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Historic Preservation Excellence Awards 2013

pres awards logo 2013

Once again MPA honored another group of inspiring preservationists at our Preservation Excellence Awards ceremony held on October 24 at The Northern Hotel in Billings. Every year it is our pleasure to applaud these outstanding savers of historic places at an elegant party. By honoring their enthusiasm and hard work we hope to inspire others and encourage new preservation projects around the state. And the winners are . . .

The Art Family, Chico Hot Springs
Outstanding Commercial Preservation Project

chico pool

Mike and Eve Art and family of Pray, MT are honored for 40 years of sensitive development and stewardship at Chico Hot Springs. Chico is one of Montana's best-preserved examples of an early twentieth century hot springs hotel and health resort and, since 1973, owners Mike and Eve Art have worked tirelessly to recapture Chico’s turn-of-the-century ambiance.

When the Arts arrived at Chico they found no central heat in the Main Lodge, algae in the pools, spartan guest rooms, and linoleum everywhere. Thus began a decades-long remodeling project reaching every nook and cranny of the resort. For many of these years, the Arts were right there working the front desk, the kitchen, cleaning the rooms, or scraping and painting. Finally, in the mid-1980s and through the 1990s, the Arts were able to expand the resort, sensitively fitting in new chalets on the hilltop and adding new lodging wings to the grounds without comprising the historic integrity of the original buildings. Not only have they done an outstanding job preserving and adding compatible new buildings at Chico, they’ve also been sensitive to maintaining the rural and relaxed character of the surrounding ranching community by operating a resort that is casual yet elegant and accessible to all income levels. 

Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association for Preservation of Fort Assinniboine, Hill County
Outstanding Group Achievement

Fort Assinniboine with workersThe Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association (FAPA) has worked diligently for several years in stabilizing, restoring, rehabbing, and promoting the historic buildings at the former Fort Assinniboine near Havre. This United States military post was constructed in 1879 and operated until 1911. Built on a grand scale in an extremely remote location, it consisted of 75 brick and stone buildings. Today, the MSU Extension Service owns the property, and FAPA helps maintain and interpret 14 of the original 75 buildings.

The small group of volunteers at FAPA have thoughtfully and heroically conducted hands-on preservation work to stabilize, winterize, and repair the fort buildings; pursued funding opportunities and private donations; and have developed and continue to host summer tours. The Living History Tour held every June is manned by FAPA Tourism Committee volunteers, and ag station employees, and gives visitors an opportunity to imagine life at the fort in its heyday. The ongoing preservation of Fort Assinniboine has allowed the community and tourists to appreciate the rich past of the fort.  The buildings stand as an impressive visual reminder of the fort and are a critical component of developing heritage tourism along the Hi-Line in North Central Montana.

Diane Sands, Missoula
Outstanding Individual Achievement

Ft Missoula headquarters

Diane Sands has won several major awards for her outstanding contributions to women’s rights advocacy and humanities research. But as the development director at the Fort Missoula Historic Museum from 2005 to 2012, she has been instrumental in preserving significant stories of the Garden City’s military and transportation history. She deserves much recognition for her efforts to restore the T-1 Post Headquarters, a key interpretive component of the Fort’s role as an alien detention center from 1941 to 1944. Sands helped secure about a quarter of a million dollars in grants and public money to renovate the building.  “Her work really revitalized our efforts,” said museum director Robert Brown.

Additionally, Sands oversaw the return of one of Missoula’s original streetcar trolleys to the museum, was instrumental in getting the Fort’s homestead cabin on a new foundation, and helped raise funds to organize an exhibit of the Fort’s collection of World War II propaganda posters, one of the largest in the nation. Sands sponsored one of the posters hanging in the gallery in honor of one of her relatives who had been an Army nurse. Her ambition, persistence, and love of history are an inspiration to all.

Mike & Chris Nelson, Zoot Enterprises and Langlas & Associates, Billings
Northern Hotel Rehabilitation
Outstanding Commercial Preservation Project

northern hotel lobby

Billings brothers Mike and Chris Nelson are following in the footsteps of early Billings businessmen, P.B. Moss and Henry Rowley in their efforts to rebuild the often rebuilt Northern Hotel.  Since the Northern opened its doors in 1904 and reopened again after a devastating fire in 1940, it was always the go-to place for lodging, conventions, conferences, and fine dining up until the late 1980s. Mike and Chris Nelson purchased the hotel at auction in 2009 with a clear vision to give Billings back its most modern hotel with 4-star amenities and service, while preserving its unique history and grace.

The Nelsons never gave up, even when faced with a stagnant economy and many banks that were unwilling to back the project. The determined brothers used their own capital to begin demolition of the interior and when financing came through in 2011, they gave the job to Langlas & Associates and A & E Architects. Langlas had just 385 days to redo the entire 160-room hotel, build two restaurants and a catering kitchen. Project manager Jason Hubbard and three superintendents — Ben Flanagan, Lane Huffman and Jon Kolb — worked with hundreds of people, 20 to 30 companies and five or six city of Billings departments often seven days a week for a year.

The Nelson's, Langlas & Associate’s, and A & E Architects commitment to rebuilding the Northern as a downtown anchor and honoring its history shows through in the hotel’s restored neon sign, in the Art Deco/contemporary lobby, the TEN restaurant which took inspiration from the 1940s decorating style of the hotel, and in the 1950s style Bernie’s diner. Both the restaurant and the diner are named after the Nelson's parents who were active in the Billings preservation community. Above and beyond the rehabilitation of the building, the Nelsons also went the extra mile to nominate the Northern for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Just three months after the hotel reopened, The Northern was officially listed in the Register on June 30, 2013.

Kirby Matthew, USFS Region One Preservation Team Leader
Outstanding Individual Achievement

kirby mathew

Kirby Matthew, who retires this year after more than 30 years with the US Forest Service, deserves much applause for his distinguished career preserving dozens of significant Forest Service buildings in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota. His passion for historic preservation has taken him to all parts of the state and beyond and his work has extended the useful life and often brought back from ruin countless ranger stations, barns, lookouts, and outbuildings that define the architectural heritage of our managed federal forest lands.

When he’s not out in the field, Kirby has always been eager to take on new projects and partnerships, sharing his knowledge and routinely lending his and his staff’s time for preservation training workshops to the public and to other federal employees. Some of those training workshops take place in Kirby’s Region One carpenter shop, which he has greatly expanded during his time, and also provides much needed off season space for building and rebuilding wood doors, windows, and furniture. 

In 2012, Kirby along with his colleagues in the Region One Heritage Stewardship Enhancement program were the recipients of the Chairman’s Award for Historic Preservation from the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This award acknowledges not only Kirby’s investment in the rehabilitation and protection of more than 40 significant historic properties but also the creation of many effective partnerships.


Nicholas Vrooman, Metis/LittleShell Tribe Historian and Author
Outstanding Individual Achievement

nick vroomanWith the publication of Nicholas Vrooman’s “The Whole Country was…’One Robe’”: The Little Shell Tribe’s America, this former ranch hand, folklorist, historian, and scholar has achieved his life’s work. Since 1976 Vrooman has surrounded himself with traditional Northern Plains culture
 of which Metis people are a part. He came to Montana to work on a ranch in Helmville and met his first mentor, Bill Doney of the Little Shell tribe. From this friendship and decades-long study and fieldwork, Vrooman would go on to be state folklorist in both North Dakota and Montana, visiting professor of Native American studies at the University of Montana (where he earned his PhD), and the proprietor of Northern Plains Folklife Resources.

Vrooman created the Indian Traditional Arts Residency and Master/Apprenticeship Programs for the North Dakota Council on the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. Through the 1980s and 1990s, he was intimately involved in the development of the Northern Plains Indian Art Market. He produced a cassette recording for Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings, “Plains/Chippewa/Métis Music from Turtle Mountain.” He has also consulted as a curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the Festival of American Folklife on the Mall, the Métis National Council of Canada, the National Folk Festival in Butte, and its successor, the Montana Folk Festival. The extraordinary trust and esteem regarded to Vrooman by the Little Shell was made evident in the spring of 2010 when they contracted with him to write and manage the completion of their history.

MPA takes great pleasure in honoring Vrooman for his lifetime commitment and dedication to documenting and drawing attention to the Métis/Little Shell tribe, work which has benefited both the general public, who know little about this persistent people, and the dispersed members of the Métis community itself in the US and Canada.