Missoula’s Downtown Wonders

 

Missoula 2006 021 Medical Arts Building Art DecoDowntown Missoula’s architectural wonders make it a distinctive urban Western place. Let’s start with my favorite, the striking Art Moderne styled Florence Hotel (1941) designed by architect G.A. Pehrson. Located between the two railroad depots on Higgins Street, the hotel served tourists and residents as a symbol of the town’s classy arrival on the scene–it was the first place with air-conditioning–of a region transforming in the 1940s and 1950s.

missoula medical florenceWith the coming of the interstate highway in the 1970s, tourist traffic declined along Higgins Street and the Florence Hotel was turned into offices and shops, a function that it still serves today.

Missoula Co Missoula The Florence 5Next door is another urban marvel, the Wilma Theatre, which dates to 1921 and like the Florence it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was the city’s first great entertainment landmark (even had an indoor swimming pool at one time) but with offices and other business included in this building that anchored the corner where Higgins Street met the Clark’s Fork River. Architects Ole Bakke and H. E. Kirkemo designed the theatre in the fashionable Renaissance Revival style, with a hint towards the “tall buildings” form popularized by architect Louis Sullivan, the building later received an Art Deco update, especially with the use of glass block in the ticket booth and the thin layer of marble highlighting the entrance.

With their soaring height the Florence and Wilma were dominant commercial landmarks.  Much of the downtown was built earlier, with the Missoula Mercantile (discussed in an earlier blog) being a very important lure for customers from throughout the region–by far

IMG_7565.jpgMissoula’s first major department store and entrepreneurial center.  The late Victorian era architectural styling of the two-story building also set a standard for many other downtown businesses from 1890 to 1920. These can be categorized as two-part commercial fronts, with the first floor serving as the primary commercial space and the second floor could be offices, dwelling space for the owner, or most common today storage space.

My favorite Victorian-era commercial building in Missoula is another Higgins Street landmark, and a rarity in Montana as a Queen Anne-styled business block, complete with projecting turret bay, highlighted by stone, defining its corner location and signifying its prominence as the local bank.

 

The Classical Revival that transformed the look of so many western railroad towns from the late 1890s to 1920 is also well represented in its different architectural forms. The Missoula County Courthouse (1910) was built following the arrival of the Milwaukee Road and the county’s economic boom led by the two railroads and the thousands of homesteaders headed into northwest Montana.  Designed by Montana architect A. J.

Missoula 2006 045 courthouseGibson, the building is one of the state’s best examples of what is called “Beaux Arts classicism,” a movement in the west so influenced by the late 1890s Minnesota State Capitol by architect Cass Gilbert.

Another example of Beaux Arts classicism, in a more commercial setting, defines the facade of the Masonic Temple, designed by the Montana firm of Link and Haire in 1909.

Missoula Co Missoula Masonic TempleJust as impressive, but in a more Renaissance Revival style, is the Elks Lodge (1911), another building that documents the importance of the city’s working and middle class fraternal lodges in the early 20th century.

Missoula Co Missoula Elks Club

And speaking of Renaissance Revival, the historic Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse also embraces the early 20th century Classical Revival movement as interpreted by three different federal architects over a 25-year period (James Knox Taylor, 1911-13; James A. Wetmore, 1927-1929; and, Louis A. Simon (1937).  The three different periods of

Missoula 2006 018 federal building

construction, however, did not leave Missoula with an incoherent statement of classical architecture.  In fact, the various sections help to document different era in the city’s development, from the height of the homesteading boom of the 1910s to the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Missoula Co Missoula federal courthouseOf more recent construction is another federal courthouse, the modernist-styled Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, which was originally constructed as a bank.  In 2012, another judicial chamber was installed on the third floor. Although far removed from the classic

Missoula Co Missoula Russell Smith courthouse 2look, the Russell Smith Courthouse is not out-of-place in downtown Missoula.  There are several other buildings reflecting different degrees of American modern design, from the Firestone building from the 1920s (almost forgotten today now that is overwhelmed by its neighbor the Interstate Bank Building) to the standardized designed of gas stations of

Missoula Co Missoula firestone store1930s and 1940s, complete with enamel panels and double garage bays, standing next to the Labor Temple.

IMG_7516Modernism is alive and well in 21st century Missoula, with a office tower at St. Patrick’s Hospital, a new city parking garage, and the splashy Interstate Bank building, which overwhelms the scale of the adjacent Missoula Mercantile building–which had been THE place for commerce over 100 years earlier.

 

Anaconda’s public landscape

IMG_1419The public landscape of Anaconda has already been touched on in this blog–places like Washoe Park, the cemeteries, or Mitchell Stadium for instance.  Now I want to go a bit deeper and look at public buildings, both government and education in this smelter city.

deer lodge courthouse IMG_0529Let’s begin with the only building in Anaconda that truly competes with the stack for visual dominance, the imposing classical revival-styled Deer Lodge County Courthouse.  When copper baron Marcus Daly created Anaconda in the 1880s it may have been the industrial heart of Deer Lodge County but it was not the county seat.  Daly was not concerned–his hopes centered on gaining the state capitol designation for his company town.  When that did not happen, efforts returned to the county seat, which came to Anaconda in 1896.  The courthouse was then built from 1898-1900.

Daly didn’t have the state capitol but he did have a county courthouse worthy of landmark status: their architects, Charles E. Bell and John N. Kent were also the architects for the Montana State Capitol in Helena. What truly sets this county courthouse apart from many

IMG_1376

IMG_1378

IMG_1379

IMG_1382in Montana is the lavish interior of the central lobby and then the upper story dome.  The decorative upper dome frescoes come from a Milwaukee firm, Consolidated Artists. Newspaper accounts in 1900 recorded that the completed courthouse cost $100,000.

City Hall, 1895-6, Lane and Reber of ButteThe bombastic classicism of the courthouse was at odds with the earlier more High Victorian style of City Hall, built 1895-1896, and attributed to J. H. Bartlett and Charles Lane.  But classicism in the first third of the 20th century ruled in Anaconda’s public architecture, witness the Ionic colonnade of the 1931-1933 U.S. Post Office, from the office of Oscar Wenderoth.

IMG_0516

Public schools in the first third of Anaconda’s development also reflected Victorian traditions, such as the understated Collegiate Gothic of the Junior High School, 1927-1928, from the Great Falls architectural firm of Shanley and Baker.

Junior High, 1928, Main StOnce Anaconda, bursting at the seams following the boom of World War II, chose to upgrade its public schools, it took a decided turn away from traditional European influenced styles and embraced modernism, as defined in Montana during the 1950s.

Lincoln elementary, Chestnut at E. 4thThe long, lean facade of Lincoln Elementary School (1950) began the trend.  Its alternating bands of brick punctuated by bands of glass windows was a classic adaptation of International style in a regional setting.  The modernist bent continued in 1950-1952 with the Anaconda Central High School, the private Catholic school, now known as the Fred Moody middle school, only a few blocks away.  Except here the modernist style is softened by the use of local stone, giving it a rustic feel more in keeping with mid-20th century sensibilities and the Catholic diocese’s deliberate turn to modern style for its church buildings of the 1950s and 1960s (see my earlier post on College of Great Falls).

The celebration of symmetry in a factory-like style advocated ed by some mid-20th century modernists is no better stated than in the Anaconda Senior High School, the public high school completed in 1954-1955 and designed by the Montana firm of J. G. Link and Company.

Anaconda high School

If anyplace in Montana better conveys the post-World War II turn in public education to resemble the corporate ethos beginning to dominate American culture it is this high school building.  From the railroad depot, at the bottom of Main Street, one catches a glimpse of the long horizontal facade, and immediately think–there’s a corporate office, maybe a factory, up the street. This is one interesting building.

IMG_1390

So too is a very different building as to purpose but not to style, the National Guard Armory.  Appropriated by Congress in 1960 and built in 1961 for an estimated $66,000, the armory is a functional concrete building that speaks well to the style of modernism so often associated with military buildings of the Cold War era.

Montana Ntl Guard armory, Anaconda 1950s

Lewistown: at the heart of Eastern Montana

IMG_9389Lewistown, the seat of Fergus County, has been a hub for trade and government for eastern Montana since the 1880s.  Beginning as a trading post, the town next served as a crossroads for traffic going to short-lived precious metal mines at Kendall, Maiden, Giltedge, and other places.  Cattle ranches, such as the famous DHS Ranch and the N-Bar Ranch, also surrounded the place.  By the turn of the 20th century, the town had over 1,000 residents.  But by this time, railroad companies eyed the area for possible agricultural development, and within 20 years Lewistown had boomed–gaining six times its population–and a fascinating array of commercial and public buildings in the wake of the population growth.

IMG_9381The Great Northern Railway not only an understated Classical Revival depot on one end of the town, it also expanded lines throughout Fergus County like tentacles desperate to grab as many wheat crops as possible.  The depot remains today, converted into a convenience mart and gas station (an adaptive reuse you do not commonly find for railroad depots).  On the other end of town stands the other major line–the Milwaukee Road–devoted to the homesteading rush in Fergus County.  It built an even grander

IMG_0004complex as a statement to its wishful dominance of the agricultural trade.  Shortly after the closure and bankruptcy of the line in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the depot became a large adaptive reuse project, turning the Milwaukee Road complex into the Yogo Inn and convention center, where, in 1984, I attended the Montana Historical Society statewide history conference.

IMG_9400The bloom grew stale over the decades and when I visited in 2013, the Yogo was clearly on life support; I was encouraged in May 2015 to find renovations underway–maybe there will be a third life for this Milwaukee Road landmark in Lewistown.

The Great Northern and the Milwaukee created the transportation network that brought homesteaders to central Montana by the thousands. Merchants, bankers, and craftsmen then rebuilt the downtown from 1904 to 1916, and much of that flurry of construction still serves residents today in the central business historic district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

IMG_9973Classical Revival was the architectural statement of choice to this new Lewistown taking shape along Main Street.  The architects of the Montana State Capitol, Bell and Kent, designed a new Bank of Fergus County (above, on the right) in 1904.  It received another layer of classicism in the pilasters a decade later when owners wanted to match the flashy Judith Theater (1914), certainly one of the great examples of Beaux Arts design in a small Montana town movie palace.

Fergus Co Lewistown neoclassical bank  - Version 2

By 1916, however, bank officials were ready to support the town’s most complete interpretation of Classical Revival design in the new Montana Building, designed by the firm of Link and Haire.  The bank seemingly had few limits in front of it–homesteaders still arriving and agricultural prices were high.  But the boom went bust in the early 1920s and by 1924 the building had new owners, the First National Bank.  It has remained home to financial institutions ever since.

IMG_9967

IMG_9969

IMG_9951The splashy Beaux Arts classicism of the banks and theater catch your eye but much more common are two-story commercial blocks, often with a more understated classicism, where retail businesses used the first floor and professionals occupied the second.  The town had a several gifted craftsmen who left their mark in these buildings and others.

Detail Masonic Temple Lewistown Fergus Co IMG_9955Croatian stonemasons left impressive stone Romanesque arches at the Masonic Lodge, a detail I photographed in 1984 (left) and 2013 (right).  The building itself is a dignified statement of both craftsmanship and purpose, combining both classical and Romanesque elements using locally available stone.  It’s one of my favorite buildings in town.

Fergus Co Lewistown masonic temple downtown commercial HD 13 - Version 2Not far away is the I.O.O.F. Hall, from 1914.  Here is an even later example of Romanesque arches highlighting a building that is both a fraternal lodge but also valuable retail space.

IMG_9966Be they multi-story or just one-story commercial businesses, this set of commercial designs convey so strongly the promise of early 1900s to thousands of Montanans.  Lewistown’s population had reached 6,000 by 1920–that generation would be shocked to know that remains the population today. Much more on Lewistown to come.

IMG_9984

Stanford: Railroad Town Deluxe in Montana’s Judith Basin

IMG_9845The sign on U.S. Highway 87/Montana 200 says it all:  why not stop in Stanford?  If you are a railroad town planning fan, it is an absolute.  Geographer John Hudson a generation ago talked about the distinctive historical northern plains landscape created by the great transcontinental lines at the turn of the 20th century in his book, Plains Country Towns. His work, then just recently published when I was surveying the state for its preservation plan in 1984, became a conceptual bible of a sorts for me–allowing to see significance where others might just say, ah it is just another dusty western town.

IMG_8839Stanford, the seat of Judith Basin County, might appear to be exactly that when I first stopped in 1984.  The county had been established in 1920, one of the last during the homesteading boom.  The town’s  rhythm of one-story, often false-front stores conveyed little that might be considered special or noteworthy (although the Pump Bar is always worth a stop).

IMG_8838The old state bank building and a neighboring retail establishment were the only spaces that conveyed a sense of architectural styling.  The post office was a rustic-front building that didn’t automatically say “here’s the federal government.”  The local county museum–also worth a stop–stood in a typical mid-1960s commerical-type building.

IMG_8841

IMG_8844Stanford had been relatively stable since reaching its population height in 1960 of 615 residents–when I visited in 1984 it had only dropped by a few families to 595.  But now the town was boomed, to well over 700 residents, reflected in the new fronts to the town’s businesses and maybe an indication that the sign on the highway has worked.

IMG_8837With that growth, however, has come one significant loss to Stanford’s historic fabric–the standardized design of its Great Northern depot.  It was there during my last visit c. 1998 but is now an empty spot along the tracks.

IMG_8840Despite this loss, Stanford remains an excellent example of the T-plan railroad town of the Great Northern Railway.  The top of the “T” comes from the railroad tracks themselves and the lineup of grain elevators along the top of the “T.”  In the classic design, the next element is the passenger station, on the other side of the tracks from the elevators, serving as the opening to the actual town. The rest of the plan is intact, especially the long main commercial corridor with businesses and offices on either side terminating in the lot for the county courthouse, in other words local government was at the bottom of the “T” while the railroad, represented by the tracks and depot” stood at the top.

IMG_8842The Judith Basin Courthouse is an understated Classical Revival design finished in 1925 and designed by Havre architect Frank Bossuot. Its location, according to John Hudson’s interpretation, said it all about the power of the railroad companies in this era compared to local government.

IMG_8843

But today, in the 21st century, that earlier arrangement of space has lost much symbolic significance. The courthouse, with its inviting landscaping and plantings, is the town gateway.  People enter Stanford not by train but by highway and the highway runs south of town, meaning the courthouse and the residents around it are what you first encounter–the community comes first and the railroad comes second.

IMG_8848So plains country towns can change–as in Geyser the next stop to the west, where a modern school extension works in partnership with the classic two-story front-tower building from the 1910s-1920s.  And where, in Geyser, the old state bank has been converted into a surveyor’s office, for growth is coming into western Judith Basin County.

IMG_8849Yet whatever the 21st century promises for these places across central and eastern Montana–most do not have much of a future to contemplate–the past is always near, as the grain elevators from 100 years ago stand as silent sentinels of the hopes and ambitions of the homesteading generation.

IMG_8850

The Yellowstone’s Rosebud County Courthouse

IMG_6961

The Rosebud County Courthouse in Forsyth is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Rosebud County encompasses a huge swath of eastern Montana, with its upper reaches touching the Musselshell River in central Montana and extending south almost to the Wyoming border.  A good bit of the Tongue River winds through the county and the name comes from Rosebud Creek, which empties into the Yellowstone at the town of Rosebud.

The county seat of Forsyth is a Northern Pacific Railroad town from 1881.  For its first generation, it was a rather minor place stuck as it was between Miles City to the east and Billings to the west: there is no census data for Forsyth before 1900.  But in the early 1900s, two developments changed Forsyth’s fate:  the arrival of the Milwaukee Road, which cut a new path through the county north of the Yellowstone before turning northwest at Forsyth, and then the homestead boom of the 1910s, which county leaders wanted to take advantage of to change their fortunes.

The business district is based on a symmetrical plan, facing the tracks.

The business district is based on a symmetrical plan, facing the tracks.

Forsyth leaders already understood the need to have an impressive business district facing the railroad tracks.  But they also wanted to show anyone that Forsyth was ready for a stop, and visit, and you could live somewhat classy in a stylish well-appointed hotel. The Howdy Hotel (1903-1906) is a rare surviving small-town “booster” hotel, built to impress traveling businessmen that Forsyth was a place of promise.  Designed by the Billings firm of Link and Haire, the building’s classic Renaissance Revival look was impressive for a small Montana town.

Hiram Marcyes was the owner-operator of this early Forsyth landmark.

Hiram Marcyes was the owner-operator of this early Forsyth landmark.

About five years after the opening of the hotel, local leaders decided that the time was right–and the recent boom had no foreseeable end–to maximize on the promise of their little town and build another landmark facing the tracks.  Construction of a new Rosebud County Courthouse, designed in grand Classical Revival fashion by the firm of Link and Haire of Billings, began in 1912 and was opened, after a dispute over cost over-runs, in 1914.

Link and Haire's original rendering of the courthouse is displayed at the Rosebud County Museum.

Link and Haire’s original rendering of the courthouse is displayed at the Rosebud County Museum.

This courthouse is a marvel for a small town, and speaks so strongly to local boosterism during the homesteader boom of the 1910s.  Little has changed since original construction, except that a separate jury room for women was turned into a law library in the 1930s, and of course there has been updates to lighting and technology since then.

IMG_6949

IMG_6950

IMG_6956

The courtroom features two historical murals, interpreting two events seen as crucial underpinnings of the American system of justice:  Moses bringing the Ten Commandments and the signing of Magna Carta.

IMG_6957

IMG_6958

IMG_6959

Then, in the upper Rotunda lobby outside the courtroom, are four symbolic depictions of themes such as Obedience, Reverence, Defense of Libery, and Justice.  Of the four Justice has been my favorite since faintly, in the background, is the Rosebud County Courthouse itself.

IMG_6954

IMG_6953

IMG_6952

IMG_6951

The Rosebud County Courthouse was a remarkable building, and when in 1984 I spoke to the community about preservation and local landmarks at the adjacent Rosebud County Museum we discussed how its recognition would be a good place to start anew a local heritage effort.  When I visited then the county had only one property listed in the National Register, the Rosebud County Deaconess Hospital, a very worthy Colonial Revival style building dating to the late 1910s and representing the local reaction to the great flu epidemic of 1918.

Deaconess Hospital, Forsyth, MT, 1919-20, by McIver, Cohagen, and Marshall of Billings.  McIver, 30 years later, would design the VA hospital at Miles City.

Deaconess Hospital, Forsyth, MT, 1919-20, by McIver, Cohagen, and Marshall of Billings. McIver, 30 years later, would design the VA hospital at Miles City.

In 1986, the county would have its second building, the Rosebud County Courthouse, and today the two public buildings still ennoble the town’s architecture and remind anyone passing by of the hopes and sense of community found among eastern Montana town builders in the early 20th century.

Rosebud Co CH Forsyth 14 - Version 2