U.S. Land Port of Entry - Ambrose, Ambrose, ND

The Ambrose Port of Entry consists of a main port building, which is located on 7.1 acres of property. The main port building faces east onto State Highway 42. Originally, two stand alone residences were located to the north and south of the port building. The residences were disposed of and subsequently demolished in 2008. The border station is located outside and to the north of the very small town of Ambrose, North Dakota, population 23, in a semi-isolated setting of flat open plains and farmland, one hundred feet south of the U.S.-Canada border.

The primary unit of the Ambrose Port of Entry is a rectangular plan, 1 ½ -story side gabled port building built of wood frame construction clad in Flemish Course brick veneer. Affixed to either side of it are two, one-story, hipped gable, 4-bay garage wings clad in painted wood horizontal clapboard. The symmetrical relationship of the two one-story wings attached to a 1 ½ story central building mass associates the entire structure to the Colonial Revival design system, of which the entire Ambrose program is designed in, including the two demolished standalone residences.

The roofs of both the wings and the main port building are clad in a random, multi-shade slate. Both the primary component and the wings of the main port building feature original, 12/12 wood frame double hung windows at the first level. The front elevation of the border station building is highly symmetrical, and features two pairs of 12/12 wood-frame double hung windows at either of its two end bays, with the roof-edge of the porte-cochere bilaterally separating each pair. Each of these window frames is crowned with gauged brick jack arching and an enlarged concrete keystone. Each window is also underscored with rectangular concrete sills. The center bay of the front elevation is the entry bay and it features a pair of wood, two-panel entry doors with fixed, small pane nine unit glazing in the upper panel of each. The southern of these two doors is fronted with a wood-frame screen door. The pair of entry doors is topped with symmetrical 4-unit windows in the clerestory above the door. Between these two sets of windows is a large air conditioner that was a later addition. Similar to the windows around the primary unit of the port building, the entire entry program is crowned with gauged brick jack arching and an enlarged concrete keystone.

Affixed to the front of the main port building is a flat-roofed, three-lane porte-cochere supported by thin-massed Tuscan influenced 5" diameter standard steel pipe columns that are situated both freestanding and paired. The roof of the porte-cochere features a roof balustrade of a patterned baluster and concave diamond-in-circle motif. Two short metal flagpoles with balloon finials are located at either corner end of the porte-cochere. The words “United States Customs and Immigration” are written in a Roman font with serif across the eave at the porte-cochere’s north and south sides.

Affixed to each side of the primary, centered unit of the port building are the two one-level wings. Each wing is a four bay inspection garage, with an extra garage door located at the width end of the north wing. The width end of the south wing features paired 12/12 wood frame glazing of the type similar to that across the rest of the structure. The garage doors themselves appear to be recent, 16 panel wood doors.

The rear of the main port building features two symmetrically placed pairs of 12/12 double hung windows of the type present at the front elevation. Located off-center due slightly north on the rear elevation are two adjacent thin shaped 4/4 double hung slit-windows. Like the rest of the non-basement windows upon the primary unit of the port building, these narrow windows are underscored with concrete sills and crowned with jack arching. Directly south of these windows slightly off-center due south is a screened rear entry. The rear roof of the port building has a horizontal, painted clapboard shed dormer with fascia board molding and four ranked bays of 8/8 wood frame, double hung windows. Molded gable returns are present at the gable ends of the main port building as are a pair of small, 4-unit fixed glazed windows on both gable ends. Directly above the dormer is a Flemish course brick chimney capped with a concrete crown, which is visible from the front of the building appearing behind the roof’s ridgeline.

The sides and rear of the wings plus the rear of the main port building are all circumscribed by a continuous concrete water table that appears as the rear of the building slopes downward with the sloping grade of the terrain. In the primary unit of the port building, this water table also indicates the basement level. Within it, at the ground level rear of the port building, are two, 4-unit wood frame horizontal basement windows, one of which is partially covered by a panel with two air ducts in it; likely a later modification.

The Ambrose land port of entry main port building interior features a quarter turn stairway with square shaped, crown molded newel posts and a lacquer wood rail in a quarter turn formation that is original and in exceptional condition. An original 5-paneled wood service counter is also still extant, as is a long floor standing cabinet and drawer ensemble. Both the service desk and the drawer ensemble have an engaged square wood column at one end. Teal colored linoleum flooring appears to be from the 1940s to the 1950s as does much of the drawer and cabinet hardware.

The Ambrose Port of Entry was included in the Multiple Property Submission for U.S. Border Inspection Stations and Associated Points of Entry, States Bordering Canada and Mexico (Multiple Property Submission MPS). As demonstrated in the Description section of this registration form, the Ambrose Land Port of Entry retains all aspects of integrity and meets the registration requirements in the MPS to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A and C, and at the state level of significance, period of significance 1932. It retains all of its original program elements, and well demonstrates the historic characteristics of Border Station MPS Property Type Number 3: 11/2 story office with garage wings and separate living quarters.

U.S. Land Port of Entry—Ambrose, ND: Significance
The various elements of the Ambrose program, including the primary building, the porte-cochere, and the two attached garage wings, are original and were constructed in 1932. The total building program remains completely intact, and presents an expressive example of the Colonial Revival design style. Upon the primary unit and its wings, this Colonial Revival detailing makes itself present through the combination of: a strongly symmetrical massing featuring a primary unit backed by a centered chimney and flanked by lower wings; strong symmetrical massing in the front elevation including paired and small-pane multi-glazed wood frame double hung windows on either side of a centered entry program; odd-numbered ranking across the front elevation; Tuscan influenced steel pipe columns; ogee style cornice and gable molding with gable returns at the gable ends; a Georgian inspired motif of small rectangular panes above the main entry; Flemish Course brick veneer; roof balustrades; and gauged brick jack molding with keystone above windows and main entry.

Because of the rural, if not isolated locations of many of the border stations, the main port buildings often included living quarters, either within the primary building or as standalone residences. Originall located to the north and south of the Ambrose port were two identical, freestanding T-plan, one story, side-gabled residences clad in painted wood clapboard. These structures were also of the Colonial Revival design style. The features that associated them to the Colonial Revival style include: small-pane wood frame double hung windows in a shared ranking across the entirety of all four elevations; ogee cornice and gable molding with gable returns, and framed lunette windows at the side elevations. The Colonial Revival detailing upon the residences were simple, and conved the utilitarian function of the residence while still conveying the Colonial Revival design style itself. The two residences were demolished in 2008.

The renderings for the Ambrose Land Port of Entry can be found at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The primary building, as currently extant, possesses many features originally depicted in the front elevation rendering. These include the paired wood frame, multi-glazed double hung windows at the front elevation, original porte-cochere with roof baluster railing, hipped gabled symmetrically placed 4-bay garage wings, and a centered chimney. Though the rendering for the detached residences was relatively different than the built structures, they did appear original and unaltered at the time of their disposal and demolition, and may have been built from a different plan, which was not wholly uncommon regarding the ports of entry and their associated buildings.

The Ambrose Land Port of Entry is earlier than most of the ports cited in the Multiple Property Submission. At the time of it completion in 1932, the Acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury was James A. Wetmore, who held the position from 1915 to 1933, and whose signature is present on the Ambrose renderings. Wetmore however, had no formal architectural training, and directing Wetmore’s office during this period was Louis A. Simon, who had worked with the office continually since 1896.

In 1933, Simon became the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, a post he held until 1939. During Simon’s tenure, the Department of the Treasury was the largest architectural office in the United States, with over 700 million dollars worth of various Post Offices, Border Checkpoints, Custom Houses, and other Federal buildings. The construction of United States border stations, inspection stations, and customs and immigration inspection stations was approved by Legislation under the Act of June 25, 1910. The spate of Public Works Administration (PWA) era of construction, and the construction of this particular border station, initially resulted from the Public Buildings Act of 1926, a Congressional enabling act that doubled the number of U.S Federal buildings in existence.

The Ambrose Inspection Station evolved from the contexts of Prohibition (1919-1933), the increased popularization of automobile travel, and the Public Works Administration that developed out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Ambrose Inspection Station projects an iconographic image of American architecture at the international border. It features the Colonial Revival design system often used for Governmental buildings during this time; one that was consciously associated to the American heritage and American past since the 1876 Centennial celebration which triggered a desire for an understanding of American architectural lineage.

Significance within the related Multiple Property Submission
The Ambrose Land Port of Entry was included in the Border Station MPS. The Ambrose Land Port of Enbry is significant within all three historic contexts identified in the Border Station MPS, as follows:

“Within historic context no. 1, U.S. Border Stations, History and Function, the U.S. Border Inspection Stations (Land Ports of Entry) designed from 1930-1939 and constructed from 1931-1943, are associated with a series of important events in United States history that would qualify them for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A. :
• The passage of the Volstead Act and the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages between 1919 and 1933, that led to increased smuggling across international boundaries
• Enactment of the Keyes-Elliot Public Buildings Act of 1926 that funded construction of U.S. Government Buildings in many states
• The increase in public mobility from the popularity and affordability of the automobile in the 1920s, that changed the volume of traffic entering the U.S. from water ports-of-entry to land border crossings.

Within historic context no. 2, U.S. Post Offices, Courthouses, Federal Buildings and other government buildings designed and constructed by the Treasury Department, 1864-1939, and historic context no. 3, U.S. Border Stations, Inspection Stations, and Customs and Immigration Inspection Stations, U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1931-1943, U.S. Border Inspection Stations represent an important and distinguishable property type related by function, location, chronological era, and design characteristics that would qualify them for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C. The common function was that the buildings were used as U.S. Border Stations, containing the functions of inspection, customs, immigration, or quarantine. The common location was that the stations were along the U.S. international boundaries with Canada and Mexico, or a major port of entry near the international boundary. The chronological era was quite narrow, 1930-1940 for design during the era of the Public Works Administration and 1931 to 1943 for construction. The common design was based on a series of five basic plans developed and designed by the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, that varied according to the specific size and function of the property.

Designs dating between 1930 and 1940 have been identified for at least 59 Border Inspection Stations, and at least 48 of these constructed between 1931 and 1943 are believed to still exist as of the year 2006. This is by far the largest and most cohesive group of U.S. Border Inspection Stations that share reason for authorization, design, plan, era, and function. The U.S. Inspection Station—Ambrose, North Dakota, is representative of one of the property types identified in the Border Station MPS: Property Type Number 3: 1 ½ story office with garage wings and separate living quarters. The Property Type Number 3 design was used often and appears in extant Inspection Stations not only in North Dakota but also in Vermont, New York, Maine, and once in California, where it is done in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Most of the type-3 designs were done in the northern states. The steep pitch roof combined and brick cladding of the primary building have been referred to as “Northern Style” design qualities in regards to the border stations. Such designs are ubiquitous in the northern states, where these features allow the building to buffer the affects of cold climates, rain, and snow.

According to the Registration Requirements of the Border Station MPS, to be considered at a state level of significance, the main building must retain all seven aspects of integrity.” As demonstrated in the Description section of this registration form, the Land Port of Entry —Ambrose, North Dakota retains all aspects of integrity and meets the registration requirements in the MPS to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A and C, and at the state level of significance, period of significance 1932.

*** National Register nomination

Description Architect
1931 1932 Original Construction James A. Wetmore / Louis A Simon
Last Reviewed: 2022-02-15