LANDMARKS: Sonstelie Residence

By Beacon Staff

Sometimes, architectural details are like historical facts: they hide in plain sight.??

The Sonstelie Residence, located at 640 Second Ave. W. in Kalispell, is a unique example of 1920s-era architecture – with plenty of details and history – that may seem tucked away, and hidden a bit.??

The home is a fine example of the early (and perhaps more ambitious) design work of Kalispell architect Fred Brinkman. It’s an eclectic mix of highly thoughtful design elements that form a “Bungalow-styled Craftsman” or a “Craftsman-inspired Bungalow” home (depending upon how you see it). ??

Labels aside, the home is a fine example of the unique architecture found along the “West Side” of Kalispell.??

The home was built in 1924 – as the once-wispy pine sapling that now towers over the front yard attests. The original footprint of the garage at the back alley also reveals its age. Automobiles were replacing horses at the time. And since cars didn’t eat hay, many garages of the era were built just wide enough to accommodate a “Tin Lizzie” – the popular Ford Model T (which did not have bumpers, mirrors, turn signals, a driver’s door or any other “options” protruding beyond its frame or tires).??

But to have a garage – and a house with such fine detailing – was truly the “Bee’s knees” or “swanky” – and at the very least, plain “swell,” to recall the vernacular of the day. Similarly, the home features many vernacular appointments of its time: an era when traditional elements were re-cast in “progressive” ideas about how a home should accommodate the “modern lifestyle.”??

The home bears the name of Elmer and Josephine Sonstelie. Josephine was a Norwegian immigrant and kept the home in proper shape, as Elmer worked as the manager of the Cannon Clothing Company (the store owned by Harvey S. Cannon, formerly at 141 Main St. in Kalispell; now occupied by Montana Frameworks).??

Times were good and the economy was brisk, which afforded the Sonstelie family the opportunity to build such a well-appointed, and meticulously detailed home.??

Many of the details can be seen from the street (if you politely peer between the trees and hedges from the sidewalk), such as the flower boxes and lattice-work of the original design that complement the symmetry of the windows, the wide roof eaves, and the “raised” foundation, which all give the home a unique “Craftsman/Bungalow” appearance.??

The home also features a centered dormer situated just below a one-of-a-kind chimney. Inside, the central fireplace was made of brick from Great Falls and featured a stylish denticulated mantel. And like many Craftsman-styled homes, wood was prominently featured in the home, such as with the original, built-in breakfast nook and the varied larch, maple, and oak floors.??

Many other details of the original design features have also been well preserved, as the home remained in the Sonstelie family until the 1990s. This undoubtedly helped preserve the history and detailing of the home, which still reveals many of the ideals and details of the “Roaring Twenties” – just beyond the hedgerow.

Jaix Chaix is a writer who appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and historical facts with him at landmarks@flatheadbeacon.com or at
facebook.com/flatheadvalleylandmarks.??He is also the author of “Death in the Valley: Odd Tragedies in the Flathead Valley, Montana 1887-1917” available at DeathInTheValley.com.

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