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‘A great piece of history’

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Scaffolding covers the work underway to restore the building to its condition from the 1920s. PHOTO BY FRANK ELTMAN / MTFP

Once obscured by a 1970s remodel, the building at the corner of Main and Black streets in downtown Bozeman is being returned to the original design of noted architect Fred Willson.

By ​​Frank Eltman MONTANA FREE PRESS

BOZEMAN — Builder Randy Scully has embarked on a new project to make something on Main Street old again.

The owner of ScullyWest Properties is renovating an iconic downtown bank building to its former glory, keeping faith with the way noted Bozeman architect Fred Willson designed the structure when it opened a century ago.

The once and future home to US Bank at the corner of Main and Black streets is currently covered in scaffolding as a cadre of carpenters, masons and other tradespeople work to eliminate any evidence of a 1972 renovation that obscured brick and limestone walls, arch windows and a cornice around the top of the five-story structure.

 “We get a lot of people complimenting our contractors on what they’re doing here, and it’s great to see. I knew going in that we were going to bring back a great piece of history, and I felt very confident that the people of Bozeman would be really excited about this.”

BUILDING OWNER RANDY SCULLY

“It’s too precious of a building not to do what we can to bring it back,” Scully said on a recent sunny summer morning as the sounds of power tools filled the air. “I know a lot of people are very excited.”

He said people stop on Main Street and take photographs of the work. Some sit on a bench on Black Street and look up and marvel.

“We get a lot of people complimenting our contractors on what they’re doing here, and it’s great to see. I knew going in that we were going to bring back a great piece of history, and I felt very confident that the people of Bozeman would be really excited about this.” 

 Designed by Willson, renowned throughout Bozeman and Montana for projects like the Ellen Theater, the Gallatin County Courthouse and others, the bank was built in a Classical Revival style when it opened in 1920, featuring a grand entrance and large windows. But it was remodeled in a contemporary style a half-century later, obscuring many of the charming features of the original building and reflecting a more modern style at the time.

“The ’70s came and they ruined the whole thing,” said Julia Strehlau Jacobs, program assistant with the Extreme History Project, who gives walking tours of historic Main Street. “That renovation basically ruined any chance for it to be on the National Register” of historic sites. “I really don’t know where these people were coming from.”

Jacobs gushed with praise for the efforts of Scully and his team.

“To see something on Main Street that is being put back to its original historic beauty is kind of amazing,” she said. “We as historians are so thankful for that. You know the wild west Main Streets are kind of unique, and to not have them gone totally is very, very valuable.”

The building started as the Commercial National Bank, later became First National Bank, and is currently a US Bank facility. US Bank is currently occupying space to the east of the structure that’s now under renovation and will return when the work is completed. Scully says he is hoping to finish the project by early 2024.

“We are very proud of our history in Bozeman and look forward to continuing to serve the community,” said US Bank spokesperson Jeff Shelman. “We look forward to the possibilities that this redevelopment will provide for the community.”

Bozeman City Commissioner Terry Cunningham said the renovation is “like watching linoleum being peeled back to reveal beautifully aged hardwoods. Randy Scully’s painstaking restoration is a gift to the community.”

“To see something on Main Street that is being put back to its original historic beauty is kind of amazing. We as historians are so thankful for that. You know the wild west Main Streets are kind of unique and to not have them gone totally is very, very valuable.”

JULIA STREHLAU JACOBS, PROGRAM ASSISTANT WITH THE EXTREME HISTORY PROJECT

Cunningham added that such projects “illustrate the value of preservation from a historic and aesthetic standpoint.”

Willson spoke of his architecture philosophy in an address at Montana State University in 1954: “There is a fundamental reason for every feature embodied in a structure. It must have refinement, simplicity, beauty and good taste. Thus an architect’s business is to make the things of daily life beautiful.”

Scully declined to discuss details of how much he paid for the building or what the renovation is costing, other than to concede that “These projects are by no means inexpensive.”

His plans include a grand two-story atrium entrance, which will be occupied by US Bank. Offices and other facilities will fill the remaining part of the structure. He shot down rumors that any part of the building would include apartments.

He is replacing the staircases and putting in a new elevator that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He noted that when Willson designed the building the floor structure was unique to Bozeman and was similar to the way the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers were built. “They designed these buildings to withstand fires,” he said, adding that there is no evidence of any fire damage in the century-old structure.

When it opened, the building was the tallest structure in Bozeman.

“This one is all steel with a brick skeleton,” Scully said. “Our masons keep commenting on what great shape it is in.”

The renovation will also include an expansion in the rear of the building, bringing the 33,000-square-feet structure to 42,000 square feet.

The building will be named “The National,” to reflect its history as a national bank.

“It’s important for a historical piece of Bozeman to capture the name of the building,” Scully said. “Tenants will come and go, but we want buildings to last, and this one will last for a long, long time, and we want to have that name stay with the building.”

Scully, 53, said he has been swinging a hammer since he was 16, and the project is a pinnacle of his career. He said he and his partners have been discussing for several years a renovation of the building purchased from US Bank in 2020. Work began last February after the last remaining tenants were relocated.

“I’m restoring an iconic building in downtown. This is one of the gems of downtown Bozeman,” he said. “I just don’t have it in me to see this building be anything other than renovated. It’s a gem. You can’t get rid of a gem like this.”

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