Deer Lodge’s heritage development

New Deal mural, Deer Lodge P.O. 1938

Verona L. Burkhard’s 1939 mural for the Deer Lodge Post Office.

In the thirty years between my first visits in Deer Lodge and my most recent, the town’s population dropped almost 25%–nearly 1,000 residents.  But when I spent a day there in May 2012 I witnessed one of the most impressive community revitalization efforts in all of my years in historic preservation–the grand opening of the historic Rialto Theatre.

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Rialto Theatre in 2007.

My first digital image of the theatre dates to 2007–and I was happy to see this monumental 1921 Beaux Arts-styled theatre, designed by the Butte firm of Arnold and Van Hausen, was still in business.  With rural population decline, the rise of home movie viewing, and the impact of satellite television, so, so many small town movie theaters were closing across the country.  I was glad to see this one still operating.  Then a few years later came the news of a fire that severely damaged the building–and from my vantage point way back east I thought, well that’s it–the building will be gone the next time I get to Deer Lodge–and I wondered if that would not be the start of a general abandonment of Main Street.

Rialto Theater, Deer Lodge 13Imagine my pleasure to be there for the theatre’s grand opening May 19, 2012.  Not only had the community raised the funds to repair and reopen the business, they also took great pains to restore it to its earlier architectural glory.  Such an achievement for a town of just over 3,000 residents–when you consider that the next city south on Interstate I-90 is Anaconda with its monument Washoe Theatre, I immediately began to think of future “movie palace” trips.   What a treat, both for the experience and architecture.

Rialto Theater, Deer Lodge 10

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Re-energizing the Rialto to once again be an anchor for community, both in an economic sense but also a cultural sense, is an achievement not to be taken lightly.  In the spring of 2016 a team of experts got together to inventory, consider, and make recommendations for Deer Lodge’s 21st century future.  The report covers much ground, is well meaning, yet is devoid of the type of passion that the theatre project involved.  Experience tells me that heritage assets can do that–the sense of the past, identity, promise, and nostalgia that they represent are important building blocks for any committed community.

Kohrs Library, Missouri at 5th, 1902In that same trip to Deer Lodge, I noted how the community had recently enhanced the National Register-listed W. K. Kohrs Memorial Library (1902), one of the region’s great Classical Revival buildings by the Butte architectural firm of Link and Carter (J.G. Link would soon become one of the state’s most renowned classicists), by expanding the library

Kohrs Library and 1995with an addition to the side and behind the commanding entrance portico. Although it has proven to be difficult for such a small town to keep the library professionally staffed, the care they have shown the exterior and interior indicate they understand the value of this monument from the past.

The town’s New Deal era post office–a Colonial Revival design from the office of Louis A. Simon–is another National Register landmark that serves dual purposes as both a post office, but also community art museum with the wonderful mural by Verona L. Burkhard.

U.S. Post Office, 1938, Main St, Deer LodgeThen add in the impressive examples of turn of the 20th century church architecture, represented by the Cotswold Gothic stone work of St. James Episcopal Church, the more former Tudor Revival of the 1st Presbyterian Church, and the more vernacular yet

St. James Episcopal, 4th at Cottonwood, Deer Lodge

expressive Gothic spire, with fish-scale shingles, of the Latter-Day Saints Church.  The care and respect here also says much about Deer Lodge’s understanding of the value of the past, a pattern reflected in the community’s historic school buildings that range from the Victorian Gothic of Trask Hall to the 1960s modernism of the elementary school–and

then there is Powell County High School campus that moves from the Collegiate Gothic style of the early 20th century to the New Deal functionalism of the gym for the Fighting Wardens and onto the modernism of 1960s school design.  The Vo-Tech Building is one of my favorite examples of public school modernism in all of Montana.

Powell Co HS 1917 Deer Lodge

 

Vo Ed Building, Powell Co HS, 1960s

When you add the decades-long care manifested in the Deer Lodge Woman’s Club building, what do you learn:  Deer Lodge gets it, and while the road is not easy I look forward to this community charting its course in the 21st century.  Next post:  some of the challenges ahead.

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Photograph from 2007.

Dillon’s public buildings

IMG_3276Dillon is not a large county seat but here you find public buildings from the first third of the 20th century that document the town’s past aspirations to grow into a large, prosperous western city.  It is a pattern found in several Montana towns–impressive public buildings designed to prove to outsiders, and perhaps mostly to themselves, that a new town out in the wilds of Montana could evolve into a prosperous, settled place like those county seats of government back east.

The public library dates to 1901-1902, constructed with funds provided by the Carnegie Library building program of steel magnate Andew Carnegie.  This late example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture came from architect Charles S. Haire, who would become one of the state’s most significant early 20th century designers.

The library reflected the town’s taste for the Romanesque, first expressed in the grand arched entrance of the Beaverhead County Courthouse (1889-1890), designed by architect Sidney Smith. The central clock tower was an instant landmark for the fledging railroad town in 1890–it remains that way today.

IMG_3236The Dillon City Hall also belongs to those turn-of-the-20th century public landmarks but it is a bit more of a blending of Victorian and Classical styling for a multi-purpose building that was city hall, police headquarters, and the fire station all rolled into one.

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The most imposing Classical Revival public structure in Dillon is also the smallest:  the public water fountain, located between the railroad depot and the Dingley Block.

Dillon, post office, c. 1940, NRA New Deal era post office introduced a restrained version of Colonial Revival style to Dillon’s downtown. The central entrance gave no hint to the marvel inside, one of the

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IMG_3262state’s six post office murals, commissioned and executed between 1937 and 1942.  The Dillon work is titled “News from the States” painted by Elizabeth Lochrie in 1938. It is a rarity among the murals executed across the country in those years because it directly addressed the mail and communication in early Beaverhead County.  Ironically, few of the post office murals actually took the mail as a central theme.

Dillon P.O. Mural NR 1The New Deal also introduced a public modernism to Dillon through the Art Deco styling of the Beaverhead County High School, a building still in use today as the county high school.

Dillon, Beaverhead Co HS

IMG_3227A generation later, modernism again was the theme for the Dillon Middle School and Elementary school–with the low one-story profile suggestive of the contemporary style then the rage for both public and commercial buildings in the 1950s-60s, into the 1970s.

Dillon Middle School

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Dillon elementary schoolThe contemporary style also made its mark on other public buildings, from the mid-century county office building to the much more recent neo-Rustic style of the Beaverhead National Forest headquarters.

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Dillon, Beaverhead Ntl Forest headquarters

The Beaverhead County Fairgrounds is the largest public landscape in Dillon, a sprawling complex of exhibition buildings, grandstand, and rodeo arena located on the outskirts of town along the railroad line.

But throughout town there are other reminders of identity, culture, and history.  Dillon is energized through its public sculpture, be it the cowboys in front of the Chamber of Commerce office or the Veterans Memorial Park on the northern outskirts.

 

 

 

Bozeman’s neighborhoods

The quality of Bozeman’s historic residential area between downtown and Montana State University was apparent even to me in 1984-85–someone at the time much more in tune with public buildings, industrial corridors, and downtown blocks than the mix of Victorian, vernacular, and 20th century revival styles that you find in Bozeman’s historic neighborhoods.

Gallatin Co Bozeman Willson Ave 5 Willson House

Everyone at the state historic preservation office was excited about the 1985 listing of the Burr Fisher House, designed in distinctive Spanish Colonial style by Bozeman architect Fred Willson, and wherever you looked you saw potential for many other properties, if not entire neighborhoods. Passing decades had left to neglect, perhaps not the wisest choices in treatments or tenants, but the potential remained to be tapped.

As indicated by the above before and after photos, with the 1985 image on the left and the 2015 image on the right, the last 30 years have been a time of transformation and restoration in many of the downtown neighborhoods.  Indeed, where there were no historic residential historic districts, there are now multiple districts, crisscrossing the city and creating a real foundation for community stability, pride, identity, and growth.

What I didn’t notice as well in 1985 as I did last year was the neighborhood’s imprint of Montana modernism from the New Deal era, represented so well by the Longfellow School

and its long horizontal massing and stylish entrance, to the contemporary styles of the 1960s into the 1970s, as seen below, in the Grand Avenue Catholic Center, and the contemporary style house on Story Avenue.

Gallatin Co Bozeman Grand Ave Catholic Center 1950s

Gallatin Co Bozeman Story Ave 1950s modern

These dwellings are truly just a taste of the richness and diversity of architectural statements in the town’s historic neighborhoods from Main Street to the university.  Bozeman’s successful neighborhood districts represent one of the lasting achievements of historic preservation and property owner engagement in Montana over the last 30 years.

 

The Yellowstone’s Treasure County: Small Place, Big History

IMG_6911Treasure County dates to 1919, one of the last counties created in the Yellowstone Valley.  Among the smallest counties in size, it has just over 700 residents, a drop of over 200 since my visit in 1984.  But the county has some of the most evocative buildings in the state, starting with the Yucca Theatre, built in 1931 by brothers David and Jim Manning, who wanted to give their community a spark, a glimmer of hope in the increasing hard times of the depression.  David Manning had liked the Spanish Mission style when he had traveled in the Southwest, and he thought, why not for Hysham, since the town was near the spot on the Yellowstone River where Manuel Lisa had established one of the valley’s earliest trading posts.

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Despite the brothers’ best intentions, the theatre struggled as the town and county dwindled in population, but David was devoted to it and transformed it into his home, a convenient landmark, it would turn out, for his political career.  Manning was elected to the Montana legislature in 1932, and he was still serving in the House when I worked at the State Capitol from 1982-1983.  He told me about his theatre, and urged me to go and enjoy his town, and stay at the house, if needed.

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The Yucca Theatre was the first building listed in the National Register in Treasure County and it serves once again as a theatre but also a historic site. Local sculptor Bob Schulze has added statues of Lewis and Clark, along with Sacajawea and Pomp, and a saber-tooth tiger, wooly mammoth and a white buffalo to boot.  Across the street, in an old storefront, is the county museum, another addition to Hysham’s heritage tourism offerings since my 1984 visit.

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Rep. Manning also recommended a stop at the Brunswick Bar, and I am glad he did–this is a great place with great Montana bar food.  The bar has been in business since the 1950s, at least, and the building stands at the location of the original county courthouse.

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And speaking of the courthouse, it is a sparkling “contemporary style” building of the 1950s, an important contribution to Montana modernism.  Many have commented on unique treatment of the exterior, with a map of the county serving as the primary design motif.  The building, as you might expect, has changed little since its opening in 1955.

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But there’s another Hysham contribution to Montana modernism:  the Treasure County High School Gym–an Art Moderne styled building from the New Deal era right on old U.S. 10 as it passed through town.

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But this is not the National Register-listed New Deal gym in Treasure County, that is at the hamlet of Sanders, where the WPA built the Sanders School Gymnasium and Community Hall in 1940.  This is not Montana Modernism but Montana Rustic, a design from the Billings architectural firm of J.G. Link. It is one of my favorite New Deal buildings in all of

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New Dealers believed that children needed recreation, and built hundreds of gyms and sports field across the state.  They also believed that devastated, declining rural communities needed spaces–like this community hall–where they could gather for local sports, social events, funerals, and elections.  But the Rustic style in this part of the Yellowstone Valley–not really fitting, the style would have made much more sense in the mountainous western half of Montana.

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At Sanders, the public school has been gone for decades.  But in the northern part of Treasure County, far, really from everywhere is the Rancher School, perhaps the oldest pubic building in the county since its 1910 construction date means that the school predates the actual creation of Treasure County.  Here is a classic early 20th century school–protected still by barb wire and used periodically for community events.  When the National Trust of Historic Preservation placed Montana’s rural schools on its endangered list, everyone had buildings just like the Rancher School in mind.

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Kudos to everyone who has contributed to keeping this building standing as a symbol of communities long gone but not forgotten, not as long as rural landmarks like all of the historic buildings in Treasure County continue to serve owners and residents.