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Federal Square Office Building (Ancient Order of United Workmen [AOUW] Lodge Hall, Interstate Business College)
The Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW) has a long tradition in Fargo and has occupied four distinctive buildings (see CS9). Fraternal benefit societies were a popular means of providing affordable financial protection to working-class people. Each AOUW member paid $1 into the insurance fund to cover the $2,000 death benefit paid to a member’s dependents. Each time a member died, $1 was collected from the surviving members to reestablish the fund. Benefit societies typically maintained a lodge where members could assemble, and from the 1870s to World War I, these were impressive structures with top-floor meeting halls and speculative commercial space on the lower floors. This former AOUW Grand Lodge is one example.
The three-story building’s facade is divided vertically into three parts. The first story is trimmed in pinkish-tan sandstone and the second and third stories are visually unified into a single stage by stone quoins and decorative features. A cornice ornamented by wreath medallions is topped by a parapet containing the insignia of the fraternal organization. Inside, the third-floor ritual assembly hall has an octagonal skylight, ornate plasterwork, and coffered ceilings. This twenty-foot-high space is surrounded by smaller meeting rooms separated by Tuscan pilasters that divide the north and south walls into five bays.
The mutual assurance function of the AOUW lodge evolved into a major regional life insurance underwriter (Pioneer Mutual Life Insurance Company) and the company relocated into other distinguished Fargo buildings. The original AOUW lodge functioned for many years as home of Interstate Business College. Reuse of the building was explored by an NDSU architecture student who persuaded his father and a group of investors to purchase the building. Then, working with a local architect, the current design for office suites and executive office space was developed and implemented.
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