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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Philipsburg: Victorian Town in the Pintlers

Granite co, Phillipsburg, BroadwayMiners first began to gather at what is now Philipsburg in the late 1860s; the town was later named for Philip Deidesheimer, who operated the Bi-Metallic Mine works. As the Bi-Metallic Mine and Mill expanded operations in the 1880s, a rapid boom in building

occurred, creating one and two-story brick buildings with dazzling Eastlake-styled cast-iron facades. The town was incorporated in 1890.

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IMG_2333The quality of the Victorian commercial architecture still extant in Phillipsburg, such as the 1888 Sayrs Block above, astounded me during the 1984-85 preservation work. So much was intact but so much needed help. Residents, local officials, and the state preservation office understood that and by 1986 the Philipsburg Commercial historic district had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Granite Co, McLeod and Doe Blocks, PhillipsburgWhat is exciting is that in this decade, entrepreneurs are building upon early successful renovations and adaptive reuse project to launch new businesses and create new jobs. The town’s population is growing, after 30 years of decline.

No business has been more central to this transformation than the Sweet Palace, shown above, which is next door to the two-story brick Masonic Lodge.


Another key to recent success has the resurrection of local hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, along with the staging of various summer productions at the town’s Opera House Theatre, built in 1896, making it the longest continuous operating theater in the state. These properties give visitors a reason to stay longer, and not just stop at the Candy Store, grab a brew at one of the town’s historic bars, and then move along.

The town has recently added an amphitheater, located behind the historic school building, that also serves summer events that drive ever-increasing numbers of people to visit this mountain mining town and to spend more time and money there. This is modern-day heritage development at work.

Amphitheater, PhillipsburgThe new developments in Philipsburg are interesting and invaluable changes since 1984-1985. At the same time, I am happy that residents have still embraced their historic public buildings in a similar fashion.  The photograph I used in my book about the town in 1985

Phillipsburg HS, Granite Co (p84 59a-28)was the Philipsburg School, with its soaring tower symbolizing the hopes that residents had for Philipsburg’s future in the 1890s. The historic school, which is listed in the National Register, remains although the community built a new building adjacent to the historic one in 1987. (you can see a corner of the new building at the lower left).

IMG_2317When I first visited in 1984 the only building in Philipsburg listed in the National Register was the Queen Anne-styled Granite County Jail of 1902.  It also remains in use.

IMG_2145But now the Classical Revival-styled Granite County Courthouse (1913) is also listed in the National Register.  Designed by the important Montana architectural firm of Link and Haire, this small town county courthouse also speaks to the county’s early 20th century ambitions, with its stately classical columned portico and its central classical cupola.

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Granite Co, Phillipsburg, courthouse, 1912-13, Link and HaireBy climbing the hill above the courthouse you also gain a great overview look of the town, reminding you that these rather imposing public buildings are within what is truly a modest urban setting that is connected to the wider world by Montana Highway 1.

Overview of Phillipsburg, facing S

A couple of final thoughts on Philipsburg.  Its range of domestic architecture from c. 1875 to 1925 is limited in numbers but impressive in the variety of forms, from brick cottages to brick Queen Anne homes to textbook examples of bungalows and American Four Squares.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the M.E. Dow House is a frame Queen Anne home, modest considering the flamboyant Eastlake-styled cast-iron front to his downtown business block.

IMG_2118The Philipsburg Cemetery, which like so many that I ignored in 1984-1985, was a revelation, reflecting the quality of Victorian period architecture found in the town.

IMG_2341The beauty and serenity of its setting were impressive enough, but then some of the family plots and individual markers reflected Victorian era mortuary art at its best.

Phillipsburg Cemetery 5  This cast-iron gate, completed with urns on each post and the music lyre gate, is among the most impressive I have encountered in any small town across America.  And this cemetery has two separate ones.

Phillipsburg Cemetery, metal gateMany grave markers came from local or nearby masons but others, like these for the Schuh and Jennings families, were cast in metal, imitating stone, and shipped by railroad to Philipsburg.

Other markers are not architecturally impressive but they tell stories, such as the one below, for Mr. George M. Blum, a native of Germany, who was “killed in runaway at Phillipsburg” in 1903. I look forward to a future visit to this cemetery for further research.

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