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The Mad Scientist’s Laboratory: A look inside BlackRidge Financial’s new building

blackridge-financial Mark Anderson

By Nate Mickelberg
Photos by Paul Flessland

Sitting just off Veterans Boulevard in West Fargo, BlackRidge Financial’s new home base is an homage to the depots, factories and ballparks of the past.
 blackridge-financial Mark Anderson
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BlackRidge’s new two-story office, which houses its loan documentation, mortgage underwriting and processing, management, HR and insurance departments, is a bit of a dream come true for Anderson and his partner Craig Weiss.

The eccentric, fast-talking president of BlackRidge is the self-described “mad scientist” behind the space’s design, and from the time his mental machinations for the building’s blueprint started a few years ago, he knew that he wanted the company’s new digs to be an experience for customers and employees alike.

“We said, ‘Let’s do something different,'” Anderson says. “Because we’re different. And we want to have some fun with it and have a place that’s really fun to be a part of and is truly unique.” Weiss agreed and told Anderson to run with it.

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To understand the origins of this one-of-a-kind building, you need to go back to a trip Anderson took a few years ago to visit his brother in Rhode Island.

They passed a couple different repurposed buildings—one an industrial-age iron foundry-turned- bar and the other a riverside textile factory-turned-office—and Anderson actually said out loud, “We need something like this for our building.”

From the reclaimed floors to the exposed ceilings, Anderson had his muse.

“I said to my brother, ‘I have a really wild idea,'” Anderson recalls. “We need a building. What if it were this space where at one point in time there was an iron foundry and a textile mill, and somebody bought them, tore the walls down and built this thing in between and made it into a railroad depot?'”

Not literally, of course, as the building was going to be built from scratch, but that was the feeling he wanted to evoke.

To gain a proper appreciation for the BlackRidge building, you need to first understand the lengths that Anderson went to in making everything fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There’s no part of the space that doesn’t contain some kind of symbolism or any number of hidden gems. As we move along our tour, we’ll include just a few that he pointed out to us, though you’ll probably spot a few on your own.

Easter Eggs
1. “2112” is the name of a concept album by the Canadian band Rush, Anderson’s favorite group and one he’s seen in concert 46 times. 2112 appears numerous times throughout the space because, as Anderson puts it, “All things revolve around 2112.”

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The first of three original paintings done by Bemidji artist Nicholas Jackson can be found in the building’s lobby. It’s called “The Factory” and is meant to represent the building’s factory and textile themes. Each painting features a main character, as well as a recurring character, the “Mad Scientist.”

Anderson describes the design aesthetic they were looking for with the art was “post- Victorian, steampunk-influenced industrial with a little bit of Mad Max.”

Easter Eggs

  1. The main character, “The Benevolent Overseer,” bears a striking resemblance to Rush frontman Geddy Lee.
  2. The clock is set to 9:12, which in military time is 21:12. All things revolve around 2112.
  3. The marking of the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars
  4. The Flux Capacitor from “Back to the Future”
  5. A nod to the famous Lewis Wickes Hine photo of a man working on a steam pump.

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The first of Anderson’s many pride-and- joys is the company’s first-floor conference room.

The room’s table, which, like most of the custom furniture and accessories throughout the office, is a creation of Fargo-based P2 Industries, is a striking centerpiece and con- tains a few unique features of its own.

To replicate the industrial era, during which, of course, there would have been no buttons or remotes, the table’s projector can only be raised by turning a wheel that sits below the table’s surface.

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The room also features the second of the three original Nicholas Jackson paintings, this one continuing the train depot theme and being called, naturally, “The Depot.”

This one’s secrets go beyond the painting itself, though, as its frame doubles as a vault.

Easter Eggs

  1. The Conductor, the main character of “The Depot,” charges $21.12. All things revolve around 2112.
  2. The playbill features “Tom Sawyer,” the name of a Rush song and the inspiration for Anderson’s daughter’s name, Sawyer.
  3. Every location featured on the board is a location from either the Star Wars universe or a Rush song.
  4. The clock from the Musée d’Orsay, a museum in Paris

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The lights that overhang the conference table are from the Vorkuta mine in Russia, which is the site of a mine disaster that took the lives of 36 people earlier this year.

When asked how he got a hold of them, Anderson simply responds, “We know a guy who knows a guy.”

 

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Weiss’ office
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Anderson’s office

In what’s become a recurring theme we’ve seen with business partners, Anderson and BlackRidge CFO Craig Weiss are what you can safely call polar opposites.

These are the pair’s offices, about which Anderson has this to say: “He’s a bit more organized than I am.”

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“As you can see, I’m saving time.” – Anderson

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Among the space’s countless noteworthy custom decorations are these sconces, which serve as desk lamps in most of the offices.

“Anybody can go buy stuff off the rack,” Anderson says, adding that each of the sconces contains what’s called an Edison bulb, giving it a dimmer, more vintage vibe. “But we wanted something different. Plus, they’re just cool.”

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Anderson says they wanted the employee break room to be much more than that and were going for what he calls a “bistro vibe.”

Retro manufacturer Big Chill supplied the candy apple red appliances, providing yet another unique touch to an office that wasn’t in need of any.

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The amount of detail that went into every part of the space is astonishing, all the way down to the laser-cut exit signs that adorn a number of doors in the building.

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Anderson: “These (open work areas) are custom for a couple reasons. Part of it is thinking about the employees. You want a place people can be proud to work and come and bring their family and kids. We asked people, ‘How do you work? What do you need?’ Because, before, we were in a really closed space and people were tripping over each other.

“They wanted a spacious workspace, double monitors and a lot of storage. They didn’t want cubes. They didn’t want walls they couldn’t see over. It was about creating a very user- friendly environment for them and making it a place they want to spend more time than they spend doing anything except sleeping.”

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As readers of Office Vibes will know, bathrooms are an unexpected but great source of pride for a number of companies in town, and BlackRidge is no exception.

Their unique twists on the loo include Prohibition-era, pull-chain toilets and authentic newspaper stands, which they blasted, roughed up, sanded, steel-wooled and ran over five times with a van to give them more of a worn- in look.

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A number of the BlackRidge offices feature yellowish brick walls, the inspiration for which came from a trip Anderson took last year to France with his family.

While eating breakfast at a centuries-old Parisian café with his wife and daughter, Anderson took a photo and, after looking at it, was struck by the walls in the background.

He knew he had to do something similar in BlackRidge’s new office and, after some good old-fashioned legwork, was able to figure out a way to recreate them.

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Cage-covered windows on the office windows “so they can lock in the animals,” Anderson jokes.

The real reason for them?

“Because nobody else would do something like that,” he says.

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If you’re a Bison fan—and Fargo INC! has learned there are a few of them around these parts—you’ll love the flooring on the second level.

It’s straight from the old Bison Sports Arena and the court on which BlackRidgeINSURANCE President Annette Ambuehl used to play her college ball for legendary Bison women’s basketball coach Amy Ruley.

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If you’re standing in the lobby and you look up, it’s hard to miss the two- ton chandelier affectionately known as “The Founder’s Light.” Depending on which direction you’re facing, could read as a “W” or an “M,” the former for Craig (W)eiss and the latter for (M)ark Anderson.

It had to be hauled in in four pieces— each weighing 1,000 lbs.—and hangs from a ceiling that Anderson explains was designed to intentionally look like it was falling in. If you look closely, you can spot some of the missing pieces.

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Anderson says that the idea behind the second floor of the building, which houses the company’s insurance department, was to create “their own little gymnasium.”

And what gymnasium would be properly equipped without a locker room complete with, of course, Bison-colored lockers.

Easter Eggs
There are six lockers and each one’s number has a particular significance (from left to right):
7: jersey number of Yankee great Mickey Mantle
9: jersey number of Red Sox legend Ted Williams and Fargo Native Roger Maris
32: jersey number of former Bison women’s basketball player & BlackRidgeINSURANCE President Annette Ambuehl
42: jersey number of Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson
1138: a nod to THX 1138, the first film of Star Wars creator George Lucas
2112: All things revolve around 2112.

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In the second-floor conference room, you’ll find a piece that looks like it belongs more in a sports museum than an office building.

Sitting atop 16 real wooden baseball bats—each with their own significance— is a replica of the storied Fenway Park scoreboard. The painted-on box score is from a Sept. 20, 1919, matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. It was the last day Babe Ruth wore a Red Sox uniform before being sold to the New York Yankees and giving rise to the storied “Curse of the Bambino.”

It’s in this room that you’ll also find the third of the original Nicholas Jackson oil works, this one known as “The Ball Yard.” See how many of the Star Wars, baseball and Rush references you can spot.

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Easter Eggs

  1. Each of the 16 legs to the table is a replica of a famed bat. These are just a few:
    1. Rosebud – bat from “Field of Dreams”
    2. Warclaw – the name of Babe Ruth’s bat
    3. Black Betsy – the bat “Shoeless” Joe Jackson used
    4. Splendid Splinter – Ted Williams’s bat
    5. Wonderboy – bat used by Robert Redford in “The Natural”
  2.  The tabletop is an exact copy of the Fenway scoreboard, all the way down to the morse code and missing pieces.
  3. A landing pod from Star Wars
  4. “Hey, that umpire looks a lot like Rush drummer Neil Peart.”

 

For more information
blackridgebank.com/blackridge-financial
855 26th Ave. E, West Fargo

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Written by Nate Mickelberg

Nate Mickelberg is the former editor of Fargo INC! He holds his master's in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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