedly include some new incarnation of the Chester Fritz Library. Perhaps the students at the university today will be on hand for the Fritz at 75, or 100 celebrations where they will have an opportunity to add their images and voices to the pool of the library’s history.

A Library Dedicated Fifty Years Ago

Our local paper, The Grand Forks Herald provided a well-written article sharing with the public what we are working to commemorate, the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library. Their linking to our site is quite appreciated.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the library. The University sent out many invitations to library staffs across the country inviting them to Grand Forks to share in our happiness and celebration of a new library facility. While most were unable to attend due to the distance to get to Grand Forks, they sent well wishes and some shared similar experiences of recent library constructions on their own campuses, which reflected the major changes coming to college and university campuses as they adjusted to different and expanding student populations both from veterans on the GI Bill to baby boomers entering adulthood.

Our library has changed much over the last fifty years. It has expanded in size, grown its collection, and incorporated new technologies to increase its accessibility to patrons, while changing how those patrons use it. It is the largest library in the state and is the heart of the UND campus. Chester Fritz’s donation of $1 million has certainly returned well in the thousands of students who have gained knowledge and their education through the library. Congratulations to the staff of the Chester Fritz Library on fifty wonderful years.

Check out the Fritz at 50 celebration at

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Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections

Elwyn B. Robinson, does that name sound familiar?  Ask most students on the University of North Dakota campus and they will tell you it does, but most of them cannot place the name specifically.  The reason the name should sound familiar to UND students is because the Department of Special Collections, on the fourth floor of the Chester Fritz Library, was renamed for Robinson in 1986.

Elwyn Burns Robinson was born on October 13, 1905, on a farm in Ohio.  He earned a B.A. in English at Oberlin College and at Western Reserve University he earned both his M.A. in 1932 and Ph.D in 1936.  In 1935 he moved to Grand Forks, ND with his new wife Eva Foster to take a teaching position at the University of North Dakota.  After he began teaching at UND, he contributed many works to North Dakota History, most prominent among these was his book “History of North Dakota.”  Other important works of his were his radio broadcasts “Hero’s of North Dakota” and his essay “The Themes of North Dakota History.”

Sure, Elwyn Robinson was a great history professor and scholar, but why did the university decide to name the North Dakota Archive after him?  The answer lies with his work outside the classroom at UND.  During his tenure at UND, Robinson fought continuously for more research material and collections on North Dakota history.  In 1961 the Chester Fritz Library was built and there would be from then on a permanent department in which to store collections on North Dakota history.

After his death in 1985, the University, along with Robinson’s two sons, Stephen and Gordon, set up an endowment fund to honor Elwyn Robinson.  The fund was to be used to acquire collection material for the Special Collections Archive.  A decision was made by the University to rename the archive The Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.  The dedication ceremony included beautiful programs, a portrait of Elwyn Robinson just outside of the department, and many attendees (also, a letter from Governor Sinner congratulating the Chester Fritz Library and apologizing for missing the event).  Before the event there was also an invitation sent out to all history department alums inviting them to attend the dedication and partake in a historic reunion.

Elwyn Robinson’s donations to the discourse of North Dakota history along with his determination to contribute anything and everything he could find on the history of North Dakota earned him the honor of having the very department he worked so hard to expand and nurture renamed for him.  I would urge anyone interested in North Dakota history to refer to Robinson’s works on the subject.

Working at the Fritz: A play on a great song and library

We received the following email and song lyrics, which were too cool to pass up.

Dearest Bill Caraher,

Word on campus has it that you are the man to talk to about having
entries posted to the “Chester Fritz at 50” blog. CFL means quite a
lot to me, as I have both worked and studied there, not only as a
student, but also as a budding library information professional.

I had composed the following stanzas (sung to that great old Fred
Astaire jazzy black cane and top-hat tap-dancing hit “Puttin’ on the
Ritz” a few years back when I was working at CFL as a Government
Document Copy Cataloger. Yesterday evening, I had emailed them to
Wilbur Stolt who has been cursing my name ever since as I got this
tenacious little tune stuck in his head all morning. It is my dearest
wish to bequeath upon you these lyrics in honor of Chester Fritz
Library’s 50 birthday bash. Attached is a word file with the original
lyrics and the new (parodied) version. It should be noted that I have
not received any copyright permissions from any authoritative persons
to re-print said original lyrics. I just thought it would be a gas.

A very happy birthday to you, Chester Fritz Library.

Kalan Davis
Serials Associate

Thanks Kalan for your contribution. I provided a video of Fred Astaire dancing to the original “Puttin’ on the Ritz” as a frame of reference.

Working at the Fritz

Have you seen the library?
The one on University.
On that famous thoroughfare
Piles of books in the air!

Ideas grow into research kernels
Spine labels and magazine journals
Crowds of patrons all the time
We answer questions on a dime

Now, if you’re blue
Have more inquiries than you knew?
Why don’t you go where librarians sit?
Working at the Fritz.

In circ, there is a dude named Stanley
Downstairs, a binding guy named Randy
(how Super Dandy)
Workin at the Fritz

Acquisitions, and Bibliographic Control,
Aren’t in the public eye at all
But they are (in truth) the library’s heart & soul
Let’s get our fix, Working at the Fritz

Come lets mix where Bygdeboker inflicts
American-Norwegian heritage sticks
Let’s all get our kicks
Working at the Fritz

Patrons study, but it makes them happy
Ace on the test, makes another library groupie
How very snappy.
Working at the Fritz

You’ll declare its simply show stopping
Talking in whispers, but how very alluring
Can you resist?
Working at the Fritz.

The Process of Photograph Digitization

The process of archiving information used to be cut and dry, file a certain document under a certain number, or groups of numbers, and place it in its spot on the shelf.  As technology advances, however, it is changing the way in which documents are stored and used; even the media is changing.  A photograph used to be available as a negative or as a developed picture, but now it can still be both those things along with a pdf, a tiff, a jpg, a bmp, a png, and a gif.  These are all new formats of digital images, a rather recent development.

The process by which one digitizes photographs, as I know very well by now, is done manually, one at a time.  As I browsed through photo books at the University of North Dakota’s Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, it became apparent to me that digitizing all of the pictures I wanted for the Fritz at 50 website project might take awhile.  Digitizing my chosen pictures was as simple as collecting the pictures I needed, sitting down at the computer in the archive connected to the scanner (they get a little grumpy if you take anything out of there), placing the photograph carefully on the scanning bed, previewing the picture, cropping as necessary, doing the final scan of the picture, and naming the digital file once the scan is complete.  So far I have scanned just over fifty photos, repeating the process above over and over.

Of course, pictures need to be scanned at a certain resolution and what I learned from Curt Hanson, Head of Special Collections, was just how to scan all sizes of photos.  I measured the longest side of the photo in inches and divided that number by 5000.  The result was what pixel amount would be used for that photo.  As an example, a photo that measured 10 inches on its longest side would only need to be 500 pixels, but a photo that measured 5 inches would need to be scanned at 1000 pixels.  Also, the greater the resolution of the picture the more time it took to scan.  One picture I remember took almost fifteen minutes to scan was a photo of the central reading room in the Chester Fritz Library from the early nineties.

Sure, scanning photos is not the most glorious job or the most fun, but it is becoming more and more necessary in this, the digital age.  If students are researching a topic, they go to the internet first.  If photos are digitized and archived properly those students will be able to access them online, saving their time and the time of the librarian who would have to fetch the item if it was in an archive.  The purpose of digital archives, and all digital media, is to streamline the way in which people search.  It is not that it is better or superior, it is simply much faster and more efficient.  Instead of going to the library and asking the archivist where Chester Fritz’s daybooks from China are, ask Google where they are from the comfort of your favorite lounge chair at home; that Google is one of the smartest people I know, he can find almost anything.  As long as the process of digitizing not only photographs, but documents as well, continues, archives of the future may become stacks of servers, not books.