Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A building constructed south of the river in Missoula to accommodate growth in the railroad could get a facelift in the coming year, restoring it to its original appearance when it opened in 1910.

The Missoula Historic Preservation Commission and the city's preservation officer, along with the property's owner, hope to land a state preservation grant to carry out the work.

Architect Paul Fillicetti, who also chairs the commission, on Wednesday said a portion of the restoration work would remove lead-based paint from the building's exterior and shore up deteriorating brick.

“It's due to the environmental conditions evident in the building today that we're looking to mitigate the environmental concerns of the building, specifically related to lead paint found on the exterior,” he said. “The scope of work being proposed requires permitting through the city.”

The building opened as the Penwell Hotel in 1910 to accommodate the Milwaukee Depot, which sits just down the street on the old railroad bed. The hotel's construction launched new commercial growth on the south side of the river due to the railroad.

Initially, Fillicetti said the hotel accommodated railroad passengers and employees, and it included restaurants and businesses. By 1921, a Sandborn fire insurance map indicates a drug store, a second-hand store, a rug cleaner and an auto repair business.

A map produced in the 1950s indicates the first floor as a single tenant, leading Fillicetti to suggest “there may have been some store-front changes.”


Research conducted in preparation for the preservation grant found that the Penwell building is closely tied to Josephine and John Kennedy. Josephine ran an established architectural business in Missoula in 1900 while her husband, John, ran a real estate and insurance industry until 1903.

An April 1909 rendering of the Penwell Building.
An April 1909 rendering of the Penwell Building.

At that point, Fillicetti said, John switched occupations to become an architect. While his wife designed the original Higgins Avenue bridge and the Sacajawea Apartments, John designed the forestry building on the University of Montana campus, along with the Penwell building.

One architectural image depicting the Penwell building in April 1909 includes John Kennedy's name.

But over the years, several modifications have been made to the structure, including a two-tone paint job and the addition of non-historic fire egress stairs and awnings, along with modern aluminum doors and windows.

“The building has been entirely painted, and it's been tested as a lead-based paint,” said Fillicetti. “The paint finishes would be chemically removed from the building. There is no sandblasting. That's in compliance with the Secretary of Interior's standards for the treatment of historic properties. The chemical removal would cause the least damage possible.”

In discussing the building's renovations, Fillicetti said the brickwork on the south- and east-facing walls is deteriorating. With other members of the Historic Preservation Commission, he suspects the brick was possibly manufactured in Missoula and is of a softer, less durable nature.

Crumbling brick also plagues a number of windowsills.

“The scope of the work is not only to remove the paint, but do some masonry restoration and repair to correct some of these conditions,” Fillicetti said. “We're also looking at applying a water-repellent on the softer brick on the south end and alley elevations.”

Plans to restore the Penwell to its historic appearance follows efforts taken on a number of downtown properties in recent years. Among them, the old pharmacy building, which was constructed in the mid 1870s, was restored and included in the new construction of an adjoining hotel.

Removing paint and restoring deteriorating brick are part of the project plans.
Removing paint and restoring deteriorating brick are part of the project plans.

Other historic renovations include the Hammond-Arcade Building on Higgins Avenue, which was constructed in the Art Deco style in 1934, and the Union Block, or old Radio Central Building on Main Street, which was constructed by C.P. Higgins in 1893.

Like other historic structures before their restoration, Fillicetti said the Penwell building includes a number of hidden architectural features. Among them, he named granite column bases and prism-glass tiles above the storefront windows and doors.

Restoration work will remove the non-historic awnings that hide such details. Removal of the paint will also reveal the original brickwork, which appears to be gray with various earth-tones.

“Once the paint is removed, that's the finish that will be on the building,” said Fillicetti. “The project may be in different phases.”