Construction was complete and the building was ready for occupancy – well, sort of.
The elevator was installed, but couldn’t be used. That would require the proper inspection by the proper person. Some of the furniture hadn’t arrived. The lawn was seeded, but constant rain threatened to wash away the work.
There was a pesky lawsuit that threatened the road-paving project in front of the building. And there was that quandary of which door to use – the public was utterly perplexed.
Other than that, Missoula’s brand new federal building and post office (currently the object of desire of Missoula city and county leaders) was ready for business in the spring on 1913. Miss “Oula” stood ready to welcome Uncle Sam and his new addition to the city.
According to Missoulian newspaper accounts, “From basement to roof it is as modern in every feature as architect, mechanic and builder could devise … for its size it has no equal in Montana … (a) splendid structure, one of which the Garden City has reason to be proud.”
The main floor was designed to accommodate every function of the postal service: mail sorting, office space, mailboxes, a money office, a vault and an expansive public lobby.
In mid-February, 1913 Postmaster Andrew Logan was commissioned as the custodian of the $180,000 building. He and other federal officials toured the facility and pronounced it “fit for service.”
The second and third floors were designed specifically for “field district number one of the Forest Service,” which had been housed in the downtown Hammond building. That building underwent a complete remodel once the government workers moved out.
The new post office faced Cedar Street (now Broadway) with a big revolving door atop a flight of “seven easy steps (carrying) one to the level of the first floor.”
But there were also doors at each end of the expansive lobby, which resulted in the aforementioned quandary.
A local newspaper columnist took it upon himself, with tongue in cheek, to educate the public. Under the headline, “Federal Building Mystery,” he declared, “The mystery is solved; the question is answered; the much-sought-for information has been obtained. No more shall the patrons of Missoula’s post office walk in darkness and doubt.”
Simply put: Come in the front door, only; leave through any of the doors.
As long as we’re on the subject of that front door – no sooner was the new federal building opened, vandals struck. The local paper reported, “A gang of rowdies played havoc with the revolving door … the big pane of glass was broken (and) one of the polished brass braces was pulled from its position and bent so badly” it could not be repaired.
And about that street paving brouhaha: It seems the city council wanted to pave the area near the federal building and the fire station as well as parts of Stevens and Pattee streets, but the “Higgins estate” objected and filed a lawsuit.
They claimed the city had already exceeded its debt limit and couldn’t take on any more projects and their lawyers took the city to court.
Then some well-to-do Missoulians stepped in, offering $2,000 of their own money to get the paving job done. So the judge tossed the case. But the Higgins estate threatened to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. Eventually they changed their minds.
There was some lighthearted news accompanying the opening of the post office.
In an “about town” newspaper column, sometimes penned by Arthur L. Stone (but in this case not attributed), the writer described a package arriving at the new facility as containing “three dozen eggs and two dressed chickens.
“The package came from Wisconsin and its contents were found to be in good condition. We have always entertained a high regard for the state of Wisconsin and an exalted estimate of its wealth, but we hold our breath in amazement at the prodigality of the sender of the package.
“With eggs at their present price, three dozen represent a small fortune and the shipment of this material, even for Lenten observance, marks Wisconsin as a state whose people don’t care what they do with their money.
“If W.A. Clark wants to sell the power plant, the electric railway and the water works, there is somebody here (in Missoula) who can buy it on the spot and pay in eggs!”
Hmmm. Perhaps today’s city leaders could purchase and renovate the 106-year-old building with their egg money?
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.