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.

Flathead Co Kalispell sutherland Cleaners 1

Flathead Co Kalispell Sutherland Cleaners 4

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.

Flathead Co Kalispell Masonic Lodge 1

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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Libby: Disaster and Persistence

Lincoln Co Libby stem of T planLibby is the seat of Lincoln County, a typical railroad town along the historic Great Northern Railway corridor.  The image above is from the town’s railroad depot, the symbolic beginning of town, from which runs a long main street of businesses, reflecting the T-plan town design, where the long railroad corridor defines the top of the T and the main street forms the stem of the T.

The depot is a good example of the railway’s “Chalet” style that it used in many of its Rocky Mountain properties, reflecting the influence of the early resorts in Glacier National Park and the railroad’s wish to connect such rural outposts as Libby with the tourism traffic it wished to generate along the line.

Libby was much like I remembered it from 1984.  The town’s population had dropped by about 100, and some historic store buildings had been leveled, but a new brew pub was in operation and the historic Dome Theater was still going strong.

Lincoln Co Libby old city hall police station

And I liked the New Deal impact on Libby’s public buildings, such as the WPA Deco City Hall, which is now solely the domain of the police department.  Then there is the Lincoln County Courthouse, truly a story of two buildings in one as the mid-1930s Art Deco-styled

Lincoln Co Libby New Deal courthouse 1

img_8345courthouse received a totally new front, in a contemporary style, in the 1970s as the town and county expanded in the wake of the federal spending in constructing Libby Dam. The rectangular blockiness, flat roof, and band of windows set within a symmetrical facade makes the courthouse one of the state’s best designs for a rural public building in the late 20th century.

img_8348 I liked all of those things about Libby in 1984. Imagine my shock and disappointment to learn, as everyone else did, that Libby was one of the poisoned places in the west.  In 1919, vermiculite, a natural material that contains asbestos, had been discovered outside of town, and the mines were still operating, producing 80 percent of the vermiculite in the world, under the control of the W.R. Grace company. Residue from the mines had been used in local yards and buildings for decades, a fact that was not known  when I visited the town for the state historic preservation plan.  When the discovery of the danger became public, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency entered into the fray in 1999, it was already too late for many residents.  A federal Superfund project began, and did not conclude its work until 2015, spending some $425 million. Then in 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency announced a public health emergency, spending another $130 million to help residents and to leave a new health infrastructure in place.  In a generation, Libby had been turned inside out.  EPA announced in 2016 that the cleanup would continue to 2018, and that the project was the longest in the agency’s history.

Lincoln Co Libby hospital 4

The Cabinet Peak Medical Center (2014), designed by CTA Architects, represents the beginning of a new chapter in Libby’s history, as it starts its second century. It extends the city’s earlier healthcare history, represented by the historic St. John Lutheran Hospital, which opened in the 1952 and operated until 2014 when it was closed in favor of the new Cabinet Peaks center.

Lincoln Co Libby hospitalDespite the disaster, I saw many signs that Libby residents were determined to remain and rebuild their community.  One of the most powerful examples is the conversion of one of  the town’s historic schools into a new community arts center as well as school administration offices.

 

Then the public library–home to an active and lively genealogy group and collection–is still a point of pride and activity.  The same is true for the mid-1970s Lincoln County Museum–a wonderful modern log building designed and built by the community during the American Bicentennial just outside of Libby–which remains an active part of the town’s heritage tourism offerings.

Lincoln Co Libby library

Lincoln Co Libby museum 5The asbestos crisis was a terrible disaster for Libby–yet residents refused to let it define their future.  There are past accomplishments to acknowledge, an active railroad depot to cherish, a beautiful river and lake, the mountains all around, as celebrated in this public art mural on a downtown building. This place is here to stay, and the historic built environment is a large part of it.

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Railroad Towns in the Flathead Reservation

Lake Co NP  trestle Moise road

Northern Pacific Trestle at Moeise

Once the Flathead Reservation was opened to homesteaders in 1904, tribal members were allocated acreage but lost control of much of their land to new development.  The historic Northern Pacific Railroad corridor between Ronan and Dixon, followed roughly today by Montana Highway 212 and U.S. Highway 93 is one way to explore two almost forgotten towns in southern Lake County.

The first north of Dixon is the reservation town of Moiese, created by the federal government in the early 20th century as a “model” town of bungalows with a school.  Several of the standardized design bungalows remain as does the school building, which is no longer in use.

Lake Co Moise schoolMoiese is best known, by far, as the entrance to the National Bison Range, where a general store stands nearby the refuge gate.  Created by Congress in 1908, the refuge took

Lake Co National Bison Range

Lake Co National Bison Rangeadditional land–almost 19,000 acres- from the tribes, without their consent, to create a safe haven for the remaining bison in the region.  A few hundred bison live within its boundaries today.  In 2016 the National Park Service began discussions with the Consolidated Kootenai and Salish Tribe to transfer management of the refuge to the tribe.

Lake Co Charlo elevatorEight miles north of Moiese along the railroad line is the town of Charlo, named in honor of Chief Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish, who was forced from the Bitterroot Valley to move to the reservation in 1891.  Charlo served as head chief of the Bitterroot Salish from 1870-

Lake Co Charlo 11910.  As a railroad town, Charlo is like many along the Northern Pacific, with a brief strip of businesses facing the railroad tracks, marked by the town’s sole grain elevator.  It has a classic rural bar, Tiny’s Tavern, with its brightly painted exterior of concrete block, with brick accents. Built in 1946 by Tiny Browne, it was both a motel and a tavern, and a local museum of items that Tiny thought were interesting.  Browne died in 1977 and his sister, Celeste Fagan, next owned the tavern, managed by Edna Easterly who recalled in a story in the Missoulian of April 20, 2007 that Tiny  “was known as the bank of Charlo. Tiny always carried a lot of money in his pocket and if you needed to cash a check, you went to Tiny.”

Lake Co Charlo 3Most important for its architecture, however, is the town’s public school, a wonderful example of Art Deco style from the New Deal decade of the 1930s.

Lake Co Charlo new deal school 2Ronan is a third town along the railroad corridor, named for a former white superintendent of the reservation.  The town’s demographics today are mostly white, with a little more than a quarter Native American population.  Ronan proudly proclaims its existence not only with a gate sign, connecting the business district to the sprawl along U.S. Highway 93 but also a log visitor center and interpretive park on the highway.

Ronan’s commercial area retains classic bars, like the 2nd Chance Bar, and a combination of recreational services that have been lost in too many communities–a bowling alley and movie theatre standing next to each other.

Historic church buildings from the early 20th century include the frame now covered in vinyl Methodist Church and the brick Gothic styled Sacred Heart Catholic Church, with an attached Ranch-style parsonage.  St. Luke’s Community Hospital provides a much needed medical oasis in what is still a rural, agricultural area. Opened in 1953, the hospital is now an oddity–in that it is community owned and still serving its rural population.  The building shown below was constructed c. 2008.

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Lake Co Ronan sacred heart catholic 1

img_7971The facade expresses a confident future, which is needed in today’s uncertain economic climate for rural hospitals across the state. But my favorite building in Ronan speaks to my love for adaptive reuse and mid-20th century modern design.  The town library is an

Lake Co Ronan libraryexquisite example of mid-century modern, and was once a local bank before being converted into the library.

Lake Co Ronan library 2

 

Thompson Falls: Railroad Town

Sanders Co Thompson Falls overview 4In my state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, Thompson Falls became one of my favorite stops.  No one much in the professional field had been surveyed here yet, and then I was particularly interested in how the Northern Pacific Railroad transformed the late territorial landscape. As the image above shows, Thompson Falls was a classic symmetrical-plan railroad town, with a mix of one and two-story buildings from the turn of the 20th century. I focused on this commercial core.

IMG_7752The public meeting at the mid-20th century Sanders County Courthouse was well attended and most were engaged with the discussion:  the pride, identity, and passion those in attendance had for their history and their interest in historic preservation was duly noted. The courthouse itself was not a concern–it dated to 1946 and wasn’t even 40 years old then.  But now I appreciate it as a good example of Montana’s post-World War II modern movement, designed by Corwin & Company in association with Frederick A. Long

Sanders Co Thompson Falls courthouse

That night at the Falls Motel–a classic bit of roadside architecture that has been recently re-energized–I thought well of this town and its future, surprised by what I had seen.

Sanders Co Thompson Falls MotelLittle did I understand, however, that the sparks of a local community effort were already burning–and within two years, in 1986, Thompson Falls had placed many of its key historic properties in the National Register of Historic Places.

Sanders Co Thompson Falls 1

Thirty years later, historic preservation is still working well for Thompson Falls.  The historic Rex Theater (c. 1945) holds all sorts of community events.  Harold Jenson established the movie house but in 1997 it closed and remained closed until new owners Doug and Karen Grimm restored it and reopened on New Year’s Day, 2004.

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IMG_7753The old county jail (1907) has been transformed into a museum, both preserving one of the town’s oldest properties but also creating a valuable heritage tourism attraction. The contractors were Christian and Goblet, a local firm that had a part in the construction of the town’s building boom once it was designated as the county seat.

Sanders Co Thompson Falls overview 4 – Version 3

Above is a view from the railroad corridor of the Gem Saloon building (a local restaurant now; it was an auto parts store when I visited in 1984), built by saloon keeper John Sanfacon in 1914 and then the all-important railroad hotel, built as the Ward Hotel by

Sanders Co Thompson Falls overview 4 – Version 2

locally prominent developer and politician Edward Donlan in 1908. It is now the Black Bear Hotel. Attractive railroad hotels were crucial for a town’s development–it showed stability and promise to traveling “drummers” and potential investors, and also gave them a place to stay while they were in the area “drumming” up business.

 

Sanders Co Thompson Falls RR overviewThe mid-20th century Sanders County Courthouse is to the west of the commercial core and it marks how the town stretched to the west in the latter decades of the century.

IMG_7748Along with the conversion of businesses and the adaptive reuse of older buildings, Thompson Falls also has located key community institutions, such as the local library first established in 1921, along Main Street facing the railroad tracks.

Sanders Co Thompson Falls lodge 1But many community institutions–fraternal lodges such as the Masonic Lodge above, the public schools, and churches are on the opposite side of the tracks along the bluffs facing the commercial core.  Thompson Falls is a very good example of how a symmetrical plan could divide a railroad town into distinctive zones.

 

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.

 

The Deer Lodge Valley

Powell 1 Beaver slide Grant Kohrs NHS - Version 2Powell County’s Deer Lodge Valley  is another favorite western Montana landscape.  I visited there often during the 1980s, and in the years since I found myself often back in places like Deer Lodge, the county seat, if for nothing else to stop at the R&B Drive-In.

HPIM0652.JPGLet’s start with the town of Deer Lodge, a place that has changed much in the last 30 years, a process that was underway in the early 1980s after the Milwaukee Road closed its division point and declared the entire line bankrupt.  Besides Miles City, it is difficult to find a town more impacted by the Milwaukee’s failure than Deer Lodge.

My images of the wasting away roundhouses and other buildings that the Milwaukee once operated in Deer Lodge cannot be replicated today–the complex is gone, scrapped. The town’s Milwaukee Road depot survives, has been repainted, and now serves as the Depot Church, a great example of how Montanans practice adaptive reuse with historic buildings.

On the Main Street, there is a memorial to the Milwaukee’s impact, commemorating the line’s “silver spike” event in 1909 and the E-70 electric engine, one of the trains that ran through this region for most of the 20th century.

Another interesting remnant on the Milwaukee’s side of the tracks in Deer Lodge is the Civic Pavilion of 1911.  Here in this large brick building with stone quoins and pilasters is a statement both of the general movement to establish “community halls” in rural communities in the early 20th century plus the Milwaukee Road’s wish to have at least one landmark on its side of town. This was the city’s social center for most of the century.

City Pavillion, 1919, Deer Lodge, on Milwaukee Road side of townYet, Deer Lodge was not a typical small town base for the Milwaukee Road; railroads typically wanted to create their own place.  But Deer Lodge was one of the oldest places in the state, where ranchers in the 1850s first arrived–the early site is now interpreted at the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site of the National Park Service–soon followed by Capt. John Mullan as he and his soldiers built the Mullan Road through this valley.

The Milwaukee in the first decade of the 20th century came to a town whose general outline had been imprinted on the landscape by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1880s.  Deer Lodge, in other words, had been a Northern Pacific town for a generation before the Milwaukee arrived.

NPRR depot, Deer LodgeThe Northern Pacific passenger depot exists across the tracks from the Milwaukee Road station.  It too has a new use:  the Northern Pacific depot is now the senior citizens center.

Deer Lodge Main Street

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Main Street in Deer Lodge is a long symmetrical commercial district that links the Grant-Kohrs Ranch to another early territorial landmark, the Territorial (and later State) Prison.

State Prison, Deer Lodge 2 - Version 2Before Deer Lodge was a railroad town, it was a prison town, the location for the Territorial Prison, and later the state prison.  Most of the buildings you can visit today are from the state prison era.  It operated here until 1980 when it moved to a facility outside of town.

Trask Hall NR, 703 5thDeer Lodge also was an early center for education, represented by Trask Hall (1870s), which, like the territorial prison, is listed in the National Register. So with the themes of settlement, ranching, railroads, education, prisons, and the beauty of the valley why has Deer Lodge struggled to be recognized as one of Montana’s premier heritage designations? As the next post will discuss, citizens are taking steps to remedy the situation.

 

Hamilton:Town Building in the Bitterroot Valley

These two photographs of the turn of the century historic Hamilton City Hall and mid-20th century Masonic Hall date to 2014 (left) and 1984 (right).  They suggest that the town of Hamilton, seat of Ravalli County, has not changed much in those 30 years–and that would be misleading.

Downtown commercial landmarks such as Ford’s Department Store (a jewel in its own right as a full-service local store in the age of big box retail), Bitterroot Drug Store, and the Bower Building remain open for business, and tourist-oriented businesses are few.

Bower Bldg (1936) 2 Hamilton Commercial HD art deco

Ford dealership, main St, Hamilton

A downtown car dealership, set within a quite wonderful early 20th century garage, is still there as there are a myriad of cafes, bars, lodges, and other community institutions.

The New Deal era post office has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places; indeed several different individual properties in addition to historic districts have been National Register-listed in the last 30 years.

Hamilton Post office (1940) NR

The historic county courthouse is still one of the best preserved turn of the century Montana courthouses, and still houses an excellent local collection.  I was particularly impressed in 2012 with its sesquicentennial exhibit on the Civil War, a topic largely ignored elsewhere in the state.

But just as clearly, change had come to Hamilton, as it had so much of the northern half of Ravalli County.  The town’s population when Hank Williams, Jr., put it on the national map with his album Montana Cafe hovered around 2700.  Thirty years later it was over 4300 and climbing.  What did I see differently?  Well for one thing, a consistent trend across the state, I appreciated the touches of 1960s modernism in the town, be it the

Ravalli Co Bank, Hamilton 1960scontemporary styling of the Ravalli County Bank or the “new” county courthouse of 1976, a building that I totally dismissed in 1984 but now that it has reached the 40 year mark the design seems so much of its time, and a very interesting local reaction by the firm of Howland and Associates to the ne0-Colonial Revival that gripped so much of the nation during the American bicentennial.

Ravalli County Courthouse (1976)

Ravalli County Courthouse (1976) 1

IMG_2663Adaptive reuse had put some buildings back into use, such as the historic Creamery, once such an important link between town and ranch in the county.  Other landmarks didn’t

fare as well as the old stack once built for a sugar beet factory that never went into business is now surrounded by sprawl and typical chain businesses of the 21st century. One wonders how much long it will be another link between the history of the town and the surrounding countryside.

New buildings, with compatible looks and names, lined the railroad corridor through Hamilton while tight security and tall metal fences separated the Rocky Mountain Laboratories from the surrounding neighborhood and its historic place as a federal investment in the 1920s that has paid long-term benefits to the town.  The separation here from town and lab, regretfully, made sense:  since 9/11 security over what is studied in the labs must take precedence over the relative openness of the restrained Collegiate Gothic-styled campus in the past.

Rocky Mountain Labs, 900 block, S. 4th, Hamilton