With a twenty-thousand dollar grant from the Morris F. and Helen Silver Foundation, awarded in May of this year, the first phase of remodeling and infrastructure upgrades at Fort Missoula's old Post Headquarters building recently got underway.
Completion of all Phase I improvements is tentatively set for late autumn of 2004. As currently blueprinted, first phase improvements in the Hall will provide new wall coverings, wiring, and lighting, while restoring the tongue-in-groove flooring, tin-paneled ceilings and the Hall balcony. Phase I also calls for installation of new lavatory, storage, and catering kitchen facilities in the building's lower level, and new code-conforming exit doors which will open from the Hall onto six acres of tree-encircled lawns known as the Parade Grounds.
Phase II of the project is intended to provide the Hall with additional handicapped–access features, enhanced décor and furnishings, and new, modularly-adaptable equipment needed to accommodate expanded public and private uses. Phase III will involve development of NRHC-sponsored community programs, events, and displays. NRHC's in-house programming will emphasize explorations of the area's natural, social, and cultural history, along with overview exhibits and events designed to increase public consciousness of how the history of the Northern Rockies region relates to the lives of its present-day inhabitants.
A world-class collection of historic Montana photographs and images will arrive at the Heritage Center's Fort Missoula campus sometime this summer, thanks to two notable Montana natives who share a passion for Old West history. Comprised of more than 20,000 separate antique postcards, photographs, and other historical images from Montana's early 20th century days, the collection will become a major part of NRHC's permanent museum displays at the Fort.
The donor of the collection, retired banker and philanthropist Robert A. Svoboda, currently of Santa Barbara, California, was born some seven decades ago in the small Montana town of Danvers to Czechoslovokian parents who homesteaded in the Danvers area around the turn of the last century.
Svoboda's lifelong amassing of the collection, initially begun by his mother, was inspired by his family's love for the vast natural beauty of the American West and by the region's embodiment of values that promote material prosperity through human freedom and individual enterprise. Interestingly, it was a similar feeling about the virtues of the American West that caused another notable Czech, the 19th century composer Antonin Dvorak, to compose two enduring musical works, the American Suite and the magnificent New World Symphony, both of which describe in music at least some of what Svoboda's photos depict visually. Thus, one possibility being considered for display of the Svoboda collection calls for the occasional combination of Svoboda's images with Dvorak's music, in special public presentations.
Donation of the collection to NRHC was conceived of and arranged by Missoula native and resident Tim Gordon, an internationally renowned expert in historic artifacts and Old West history who is widely acknowledged to be the Northwest's premier appraiser of Old West antiquities. The donor-philanthropist and the appraiser met and became acquainted as Gordon's Montana History business, and his reputation for encyclopedic knowledge about regional history, grew and flourished.
Several years ago, Gordon completed the world's largest recorded appraisal of historic artifacts by a single appraiser, at Virginia City, Montana. More recently, he was featured on the PBS-TV documentary series which portrayed the lives and struggles of present-day families in a Montana pioneer setting. Among his many other professional distinctions, Gordon is also Appraiser to the National Park Service, at Yellowstone National Park, and recently appraised the Levi Strauss Collection, in San Francisco.
The combination of Tim Gordon's initiative and expertise and Robert Svoboda's generosity has yielded a real historical treasure for all Montanans, and for all visitors to Montana in future years. Plans call for the part of the photo collection to available for public viewing as NRHC opens Heritage Hall in the newly remodeled Post Headquarter building, later this year.
As noted above, completion of Phase I remodeling and restoration work in the Post Headquarters' former gymnasium will be followed by the official re-opening of the facility as 'Heritage Hall' in late 2004. The Hall will at that time become available to the regional community for a wide range of civic and private uses. Revenues derived from outside rental events will likely enable NRHC to begin underwriting costs for at least some of its own, in-house public programs which also make use of the new facility.
NRHC's in-house programs will primarily focus on topics related to its chartered mission, namely preservation and examination of the natural and cultural heritage of the Northern Rockies region. One aspect of such programming may be an ongoing lecture series which examines public policy issues concerned with Missoula's economic development, land-use planning, and natural environment. Another, parallel lecture series may examine regional issues from the perspective of broader societal and cultural developments in the nation-at-large and vis-à-vis the phenomenon of Globalization.
In addition to housing the newly acquired Svoboda Collection of historic Montana photographs and postcards, the Heritage Hall complex in building T-2 is also being considered as a venue for other NRHC-sponsored cultural and performing-arts events. Some of these are likely to include gallery displays by regional artists, cinematic and musical presentations, live dancing, mid-scale theatre productions, re-enactments of regional historical events, and seasonal celebrations.