The Park Rapids Armory is a 24,000-square-foot building located on Highway 71 in Park Rapids.
The former National Guard Armory was constructed in 1922, and an annex was added on as a WPA (Works Project Administration) project in 1941. The building was in use by the National Guard until 1992.
In 2010, it was purchased by EchoPoint Development as a private/public partnership to rehabilitate the structure.
Following organization of the area’s first National Guard unit – the 70-member Company G of the Sixth Minnesota infantry – the city began making plans to build an armory to house it, and the state allocated $25,000 for its construction.
The contract was awarded to Sid Desmarias and the Central Construction Company of Staples with the lowest bid of $26,383.00. Construction began immediately.
It is thought that the building may have been completed by December 1922, but local newspapers did not carry an announcement of a grand opening or dedication of the armory and did not print stories about the new building.
It was probably in full use by March 1923, when it was used for a funeral of a local Guardsman who had died of pneumonia.
Just prior to World War II, the government directed a great deal of WPA work toward improving and expanding National Guard armories across Minnesota.
In March 1940, Park Rapids won a $43,000 WPA grant for a proposed auditorium and gymnasium, which would involve construction of a large addition onto the Armory that included classrooms, a large garage and a stage.
The Armory served as a home for the National Guard until 1992, when the Minnesota Army National Guard closed its doors.
In anticipation of the city taking ownership, the Department of Military Affairs conducted an Environmental Compliance Assessment on the property, which identified issues like asbestos in the interior and a 6,000-gallon underground fuel storage tank.
The city considered demolishing the building, but the estimated cost of doing so – between $75,000 and $100,000 – was prohibitive.
The building was sold to a private developer for $1, then repossessed by the city in 2003.
In 2010, the building was purchased by EchoPoint Development and renovation began.
The Armory today
Many of you remember gym classes in the Armory, as well as school concerts, basketball games, corncob smokers, school plays and a host of community events.
Today, the asbestos and fuel tank have been removed, the interior walls are freshly painted, an elevator and bathrooms have been installed, as well as heating, air conditioning systems and insulation, and the Armory is once again becoming a gathering place for the community.
Recent events include trade shows, music concerts, library-sponsored speakers and a number of Northern Light Opera productions.
The Park Rapids Area Arts Council will provide updates on this work-in-progress and welcomes your questions about the future of the Park Rapids Armory. Stay tuned.
The information above was taken from “The Park Rapids National Guard Armory: An Assessment of Historical and Architectural Significance,” February 2011.