Number 300: The west side of Glacier National Park

img_8860Somehow it is most appropriate that my 300th post for Revisiting the Montana Landscape would find me back at Glacier National Park, especially the west side or Flathead County part of the park. From the first visit in 1982, Glacier always intrigued me–at first because of the tie between park creation and railroad development, then the Arts and Crafts/Chalet architecture associated with the park, and then high mountain Alpine environment. In the years since, I have eagerly grabbed a chance to get a cabin by Lake McDonald and just re-charge for a few days.

img_4383For the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work, however, I did not visit the west side of the park–the bulk of the travel took place between mid-February to mid-May 1984, meaning only the lower elevations such as Apgar Village were accessible.  But already the state historic preservation office was aware that a major effort was underway to identify and nominate key properties within the park to the National Register of Historic Places, and by the end of the decade that process was largely complete.  The National Park Service identified a range of historic resources from the turn of the 20th century to the Mission 66 program of the National Park Service during the 1960s–Glacier became one of the best studied historic landscapes in all of Montana.

Going-t0-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel from the early automobile age in the park, straight and safe in the lower reaches but as you climb into the mountains it is narrow and dangerous–for those who refuse to follow the rules of the road.

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View of Lake Shelburne, east side of park, Glacier County, from Going-to-the-Sun Road.

On the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Lake McDonald Lodge is listed as a National Historic Landmark for its significance in and influence on the Arts and Crafts/Chalet style within the national park.

Flathead Co GNP Lake McDonald Lodge

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Built initially as the Lewis Glacier Hotel for Great Falls businessman John Lewis in 1913, architect Kirkland Cutter’s design reflected his earlier work at the Belton Chalet, but his interior design was a step above, especially in how he incorporated local materials, the mountain goat symbol of the Great Northern Railway, and Native American motifs to create an environment that was both of the outdoors but also of the deep cultural meaning of the mountains. The hanging lanterns are more recent, being reproductions added in the 1960s from originals at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada.  Their original designs are attributed to Kanai artists.

In 1957, the property changed its name to the Lake McDonald Lodge and soon various new buildings were added, in part to meet the demand for increased visitation but also to meet the tastes and expectations of suburban Americans who came to park not by train but by automobile. The Lake McDonald Lodge Coffee Shop (1965) has been listed in the National

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img_8916Register as an excellent example of Mission 66-associated architecture within the park.  Burt L. Gewalt of the Kalispell firm Brinkman and Lenon was the architect.

img_9268Great Northern officials considered the lodge to be the center of the mountain experience on the park’s west side.  From there visitors could take overnight hikes to two other facilities, shown below, the Granite Park Chalet to the northeast or the Sperry Chalet to the southeast of Lake McDonald, both of which are also listed in the National Register.

When I knew of my new position at the recently created MTSU Center for Historic Preservation in the summer of 1985, my wife and I made a quick last trip to the chalets, the lodge, and Glacier National Park.  Perhaps that decision, moreso than my words, show what the park and its built environment has meant to my understanding of landscape, design, and escape in the Big Sky Country.

 

Flathead County’s Gateway Communities to Glacier

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U.S. Highway 2 east of Kalispell has grown into a four-lane highway (mostly–topography thus far has kept it as a two-lane stretch west of Hungry Horse) designed to move travelers back and forth from Kalispell to Glacier National Park.  In my 1984-85 state historic preservation plan work, I thought of Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and Martin

Flathead Co Hungry Horse HuckleberryCity as one large tourism funnel.  After spending a good part of 2006-2007 working with local residents and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about the heritage and preservation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee–one of the most notorious gateways into any national park–I learned to look deeper than the highway landscape and find some real jewels in each of these Glacier National Park gateway communities.

There is much more than the highway to Columbia Falls, as the three building blocks above indicate, not to mention the lead image of this blog, the town’s Masonic Lodge which has been turned into one huge public art mural about the town’s history as well as its surrounding landscape.  Go to the red brick Bandit’s Bar above, and you soon discover that Columbia Falls has a good sense of itself, and even confidence that it can survive new challenges as its population has soared by over 2,000 residents since the 1980s, totaling over 5,000 today.

Once solely dependent on the Montana Veterans’ Home (1896), which is now a historic district, and then relying on the Weyerhaeuser sawmill for year round employment, Columbia Falls faces a different future now once the mill closed in the summer of 2016, taking away 200 jobs. As the historic business buildings above indicate, historic preservation could be part of that future, as the downtown’s mix of classic Western Commercial blocks mesh with modern takes on Rustic and Contemporary design and are complemented, in turn, by historic churches and the Art Deco-influenced school.

Once you leave the highway, in other words, real jewels of turn of the 20th century to mid-20th century design are in the offing.  In 1984–I never looked that deep.

Flathead Co Hungry Horse 1At Hungry Horse, however, I did leave the highway and explored the marvelous landscape created by the Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, a mid-20th century project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency justified the dam as a hydroelectric power project for a growing Flathead County and as a boost to local irrigation.  The irrigation side of the project–the real reason the agency exists–never happened and Hungry Horse today is an electric power and recreational project.

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Flathead Co Hungry Horse Dam 10I appreciated the vastness of the concrete arch dam–the 11th largest concrete dam in the United States–as well as the beauty of Hungry Horse Reservoir, an under-appreciated tourism asset as anyone in Flathead County will tell you.  But again, I let just the size and impact of the dam distract me from some of the details of its construction that, today, are so striking.

Here I am thinking primarily of the contemporary design of the Visitors Center–its stone facade suggesting its connection to the now covered river bluffs but the openness of its interior conveying the ideas of space associated with 1950s design.

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img_8779I am concerned, however, about news in September 2015 that Reclamation has contracted for updates and renovation at the Visitor Center–let’s hope that the classic 1950s look of the property is not sacrificed.

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Martin City is just enough off of U.S. Highway 2–it is situated more on the historic Great Northern Railroad corridor–to miss out on the gateway boom of the last 30 years, although with both the Southfork Saloon and the Deer Lick Saloon it retains its old reputation as a rough-edged place for locals.

For railroad travelers in the first half of the 20th century, West Glacier was THE west gateway into Glacier National Park.  The Great Northern Railway developed both the classic Rustic-styled passenger station and the adjacent Arts and Crafts/Chalet styled Belton Chalet Hotel in 1909-1910, a year before Congress created Glacier National Park.

img_8785Architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane was the architect and the chalet design was actually just a smaller scale and less adorned version of the Idaho State Exhibition Building that he had designed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Cutter is one of the major figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Northwest and we will look at another of his buildings for the railroad and Glacier in the next post about Lake McDonald Lodge.

The Cutter buildings for the railroad between 1909-1913 set a design standard for West Glacier to follow, be it through a modern-day visitor center and a post office to the earlier mid-20th century era of the local school and then gas stations and general stores for tourists entering the national park by automobile.

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This blog has never hidden the fact, however, that my favorite Glacier gateway in Flathead County is miles to the east along U.S. Highway 2 at the old railroad town of Essex, where the railroad still maintains facilities to help push freight trains over the Continental Divide.  The Izaak Walton Inn was one of the first National Register assignments given to

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me by State Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Sherfy–find the facts, she asked, to show that this three story bunk house, railroad offices, and local post merited exceptional significance for the National Register.  Luckily I did find those facts and shaped that argument–the owners then converted a forgotten building into a memorable historical experience. Rarely do I miss a chance to spend even a few minutes here, to watch and hear the noise of the passing trains coming from the east or from the west and to catch a sunset high in the mountains of Flathead County.

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The rural side of Flathead County

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As I traveled Flathead County in 2015 certainly my attention was on the growth and change in Kalispell, Bigfork, and Whitefish, and the suburban sprawl that was increasingly connecting those towns.  But I also looked for rural institutions and places–did places such as the Smith Valley Grange on U. S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell still stand–was it still a grange meeting hall?

img_8843The answer was yes, to both questions.  Here is an early 20th century log building landmark on a highway where the traffic seems to never end.  It is also along the corridor of a new recreational system–the Great Northern Rails to Trails linear park that uses an old railroad corridor to connect the city to the country in Flathead County.

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Flathead co US 2 W of Kalispell ranchThe trail allows bikers to see the rural landscape, still dotted with family farms, of the Smith Valley as it stretches west to Kila, where the old Cottage Inn has been converted in the last few years into the Kila Pub, complete with the Arts and Crafts/Tudor theme associated with the railroad corridor.

To the southeast of Kalispell is another rural corridor, defined by Montana Highway 206 which is a connector between U.S. Highway 2 at Columbia Falls and Bigfork.  No doubt some ranches have given way to development, but open vistas and historic barns still serve as reminders of the agricultural traditions of the county.

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img_8762To the north of Kalispell and Whitefish U.S. Highway 93 takes you past the ski developments into a thick forested area, managed in part as the Stillwater State Forest.

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In 1984 I noted the state forest headquarters, an interesting array of 1930s log and frame functional buildings.  The headquarters is now part of the National Register of Historic Places, as the Stillwater State Forest Ranger Station.  The distinctive log buildings date

img_8188from the 1920s into the 1960s.  While several are from the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, state ranger Pete De Groat built his log residence in 1928 in the Rustic Style.  Stillwater was Montana’s first state forest.

Olney is a Great Northern railroad town that has lost its depot sometime ago but it still has its historic school building, a historic post office (that has closed in favor of a new standardized designed building, and its storefronts facing the tracks in symmetrical plan. While only 13 miles north of Whitefish, this rural railroad outpost seems many miles away.

 

 

 

 

Whitefish: Transformations and Persistence

I arrived in Whitefish in May 2015 with my eyes wide open.  I had not been there since 1988, and I knew that growth had enveloped and transformed the town, with a population that doubled, lots of west coast and east coast escapees having arrived, the ski lodge business booming, and “lone eagles” having nested here for two decades.  The phrase

Flathead Co Whitefish Grouse Mountain Lodge US 93 N“lone eagles” was local–an attempt to describe those professionals “who fly to work as comfortably as most Americans drive, and whose use of computers in business lets them indulge their preference for life in the great outdoors,” as a June 19, 1994 story in the New York Times explained.

Flathead Co Whitefish Great Northern depot

During my 1984-1985 survey for the state historic preservation plan, everyone probably tired of me touting the wonders of Whitefish, especially its mid-1920s Arts and Crafts/Chalet-styled Great Northern passenger depot and offices, designed by the railroad’s Thomas McMahon.  If any building needed to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, it was this one, and not just for its impressive architectural statement.img_8128

img_8122The station along with the railroad tracks defined everything you saw in Whitefish–here in the classic Great Northern T-plan landscape was a classic railroad town–one that old-timers even called the best along the entire line.  Whitefish developed and then prospered as a division point on the mainline from 1904 to 1955–and that corporate imprint was still there to be experienced, in 1984.

img_8107Thankfully in 2015, I still found all of my favorite landmarks from 30 years earlier, even though there was little doubt that the business district had been altered, sometimes in ways that left little original fabric in place but still some two-story brick blocks stood.

The Buffalo Cafe remained in business–a mainstay when I worked in the region in the 1980s as was the Palace Bar right around the corner.  The Palace dated to c. 1915 and has a wonderful dark wood carved bar from that time–it began as a brewing company and has remained that throughout all of the recent changes.

The town still had its historic residential neighborhoods at the foot of Main Street and then both to the east and west. comprising one of the state’s best collections of bungalows, often found in railroad towns of the early 20th century.Flathead Co Whitefish Main street 24

Perhaps more importantly it still retained some of its distinctive domestic architecture–the railroad tie house (a log house made of railroad ties) and a row of shotgun houses for railroad workers.  To all architectural historians who believe that the “shotgun” house is purely a southern thing–look closely:  these houses were built quickly and cheaply to serve industrial laborers and can be found throughout the country.

Flathead Co Whitefish railroad tie house

Whitefish’s historic Lockridge medical center (1958) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright remains a distinctive modernist landmark within the business district, although now it houses professional offices.  It was listed in the National Register in 2012.

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Flathead Co Whitefish Main street FLW 7A much earlier landmark, the Classical Revival Masonic Temple from the town’s first decade still stood, and it too found a new use through adaptive reuse.

img_8171Despite the population boom over the last 30 years, Whitefish still uses its Art Deco-styled school from the New Deal decade of the 1930s, although the auditorium has been restored and updated into a community performing arts center.

Certainly my favorite landmark was the Great Northern Railway station, which provided passenger service on the first floor and administrative offices on the second floor.  In the last 30 years, the town has significantly enhanced the setting with a city park, various statues and interpretive signage, along with a historic bus that once moved passengers to Kalispell and environs and historic railroad engines.

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The enhanced railroad station is clearly interested in drawing the attention of travelers who stop here for the nearby ski lodges or for a quick stop before entering Glacier National Park.  It is viewed as the town’s center point, its primary attraction–which is as it should be because there are few more compelling Great Northern Railway towns than Whitefish.

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Kalispell’s historic neighborhoods

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Designed by Kirkland Cutter in 1895, the Conrad Mansion, with its beautiful Shingle-style architecture making it an instant design statement for one of Kalispell’s most prominent founding families–was THE domestic architecture landmark when I surveyed the town during the state historic preservation plan of 1984-1985. I really did not look further. As the collage below shows, that was a mistake.

Kalispell has a wide range of domestic architecture, from turn of the 20th century American Four Squares to the Revival styles of the 1920s-1940s, that was captured in its 1994 multiple property nomination to the National Register of Historic Places that led to the creation of the East Side, the West Side, and the Courthouse historic districts.  Defined by tree-lined streets, the variety of house types within the district makes every step along the way worthwhile.

Flathead Co Kalispell east side historic district 2The images above and those below come from those well maintained neighborhoods, where the sense of place and pride is so strongly stated.

But in this quick overview of some of the most impressive Montana neighborhoods–despite overwhelming growth Kalispell has not left its older homes behind–let me re-emphasize a theme of my recent re-survey of the state:  contemporary design and the homes of the 1950s to early 1970s that were not considered closely in either 1984 or 1994.

Flathead Co Kalispell East Side HD ranch house Flathead Co Kalispell contemporary ranch

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Hats off to Kalispell:  a town that had changed so much from 1985 to 2015–let me tell you it didn’t take long to pass through town 30 years ago.  But through historic preservation, its roots are still there, serving as the foundation for the future.

 

Kalispell’s Main Street Business District

Flathead Co Kalispell Main St 1Kalispell’s Main Street–the stem of the T-plan that dates to the town’s very beginning as a stop on the Great Northern Railway–has a different mix of businesses today than 30 years ago when I visited during my state historic preservation plan survey.  It also now is a historic district within National Register of Historic Places, noted for its mix of one-story and two-story Western Commercial style businesses along with large historic hotels and an opera house for entertainment.

Flathead Co Kalispell Opera House 4The Opera House, and I’m sorry you have to love the horse and buggy sign added to the front some years ago, dates to 1896 as the dream of merchant John MacIntosh to give the fledging community everything it needed.  On the first floor was his store, which over the years sold all sorts of items, from thimbles to Studebakers.  The second floor was a community space, for meetings, a gymnasium, and even from a brief period from 1905 to 1906 a skating rink.  In this way, MacIntosh followed the ten-year-old model of a much larger building in a much larger city, the famous Auditorium Building in Chicago, providing Kalispell with a major indoor recreation space and landmark.  Allegedly over 1000 people attended a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin soon after the opening.

Another highlight of the historic is the Kalispell Grand Hotel (1912), designed by local architect Marion Riffo and constructed by B. B. Gilliland, a local builder. Designed not only as a railroad hotel for traveling “drummers,” it also served as a first stop for homesteaders flooding into the region in that decade.  Montana writer Frank B. Linderman was the hotel manager from 1924 to 1926, and his friend western artist Charles M Russell visited and stayed at the hotel in those years.  This place, frankly, was a dump when I surveyed Kalispell in 1984-1985 but five years later a restoration gave the place back its dignity and restored its downtown landmark status.

img_8485The Alpine Lighting Center dates to 1929 when local architect Fred Brinkman designed the store for Montgomery Ward, the famous Chicago-based catalog merchant.  Its eye-catching facade distinguished it from many of the other more unadorned two-part commercial blocks on Main Street.

My favorite Main Street building is probably the cast-iron, tin facade over a two-story brick building that now houses an antique store.  It was once the Brewery Saloon (c. 1892). This is a classic “Western Commercial” look and can be found in several Montana towns.

Main Street defines the heart of the business district.  Along side streets are other, more modern landmarks.  Let me emphasize just a few favorites, starting with the outstanding contemporary design of the Sutherland Cleaners building, located on 2nd Street, the epitome of mid-20th century Montana modernism.  It is such an expressive building but of course in 1984 it was “too recent” for me to even note its existence.

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At least I had enough good sense to note the existence of its neighbor, the Art Deco-styled Strand Theater (1927).  I enjoyed a movie there in 1984–and the theater kept showing movies until 2007.

The preservation of the Strand Theater, and the other downtown historic theater building, the Classical Revival-styled Liberty Theater (1920-21) by Kalispell architect Marion Riffo, is the work of the Fresh Life Church, which owns and uses both buildings to serve its congregation and the community.

Another modernist favorite is a Fred Brinkmann-inspired design, the flamboyant Art Deco of the historic City Garage (1931), now home to local television station.

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On the other side of Main Street is another building that evokes 1930s interpretation of Art Deco, the Eagles Lodge Building, a reminder of the key role played in fraternal lodges in developing towns and cities in early Montana.

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Let’s close this look at Kalispell’s commercial architecture with the Kalispell Mercantile Building (1892-1910), which was established by the regional retail powerhouse, the Missoula Mercantile, at the very beginning of the city’s existence.  Kalispell has figured out what Missoula refuses to do–that a building such as this is worthy of preservation, and if maintained properly, can continue to serve the town’s economy for decades more.

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Kalispell’s downtown historic districts: the public and sacred

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When Kalispell developed and approved its National Register multiple property nomination project in the early 1990s, the residents embraced historic preservation as part of the city’s future and its economic development.  With its Preserve America designation from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, residents took their efforts to a new level and when I visited in 2015 it seemed that everywhere I went I found physical examples of their determination to melt the past with the present and the future.

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This work throughout the city–such as the restoration of the Flathead County Courthouse (1904-5)  at the south end of the business district–is impressive.  When created in the late 19th century, Kalispell was as classic of a T-plan railroad town as you could find, with its depot and Great Northern Railroad line marking the top of the T, Main Street businesses lining the stem of the T, and then the courthouse standing at the bottom of the

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stem.  Despite its eye-popping late eclectic Victorian style and soaring clock tower, magnificence of the courthouse, designed by famed Montana architects Bell and Kent,  reacted to the railroad engineers’ arrangement of space within the town itself.  Certainly, the railroad, at the head of town, was important, but the public mattered too–not just at the courthouse but another impressive Victorian era monument, the Richardsonian Romanesque-styled Kalispell Central School of 1894, which is now a city museum.

Designed by William White of Great Falls, this impressive statement of town building by local residents was threatened with demolition in 1991–indeed its plight was one of the issues that awoke local citizens to the need for the National Register multiple property nomination.  Not only was this landmark preserved, its transformation into a museum met a heritage tourism need in the region, and also marks, in my mind, one of the most positive developments in historic preservation in the region in the last 30 years.

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Other public buildings in Kalispell, however, show how the past can work with present.  From my work in 1984-85 to my visit in 2015, Kalispell’s population more than doubled, demanding enhanced public services.  Yet the city found a way to retain the simple yet effective Colonial Revival-styled building the 1927 City Water Department while extending that block into a new center for public safety services with a modernist styled complex.

Flathead Co Kalispell public safety building

Flathead Co Kalispell public safety building 1The town’s early religious institutions also built to stay, leaving key landmarks throughout the neighborhoods that serve as historic anchors today. On Main Street alone there is the unique Arts and Crafts styled First Presbyterian Church (1925-26) by architect Fred Brinkman, and the Gothic Revival masonry and tower of Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1932-1937).

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Also on South Main Street nearby Bethlehem Lutheran is another related architectural monument, the Hjortland Memorial Youth Center, which came out of the Bud Hjortland Memorial Fund and was constructed in contemporary 1950s style between 1953 and 1954.

Flathead Co Kalispell Hjortland Youth Lutheran center 1953

My favorite modernist style Main Street landmark is the St. Matthew’s Catholic School (1958) which serves students from preschool to grade 8.

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Flathead Co Kalispell Main St catholic schoolThe city’s first Catholic school dated to 1917.  The historic St. Matthew’s Catholic Church (1910) by Great Falls architect George Shanley remains the city’s most commanding Gothic landmark.

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