September 22, 2017 / Luxury Lifestyle

Montana's Iconic Architecture

Ahead of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, a guide to the state’s varied architecture—from ghost towns and Victorian mansions to the new Mountain Modern


When architecture enthusiasts head to Fishtail, Montana, for the Architecture & Design Film Festival on September 22-24, 2017, they may be forgiven for asking one question: why Fishtail? Well, for the new Tippet Rise Art Center, of course. For its sculpture park. For its retrofitted barn. For its acoustics, courtesy of expert engineering firm Arup.

On loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Alexander Calder’s <i>Two Discs</i> (1965) is installed at Tippet Rise Art Center. Image courtesy of Tippet Rise. Photograph: Andre Costantini. Banner image: The Olivier Barn at Tippet Rise, with<i> Two Discs</i> in the background. Image courtesy of Tippet Rise/Iwan Baan. Photograph: Iwan BaanSitting on more than 10,000 acres around two hours from Bozeman, Tippet Rise is a working ranch and a world-class arts facility. Cattle and sheep share rolling pastures with sculptures by artists such as Alexander Calder and Patrick Dougherty. The open-air performance area is crowned with an origami-like acoustic shell called the Tiara.

Mark di Suvero’s <i>Beethoven’s Quartet</i> (2003) is crafted from steel and stainless steel. Image courtesy of Tippet Rise/Iwan Baan. Photograph: Iwan Baan“It’s such a unique place in the countryside,” says architect Kyle Bergman, the film festival’s founding director. “It’s a natural fit for our audience, who appreciate the built environment and the design elements.”

Parkitectural heritage
In that case, his audience will know that Montana boasts myriad architectural styles—from the preserved ghost towns along an old stage coach route to the Victorian-era mansions built in Butte with mining money.

More than 60 structures remain standing in Bannack, Montana. Founded in 1862 at the peak of the Montana gold rush, the town's population dwindled to zero as miners moved on to more profitable claims. Photograph: AlamyIt all started with the simple log cabin, an iconic structure that looms large in the imagination of America. Montana’s most rustic roots are evident in Helena’s Pioneer Cabin and Reeder’s Alley, part of the city’s protected historic district.

Lake McDonald Lodge inside Glacier National Park is built in a scaled-up log-cabin style, and maintains its rustic charm even today. Photograph: AlamyThe state’s great lodges—Lake McDonald Lodge and the Many Glacier Hotel—take the log cabin a step further in size and scale. This style is often referred to as “parkitecture,” given that many of these buildings are National Park Service structures.

Mountain Modern
Always evolving, today’s architecture in Montana takes aspects of cabin parkitecture and gives it an upgrade.

Spacious yet with a sense of warmth characteristic of the Mountain Modern—or Rustic Modern—style so loved in this part of America, the Huckleberry Lane property is located in the exclusive Iron Horse community in Whitefish. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateThe light-filled living room features an impressive limestone fireplace, while the vaulted ceiling consists of wooden beams reclaimed from a whisky distillery. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateBordered at one end by a temperature-controlled wine room, the formal dining room is ideal for entertaining guests. Photograph: PureWest Real Estate

“We call it Mountain Modern,” says Sean Averill, co-owner of PureWest Real Estate, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in Montana. Averill points to the reclaimed wooden beams and massive limestone fireplaces at a property on Huckleberry Lane in Whitefish as an example. The low-slung ranch has the exposed beam construction of yore, but the inside contains all the latest creature comforts, including a glass-fronted wine cellar in the living room.

Call it what you will—Mountain Modern, Rustic Modern—it’s a popular choice among buyers who want the authentic Montana look with an edge.

Designed by architect Jerry Locati, 300 Red Twig Lane features reclaimed timber, pine floors, and stone accents—complementing the natural environment while at the same time offering modern luxuries. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateLocated on 20 acres, the property benefits from vast views of the mountains and surrounding countryside but is only a short drive to downtown Bozeman. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateThe country-style kitchen comes complete with modern appliances and views of the pond on the property. Photograph: PureWest Real Estate

“Notice how the windows in every room are huge, often floor to ceiling, for sensational views,” says Susi Dokken of PureWest about 300 Red Twig Lane, a Mountain Modern home by award-winning local architect Jerry Locati.

“We’re just four miles from Bozeman, even though it feels like you’re in the countryside. That’s the magic of this place—it’s built to fit into the natural environment. There’s a stocked trout pond on one side of the house and a fly-fishing river on the other.”

With six bedrooms, this “ski-in, ski-out” property in Big Sky is perfect for skiing enthusiasts, while also ideal for enjoying the nearby golf club during warmer weather. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateStunning high ceilings and a grand stone fireplace distinguish the main living area of the property. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateExtensive log details and other wood accents create a sylvan yet elegant feel in the kitchen. Photograph: PureWest Real Estate

Down in Big Sky, a “ski in, ski out” chateau at 217 Goshawk incorporates soaring ceilings and a two-story stone fireplace into the log construction for a cathedral effect.

“What makes this home great is the scale and the height, coupled with the fun of being on the side of a ski hill,” says Jackie Miller of PureWest.

Striking it rich
The state’s architectural heritage doesn’t end with Mountain Modern. There are restored icons like Anaconda’s Washoe Theater, an extravagant Art Deco movie palace built in 1936 by B. Marcus Priteca, and the Finlen Hotel in Butte. Modelled after the Hotel Astor in New York City, the Finlen hosted political A-listers like Theodore Roosevelt, then-Senator John F. Kennedy, and then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

A.O. Von Herbulis, the architect of the neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Helena, took inspiration from the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, making the church a unique sight in the capital city’s skyline. Photograph: AlamyWith Helena flush with gold-rush money in the early 1900s, the Cathedral of St. Helena was built as a Gothic homage to the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria. And in Great Falls, one of its oldest schools became a landmark in the Romanesque Revival style, now the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, as did Billing’s Western Heritage Center.

Known for its enormous copper-clad dome, the State Capital building was built at the turn of the century in Helena after two rival industrialists fought bitterly over which city would become the state capital. Marcus Daly, one of the formidable “copper kings,” wanted it in Anaconda, near his mining operations. Undaunted when the capital went to Helena, he threw himself into his passion—horse racing—and built a luxury stable for his thoroughbreds.

Among the “copper kings” who helped build Montana’s mining industry, Marcus Daly was also known for his investment in thoroughbred breeding. Tammany Hill is his former stable, now converted into a luxury home that retains equestrian touches. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateLocated in Hamilton on the edge of vast national forests, Tammany Hill offers views of the bucolic Bitterroot Valley and impressive Sapphire Mountains. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateAt the back of the property, fragrant rose bushes line the paths. Photograph: PureWest Real Estate

Tammany Hill is Marcus Daly’s stable, converted into a luxury residence. It’s so unique,” says Bobbi Lockhart of PureWest. “The cork floors were renewed and the doors refurbished, as were the dramatic copulas in each upstairs bedroom. There are striking views of the Bitterroot Valley and Sapphire Mountains.”

A modern option
Due north, in Rollins, sits another gem for architecture enthusiasts—especially those looking for something modern. Wildwood Ridge is perched above Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake this side of the Mississippi. It’s unabashedly contemporary, with panoramic views, stack-cube design, and sleek surfaces. Not a timber beam in sight.

Nestled into the hillside above Flathead Lake in Rollins, the contemporary Wildwood Ridge property represents a reversal from the raw wood and stone characteristic of the Mountain Modern style. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateThere are panoramic views of the lake from the sleek and modern kitchen. This home comes with 600 feet of shared lake frontage, two boat slips, and a boat lift. Photograph: PureWest Real EstateGenerously sized rooms offer lake vistas, as do the property’s spacious terraces, including a rooftop deck with hot tub. Photograph: PureWest Real Estate

“Ten years ago, there wasn’t a market for a modern house like this,” notes David Fetveit, co-owner of PureWest Real Estate. “But there has been a shift in the last two to three years. People aren’t always looking for rustic—particularly if it’s for their primary residence, which is happening more and more. This property has all the advantages of being in the country with the refreshing appeal of a contemporary style.” 

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Joanne Latimer
is an award-winning Montréal-based journalist who has written for The New York Times and The Globe and Mail