Montana’s Community Gymnasiums

The state basketball tournaments have been all of the talk in Montana newspapers and communities over the last three weeks, and in places like Belt, in Cascade County, they are celebrating state championships this March morning.

Cascade Co Belt school

Gyms were not on my mind particularly when I carried out the 1984-1985 historic preservation plan survey for the Montana State Historic Preservation Office, but even then I picked up on some of the community gyms created by the WPA during the New Deal, such as the one in Virginia City, an unassuming building if there ever was one, and then

VC gym, rear

VA City WPA gym, community center

the tiny log construction gym for Sanders, a tiny community in Treasure County, seen below.  Both the Virginia City and the Sanders gyms are listed in the National Register of

Community Hall Sanders Treasure Co 2

Community Hall Sanders Treasure Co 4

Historic Places, but the state has dozens of other worthy community gyms, that are very much at the center of recreational, sports, and social life in these towns and counties. Some await new fates and new futures, such as the gyms in Pony, Madison County, also on

Pony school gym

the National Register, and the more architecturally distinct Craftsman-styled community gym built for Whitehall in Jefferson County.

Gym, facade, Whitehall

Others date to mid-century and their more modern styles reflect their function–the half-barrels roofs–but they also dominate the one buildings around them, such as the high school gym in White Sulphur Springs, Meagher County, seen below.

Meagher Co White Sulpjur Springs school 2

Then there is the frankly spectacular modern-style gym of Twin Bridges, in the state’s southwest corner, with its sweeping overhanging roof.

Twin bridges gym

But wherever you encounter community gyms, you can tell from their location and maintenance, these are buildings of local pride and achievement, and places necessary to community life when so much else is scattered and disconnected.

McCone Co Circle school 3

Gymnasium in Circle, McCone County.

Powell Co HS Gym

Powell County High School Gym, Deer Lodge.

Lake Co Polson gym

High School Gym, Polson, Lake County.

Phillips Co Malta old gym

The “Old Gym” in Malta, Phillips County

Communities across Montana are clearly proud of their gyms, and even when new ones come along, they find new uses for the stately buildings, like the conversion of the old gymnasium below, located in Boulder, into a fine arts theater, which is just one example of this type of adaptive reuse project in the state.

Gym facade, Jefferson County high school, Boulder

Here’s to new futures, grounded in meaningful pasts, for these community, and often times architectural, landmarks across the Big Sky Country. As a group, they are powerful reminders of the importance of community spaces in the counties, both urban and rural, of Montana.

Flathead Co Kalispell high school gym 1

Art Deco styled gymnasium, Kalispell, Flathead County

 

 

Pony up in Madison County

Pony barPony, as a gateway into the Tobacco Root Mountains, may be categorized as a ghost town in much of today’s literature about Montana, but it certainly has a lot of real people hanging around to be a ghost town.  Established during the gold rush decade of the 1860s, mines here stayed in operation until World War II, and consequently, a wide range of historic buildings remain in the town today.

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Morris State Bank, Pony, MT

I explored Pony in 1984–and was captivated by what was there, especially its superb neoclassical styled state bank building.  Here is where historic preservation has helped make a difference.  In 1987 the state historic preservation office approved the Pony Historic District to the National Register–a reflection of the town’s significance, its extant historic architecture, but most importantly the determination of its residents and property owners that the town would survive into the 20th century.

The Pony School–another impressive neoclassical design–and the Craftsmanesque gymnasium/community center, which is from the New Deal era, overlook the town, and remain in good condition.  Other community institutions include extant frame and concrete block churches, both in Gothic style, and the Mt. Jefferson Masonic Lodge building.

Pony Mt Jefferson Masonic #56

Besides the all-important Pony bar and the bank, other historic business structures remain in different states of repair, such as the brick law office, and the frame two-story general store seen below.

The range of domestic architecture in Pony is also significant, from grand brick Queen Anne style homes to more vernacular and Gothic styled influenced gable-front and wing dwellings. Another noteworthy home is the frame, two-story dwelling of the Pony park keeper.

IMG_0033Yes, Pony has a park, another of positive developments since my work in 1984-1985.  The park is not only community space, but it also has various artifacts and machinery from the mining era, along with public interpretation of the district’s history and of the artifacts within the park.

Pony is one of those jewels of Montana, a place loved by residents, valued by those who discover it.  Let’s hope that the historic district keeps it for generations to come.

 

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The wonderful Twin Cowboys gate on Pony Road