Hotel Libby gets historic status

By definition, status will qualify it for funding

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Gail Burger, the project director of Hotel Libby, now with a National Historic Landmark status, plans to restore the hotel to its form of the 1930s, when this photo was taken.

Gail Burger, project director of the Hotel Libby renovation project, received an interesting email Thursday afternoon. 

It was a notification from the National Park Service that Hotel Libby had been officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it a protected property and available for renovation and rehabilitation grants. 

“When I read the email I said ‘this is fabulous,’ and I did a happy dance,” Burger laughed. “I immediately called everyone to let them know.”

This federal acknowledgement has been two years in the making. Six binders of documents, historical research, photos, applications and requirements show how much Burger put into just this step of the process to reopen and make commercially viable the 113-year old Hotel Libby. 

“I’m never doing another application,” she said. “It was all-consuming.”

Hotel Libby is actually listed under its original name in the National Register of Historic Places, “The Coram.” It was named after its original owner and builder, J.A. Coram, who left it unfinished and skeletal for 12 years. Coram was a venture capitalist from Boston who invested heavily in Montana projects. Coram’s partners, Frank M. Leonard and A.J. Maltman bought into the project in 1899 for a total of $15,000.

The mining industry buckled at the turn of the century and investors panicked, causing Coram to leave the building unfinished. 

The building was used to store cattle during inclement weather and as a town meeting hall when they could shoo the cows out.

In 1909, C.E. Lukens and John H. Town purchased the building and plans had increased to around $40,000. In 1910, they opened the hotel and it has been Hotel Libby ever since (excepting a 9-month period as the “Hot-el” in the late 60s).

All this historic information was not just interesting tidbits for Burger, but required for the extremely detailed application.

“We need to know the original architect and why he didn’t finish the building,” Burger said. “Who are you going to ask? All these people are dead!”

Although the result was a happy one for Burger and her parents, the owners of the property, Ron and Candy Johnson, it wasn’t a surprise. Burger gave a presentation on why Hotel Libby was deserving of historical status in Kalispell in May. She was expecting to hear back from the deciding committee in June or July, but understood these things take time.

“I was going to keep submitting the application until they accepted it,” she said. “We’re ready to go, but I need the money to move forward.” 

The grants available for historic buildings are many, but a lot of grant-writing will have to go into the project, and Burger, as project director and grant writer, will still have her hands full.

“Not all of our eggs are in one basket,” Burger said. “We’ve got lots of baskets!”

The grant process is a time-consuming one that will have to get several bids from contractors before the applications are complete. But Burger isn’t daunted.

“Our goal is smoothly rolling to what we need to do,” she said. “The grand staircase will finally be grand.”

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