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National Guard soldiers returning to Willmar on Saturday after 10-month deployment

Renovated downtown building showcases early businesses, people

Steve Fladeboe's building at 514 Pacific Ave. S.W. was the site of a produce business dating back to 1916. The Gamble Robinson Company operated a produce warehouse until 1986. The building was used by another company and then stood empty until Fladeboe moved his business, Excel Overhead Door, there about five years ago. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Step inside Steve Fladeboe's downtown business and you'll see not only a restored produce warehouse but a growing photo collection showcasing early business people.

Fladeboe is enhancing the showroom's beautiful old brick and timber architecture at his Excel Overhead Door with photos of decades-past street scenes, businesses and their owners and family members.

"There are a lot of different pictures that are in the works and when people seem to hear it, all of a sudden the pictures kind of show up,'' Fladeboe said. "So it's been kind of neat so far.''

The collection grows as more people hear about Fladeboe's interest in honoring the past. Another local history buff, Stephen Deleski, owner of West Central Printing, is copying the submitted photos for Fladeboe's collection.

Fladeboe wants as many faces of people on the walls as possible, including military veterans. Last month, Fladeboe invited long-time business people to see the photos. Those who attended the open house expressed their appreciation.

"They just love it. It's our culture, it's our history,'' he said. "Way too often we sacrifice ours for everybody else's.''

Fladeboe's building at 514 Pacific Ave. S.W. was the site of a produce business going back to 1916, according to historical records. The Gamble Robinson Company operated a produce warehouse for 65 years until 1986. The building was used by another company and then stood empty until Fladeboe moved his business there about five years ago.

The photo project emerged a couple of years ago as Fladeboe and his family began restoring the old warehouse. Fladeboe said his son Jay came across a clear fir board on which the name Doug Mossberg was signed and dated 1944.

Jay asked if his father knew Mossberg, of rural Spicer.

"Yes, I said not only do I know him, but he was one of your grandpa's closest friends. They went to high school together. I called Doug and he took 10 minutes to get here to get that board. He started telling me stories about this beautiful old building,'' Fladeboe recalls.

"So we decided to try and accumulate pictures that either depicted the building or depicted faces from the downtown community -- the businessmen that actually built this community.''

Among the collection is a photo of Don Elmquist and his father and grandfather in their original jewelry store across the street.

There's a young Ray Pederson of Pederson Construction standing next to his first truck, a Reo, with his wife, Louella, and their young daughter, Beverly.

Fladeboe points to a photo he thinks was taken in 1921 of two brothers from the company formerly known as Duininck Bros. and Gilchrist of Prinsburg and Reuben Amundson of Amundson-Evans Chevrolet.

"This is the sale bill. He sold them the truck,'' said Fladeboe.

A 1957 photo shows Dale Nelson of Nelson International sitting in the cab of a truck.

Fladeboe also has a photo of the original Tomlinson Perkins Lumber Company building and employees Marv Perkins Sr., Marv Perkins Jr. and Cliff Swalin.

A 1939 photo has Willard Hanson from Hanson-Norling Silo of Lake Lillian standing next to a delivery truck.

Among the street scenes is a photo, possibly taken in the 1930s, of Zim's Cabins, where Dairy Queen is now located at the corner of First Street South and Willmar Avenue. Fladeboe remembers "that old car,'' which the photo shows sitting next to the office.

An aerial photo, looking west, shows the old railroad roundhouse, complete with turntable and steam locomotives. The photo was taken by Fladeboe's grandfather, who was a civilian air instructor during World War II.

The Masonic Building, 328 Fifth St. S.W., was the original REA office location, according to another photo.

Fladeboe is continuing his restoration project.

"It isn't all beautiful,'' he said. "But there's a lot of unique structure in here, too. Some of the brick on the other end, if it's cleaned up, would really look nice.''

Two pieces of grocery art enhance the building's past: One has the familiar Snoboy with an apple, orange and grapefruit; and the other with a red and yellow can of Standby Foods.

"I've got a few more of them,'' said Fladeboe. "I thought I'd put those up just to depict the building a little bit.''

Fladeboe said people are invited to visit the collection.

"We want it to be a walking, living history of our community,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150