Bozeman and two railroads

IMG_6990On Bozeman’s Main Street today there is a huge mural celebrating the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882. The impact of the railroad on the town was certainly a topic of interest in the 1984-85 survey, and one image included the existing Northern Pacific Railroad and adjoining grain elevators and other businesses reliant on the corridor.IMG_2659Today that same place has been transformed, through adaptive reuse, into a micro-brewery and restaurant–pretty good place too, and a great place in 2015 for me to get out of a persistent rain.  The Northern Pacific reached a deal with rancher Nelson Story in 1882 to build through his property but also provide a spur line to his existing mill operations.  From the beginning both the railroad and local entrepreneurs saw an agricultural future for Bozeman and Gallatin County.

A similar re-energized future has not yet happened for Bozeman’s historic Northern Pacific passenger depot.  The depot is a turn of the 20th century brick building that received a remodeling and expansion from Bozeman architect Fred Willson c. 1922 that turned it into a fashionable (and for the Northern Pacific line, a rare) example of Prairie style in a railroad building.

IMG_6976The depot and adjoining buildings have been designated as a historic district, with a pocket city park providing some new life to the area.  But this impressive building’s next life remains uncertain even as the city encourages creative solutions for the area.

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IMG_6973The c. 1922 depot is adequately moth-balled–the new roof has lots of life left–and as the city maintains it is structurally sound with key interior features intact.  Yet graffiti now mars one end of the building, and any building that is empty, especially in such a booming local economy, is cause for concern.

Why?  Because Bozeman has a tradition of tearing down historic railroad depots.  The images above from 1985 were of the town’s Milwaukee Road depot (c. 1907).  It was abandoned then, and I was concerned because so many of the railroad’s buildings had already disappeared across Montana, and because the arrival of the Milwaukee Road in Bozeman had launched an economic boom that shaped the town from 1907 to 1920.  In 2003, despite howls of protest, the building was demolished–a new use for it had never been found.

IMG_2660The same fate did not befell the Milwaukee Road’s other significant building in Bozeman, its concrete block warehouse, shown above in an 1985 image.  The open space, solid construction, and excellent location helped to ensure a much longer life for the building, which is now a building supplies store, with a repainted company sign adorning the elevations of the building.

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IMG_6993It is encouraging that the city recognizes the significance, and the possibilities, for the historic buildings along Bozeman’s railroad corridor.  Let’s hope that a permanent solution soon emerges for the empty Northern Pacific depot.

Livingston: seeing the obvious but missing the big picture

Park Co Springdale NPRR corridor

In my work on the state historic preservation plan in 1983-1994, I was excited about the new insight I could bring to the state’s landscape–the impact of the transcontinental railroads and the transportation and settlement corridors that they established in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Railroads were of course not a new theme then–books abounded on the railroad barons and the romance of the rails.  But as a built environment–that was new, reflecting current scholarship from John Hudson, John Stilgoe, and Roger Grant.  So whenever I hit a major railroad division point–like Livingston–I only saw the rails and what happened around them.

Park Co Livingston

That was certainly easy enough to do coming into Livingston from the west on old U.S. 10.  The railroad tracks were directly to the north, as well older elements of the town’s roadside architecture, like the exquisite Art Deco-styled radio station, KPRK, now closed for broadcasting (the station’s signal comes from Bozeman) but listed in the National Register. William Fox, a Missoula architect, designed this jewel in 1946.

Park Co Livingston art decoContinuing west you soon encounter post-World War II service stations and motels, some updated, some much like they were, on the outskirts of town and then, boom, you are in the heart of Livingston, facing the commanding presence of the Northern Pacific depot complex with warehouses–some now converted to new uses–coming first and then

Park Co Livingston 3massive passenger station itself. Opened in 1902, the passenger station was an architectural marvel for the new state, designed by Reed and Stem, who would continue on to great fame as the architects of Grand Central Station in New York City.  The station, interestingly, is not Classical Revival in style–certainly the choice of most architects for their grand gateways along the nation’s rail line–but a more restrained interpretation of Renaissance Revival style, completed in red brick.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 12The building is not particularly inviting for locals coming from the business district to the depot–that was not its primary audience.  Rather the grand entrance is track side, where passengers headed to Yellowstone National Park could depart for food, fun, frivolity, whatever they needed before the journey into the wildness of Yellowstone.

Park Co Livingston NP depot

Park Co Livingston NP depot 9Travelers were welcome to use the grand covered walkways to enter the depot proper, or to take a side visit to the railroad’s cafe, Martin’s as I

Park Co Livingston NP depot 7knew it back in the day, a place that rarely slept and always had good pie. The cafe changed its orientation from the railroad to the road as automobile travelers on U.S. 10 began to dominate the tourist market.  Now it has been restored as a local brew pub.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 11

The interior of the passenger station once held large public spaces for travelers and then more intimate spaces themed to either men or women.

Upstairs were spaces for offices, company lodging, and other company business.  The station was the railroad’s urban outpost was what was then still the Montana frontier–its statement of taste and sophistication still reverberates today even as the depot no longer serves passengers (except for occasion excursion trains Amtrak doesn’t run here anymore) and serves as a railroad and Park County museum.

Park Co Livingston RR and Murray Hotel

Thirty years ago, the overwhelming imprint of the Northern Pacific on the surrounding built environment was all I could see.  At one corner was one of the first local historic preservation projects, an adaptive reuse effort to create the Livingston Bar and Grille (once popular with the valley’s Hollywood crowd).

Park Co Livingston bar and grilleDirectly facing the center of the passenger station was the mammoth Murray Hotel–a flea bag operation in the 1980s but now recently restored as a hipster place to be, especially its signature bar.

My throwback place back in the 1980s, however, was Gil’s.  It was next to the Murray and the place to get the cheesy souvenirs you equate with western travel in the second half of the 20th century.

MT 2007 Park County Livingston 3Imagine my pleasant surprise last year when I found that Gil’s still existed but now had been converted into a decidedly up-scale establishment, far removed from the 1980s.

Park Co Livingston Gil'sI don’t know if I have encountered a more fundamentally changed place–cheap trinkets gone, let the wood-fired pizzas come on.

Park Co Livingston main st blocksI was not so blinded in 1984 by the concept of the “metropolitan corridor” that I ignored the distinctive Victorian storefronts of Livingston–how could I since they all, in a way, fed into the tracks.  But when I got to the end of that distinctive business district and watched the town, in my

MT 2007 Park County Livingstonmind, fade into the Rockies, I had captured the obvious but had missed the bigger picture–that’s the next story.