'No wrong answer': Medora prepares to raze Badlands Pizza Parlor building
MEDORA -- When the summer tourism months roll around again, western North Dakota's most popular destination will look a bit different.
Though the cowboy-themed town in Billings County known as "Historic Medora" will largely appear the same as it did this summer, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation President Randy Hatzenbuhler said he is looking forward to some tweaks to the Medora experience ahead of next summer, which will mark the 50th year of the popular "Medora Musical."
In a plan approved by the Medora City Council in September, the foundation decided to tear down the old Badlands Pizza Parlor building -- replacing it with a new pizzeria and saloon structure and an adjacent ticket booth -- and move the Dakota Cyclery building to a new location a couple blocks away.
"It's always our goal to preserve what we have and keep the old Medora buildings looking good," Hatzenbuhler said. "Fact is, if you look at the old photos from the 1920s and earlier, the (pizza parlor building) wasn't what it is today. It's a building that's kind of been cobbled together about five times and it isn't in good shape. In a big way, we're not tearing a building down. We're letting it fall down."
The foundation will attempt to capture a Western look with the new pizza parlor -- which Hatzenbuhler said will fit in nicely aesthetically with the rest of the historic town -- and will also temporarily move the Cowboy Lyle's Candy & Western Wear and Made in the U.S.A. Mercantile buildings, near the pizza parlor, to place new foundations under the structures.
During a special Medora zoning board meeting to discuss the pizza parlor and bicycle shop changes --foundation plans initially called for the existing Dakota Cyclery building to be torn down and replaced with a new structure -- the body decided against offering a positive recommendation for the plan.
Though plans eventually were tweaked and taken straight to the City Council, which gave the project the green light, some residents expressed concerns about razing downtown Medora buildings, saying it could take away from the town's historic Western feel and reputation.
Despite the concerns, Hatzenbuhler and foundation historian Kinley Slauter, who also serves as the Medora Musical manager, said the foundation strives to find a balance between progress and the preservation of Medora's rich history.
"Just like most every project we've done, including the remodeling of the Rough Riders Hotel, people will be pleased," said Hatzenbuhler, as he walked past a cable which has served as part of the old pizza parlor building's structural support. "When it's done, it's going to have the character of this space. The plans that were presented were plans that mimic what was the original building. We'll end up with something that looks really good. Remember, there was a lot of resistance to what we did a few years ago with a Rough Riders Hotel."
Hatzenbuhler said one aspect of the preservation process for Medora -- which is always ongoing -- is for the TRMF Board of Directors to decide what blocks of history to preserve.
"What's really becoming interesting now is the question of what point of history people want to preserve," Hatzenbuhler said. "Do you want to preserve the original history of the 1880s or do you want the history of the last 50 or 60 years, which is what a lot of the visitors are used to seeing? I think both views are right and you'll see it happen both ways, but what I'm enjoying is witnessing our board wrestle with that. There really is no wrong answer."
The Dakota Cyclery building will move to what has been a vacant lot along Main Street, next to the Fudge Depot. On Oct. 1, workers were already prepping for the razing of the pizza parlor and the moving of the other three buildings.
As for the Medora Musical and the preparation for its golden anniversary, crews are already on scene moving forward with plans to rebuild the winding road leading to the amphitheater and the parking lot on top of the hill. The road and parking lot project comes with a price tag of $2.4 million, to which nearly half has already been raised from private fundraising.
"We had a 9 percent increase in visitors from 2012 through this summer," said Hatzenbuhler, who has been with the foundation for 25 years. "It was a terrific year for Medora, one of the best in memory. Bully Pulpit Golf Course had a record year and, for the first time that I can recall, I met someone new almost every night this year at the musical. There were a lot of new faces and that's great to see."
Hatzenbuhler said he believes the nearby Bakken energy boom has helped Medora's numbers, adding that he expects another percentage increase in visitors of close to 10 percent in 2014. He also mentioned a remodeling project for up to 80 rooms in the Badlands Motel complex, which is expected to be partially completed by next summer.
"The foundation is committed to keeping Medora vital and vibrant for years to come," Hatzenbuhler said. "We had over 92,000 people come see the musical this summer. In my 25 years, I don't recall a more pleasant summer than the one we had in 2013."