Downtown Historic Walking Tour

“History can never be covered up,” said Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, and those words could never truer than in Downtown Missoula. Take the time to look up as you tour the many and varied historical landmarks listed below, and remnants of the past will appear to you in tucked-away corners. Count the historic billboards of long-forgotten place like the Atlantic Hotel and the Diner Café and you will see the many layers of history like layers of an onion in the story of Missoula.


  1. Wilma Building  •  104 S. Higgins
    Previously known as the Smead-Simons Building, this eight-story Sullivanesque-style building was commonly referred to as the “Showplace of Montana” after it was constructed in 1921. It was built by William “Billy” Simons, an early western entrepreneur, who produced Wild West shows and built several theaters in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska during the Gold Rush. The theater became a living memorial to his wife, Edna Wilma, a famous light opera star. The Wilma Building houses three theaters (two small cinemas and one large 1,000-seat theater), three private banquet/meeting rooms, offices and residential space. The Wilma is Missoula’s first modern steel-framed “skyscraper.”
  2. Florence Hotel  •  111 N. Higgins
    Constructed in 1941, the Florence Hotel occupies the same site as two earlier Florence Hotels, both of which burned. Much like the east section of the Palace Hotel (Broadway & Ryman), this hotel was built to accommodate the increasing number of automobile travelers, and included an interior, multi-level parking garage. Today this excellent example of Art Moderne architecture has been converted to an office complex with retail businesses occupying the main floor. The Governor’s Room, located on the second floor, is still used as a ballroom/banquet room for special events. The Lobby was recently refurbished to its original state and is available for special events as well.
  3. Headquarters Building  •  113 W. Front
    Advertised as “An Ornament to the Street,” when constructed in 1888 as a men’s social club and saloon, this building and its 1916 partner to the west, the Daily Company Annex, were “remuddled” over the years, with wide metal panels and modern windows dominating the front facade. In 1892 the building witnessed a major fire and the mysterious murder of Maurice Higgins, son of a Missoula founder. The Headquarters’ 1990s restoration captures the feel of Missoula’s “red-light” district of the 1880s, while the Daily Annex addresses the reform movement to shut down the district. Recognized with both local and state preservation awards, the Headquarters Building/Daily Annex contains a nice display of artifacts and project progress on the second floor.
  4. Gleim II Building  •  255 & 257 W. Front
    The Gleim II was a brothel owned and operated by Mary Gleim, whose splashy career included conviction for attempted murder of a rival and a prison term in Deer Lodge. Built around 1893, after two major fires swept the downtown, this red brick, sage-green building was restored by David Paoli in 1995 and captured the Historic Preservation Award for that effort. This building was one of eight owned by Gleim during the peak years of Missoula’s “Red Light District.” “ Mother Gleim” retained title to this two-story vernacular commercial style brick building until her death in 1914.
  5. Gleim Building  •  265 W. Front
    This classically-styled brick building served as the headquarters for Mary Gleim’s bordello businesses along Front Street from the early 1890s to approximately 1914. Original arches were uncovered by James Hoffmann in a1980s renovation. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this building is an excellent example of Romanesque Revival architecture with its arched windows, brick pilasters, checkerboard banding and granite sills. Through its lifetime, businesses located here included the Pullman Pool Hall (1929), Carroll Nash Cigars (1932), and the Hawthorne Club, a 1940s jazz club.
  6. Studebaker Building  •  216 W. Main
    As the automobile gained popularity in the 1910s, stables and garages existed side by side. The succession of businesses at this address documents the transition that must have been hard on the old timers. By 1921, the Main Street Motor Company advertised repairs and rental space for 70 vehicles here. Louis Nybo sold Studebakers, the choice of the Missoula police force until the 1950s. Recently restored by Historical Architect James McDonald, the building is home to Cedar Creek Salon & Day Spa and Dye & Moe Law Firm.
  7. Palace Hotel  •  147 W. Broadway
    First opened as the Savoy Hotel in 1909, this building is one of the few remaining symbols of the prosperous period of time when the expansion of the railroad through Missoula enhanced the growth of the lumber and manufacturing industries. The original structure and a 1941 annex formed Missoula’s largest single hotel. As time passed, the hotel’s upper floors became an empty, decaying shell, but a 1995 rehabilitation project created 60 upper-floor housing units. Today the Palace Apartments beautifully illustrate how preservation can help rejuvenate a city center.
  8. Missoula County Courthouse  •  200 W. Broadway
    The Neo-classical style sandstone Courthouse was designed by prominent local architect, A.J. Gibson, and completed in 1910. Features of the building include the impressive clock tower which houses a two-ton bell, massive Ionic support columns, copper-faced entry doors and vertical panels of beveled glass. Eight murals created by well-known western artist, Edgar S. Paxson, hang in the building’s entryway and document the valley’s early history.
  9. Simons Block  •  314 N. Higgins
    Built in 1899, the Simons Building is one of Downtown Missoula’s newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places, earning honors in 2000. Named after Missoula businessman Louis N. Simons, the building was originally an art store that evolved into a general hardware store in the 1920s. It was also home to one of the city’s last bordellos. The second floor was vacant for close to 30 years before Dick Clemow began renovation. The main floor is home to Moose Creek Mercantile and Alara Jewelry.
  10. Higgins Block  •  202 N. Higgins
    The Higgins Block, commissioned by Missoula co-founder C.P. Higgins in 1889, is Missoula’s finest example of Queen Anne commercial architecture. Higgins was one of Missoula County’s original county commissioners and a member of Montana’s first Territorial Legislature. The Higgins Block includes the gray granite, copper-domed corner building and the red polychromed brick structures to the north and east. This National Register building was restored in the early 1980s. The Higgins Block is home to countless businesses today, including American Federal Savings Bank, Doc’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop, Bella Donna and Gallery Saintonge.
  11. Masonic Temple  •  120-136 E. Broadway
    Built in 1909, the Masonic Temple is the only Beaux Arts Style building in Missoula’s central business district. Particularly notable for its arched bays and elaborate terra cotta cornice and frieze work, the building still serves as home to the Masons in addition to numerous office and retail businesses.
  12. U.S. Post Office & Federal Building  •  200 E. Broadway
    Designed in the Italian Renaissance style and constructed of Indiana limestone and granite, this building was formerly called the Federal Building. The original building was erected between 1911-1913, and the east addition was built in 1929. The north addition was erected in 1937. Listed on the National Historic Register, the building has housed the U.S. Federal District Court since 1929.
  13. Northern Pacific Railroad Depot  •  Railroad & N. Higgins
    When the track of the Northern Pacific reached Missoula in 1883, it was possibly the most significant event in the town’s history. Reliable transportation created a major economic and commercial distribution hub for Western Montana. This third depot building was designed by Reed & Stem, a celebrated architectural firm from St. Paul, Minn., that designed over 100 depots in America, including New York City’s Grand Central Station. Built in 1901, this National Register building is an architecturally significant example of simplified Renaissance Revival architecture, which represents the historic importance of rail transportation to this city.
  14. St. Francis Xavier Church  •  420 W. Pine
    Constructed between 1891 and 1892, this church is a major religious, architectural and artistic landmark in Missoula. Its 144-foot-high polygonal tent roof spire continues to be a landmark of the Missoula skyline. The interior of this National Register church contains murals painted around 1900 by Brother J. Carignano, who also painted the mural in the St. Ignatius Mission.

Other Downtown Buildings on the National Historic Register

  1. Atlantic Hotel ……………………………………… 519 N. Higgins
  2. Belmont Hotel ……………………………………. 430 N. Higgins
  3. Bluebird Building ……………………………….. 220-224 N. Higgins
  4. Brunswick Hotel ………………………………… 223 Railroad
  5. Carnegie Public Library ……………………… 335 N. Pattee
  6. Dixon-Duncan Block ………………………….. 232-240 N. Higgins
  7. Garden City Drug ……………………………….. 118 N. Higgins
  8. Grand Pacific Hotel ……………………………. 118 W. Alder
  9. Hammond Arcade ……………………………….. 101 S. Higgins
  10. Hellgate Lodge …………………………………….. 120 N. Pattee
  11. Independent Telephone Co. ………………. 207 E. Main
  12. Knowles Building ……………………………….. 200-210 S. Third St. W.
  13. Labor Temple …………………………………….. 208 E. Main
  14. Lenox Flats …………………………………………. 300-306 W. Broadway
  15. Lucy Building ……………………………………… 330 N. Higgins
  16. Marsh & Powell Funeral Home …………. 224 W. Spruce
  17. Milwaukee Depot ………………………………. 250 Station Dr.
  18. Missoula Laundry Co. …………………………. 111 E. Spruce
  19. Model Laundry & Apartments …………… 131 W. Alder
  20. Montgomery Ward Building …………….. 201 N. Higgins

Missoula Historic Districts

  1. East Pine Street Historic District
    Missoula’s first exclusive residential area grew up along East Pine Street,and today it’s one of Missoula’s seven historical districts. Thepredominating man-made feature and unifying visual element of the District isits historic boulevard, which consists of approximately 15-foot-wide boulevardswith large maple trees on each side of the street and a unique 25- foot-widegrass median. There are a variety of historic buildings, most of them multi-familyor single-family residences built between 1872 and 1940. All but six of the 50major buildings were constructed before 1940. The district contains the city’soldest residence (Francis Worden House – 1872), and the A.J. Gibson-designedGovernor Joseph Dixon mansion, both located in the 300 block of East Pine.
  2. Southside Historic District
    town center, north of the Clark Fork River, Federal Judge Hiram Knowles platted this addition in 1890. By the mid-1890s, gracious Queen Anne style residences proclaimed the Southside as a wealthy haven. Between 1908 and 1910, the arrival of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad on the Southside’s edge added the Milwaukee Depot. There are over 60 structures on the Southside Historic District walking tour.
  3. University Area Historic District
    Bounded by South 4th Street East, Beckwith Avenue, Arthur Avenue and Higgins Avenue, the University Area Historic District was officially placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 2000. Missoula’s largest historic district, the University Area District contains some stunning examples of Queen Anne, Craftsman, and Revival styles of architecture.
  4. Northside Missoula Railroad Historic District
  5. Lower Rattlesnake Historic District
  6. University of Montana Historic District
  7. Fort Missoula Historic District