Kalispell Monumental Co.

The Kalispell Monumental Co. was one of many stonework businesses owned by Fred H. Sammis of Spokane.

By Jaix Chaix

Kalispell is a place with a rare and splendid local history. But while some of the homes and buildings of Kalispell have been remarkably well-preserved, others bear hardly a trace of their origins. The Kalispell Monumental Co. building, at 7 First Ave. E., is one of those places: aside from its original brick exterior, there is little trace of its history (which was perhaps not “all there” in the first place).

The Kalispell Monumental Co. was one of many stonework businesses owned by Fred H. Sammis of Spokane. Sammis was involved in his share of controversies and was one of many questionable characters from a “bright city” who came to the Flathead Valley to stake a business fortune in “the backyard of railroad tycoon James J. Hill’s tourist park.”

In November, 1910, Sammis started a similar two-story brick building for his Sammis Monumental Co. in Spokane. A few months later, he turned to Kalispell and hired local architect Joseph Gibson to design this single-story brick building, which was intended to be the model for such an enterprise.

Gibson designed the structure to accommodate larger-than-life pane glass windows along two sides of the building to showcase the finest “monumental goods and marble works” available, a traveling crane that could move massive stones inside the building and a railroad loading dock at the back of the building.

Soon after the plate glass windows were installed on March 28, 1911, the company moved into its new location with a railroad spur line to its backdoor connecting it to the Great Northern Railway just to the north. Incidentally, “approval” for the railroad spur has a similar peculiar history. (There are perhaps few better ways to get legislation, ordinances and other measures passed without rebuttal than waiting until everyone else has left to celebrate a holiday.)

Such political maneuvering is just one of many untold chapters of Kalispell history, in which folks from “out of town” used their money, muscle and social influence in their favor. Indeed, The Kalispell Monumental Co. had other interested parties besides Sammis, such as Mrs. E.A. Boor, a rather well-heeled resident of New York City.

While the company owners lived afar, the company workers, such as engineer Marion T. Burns and stone-cutter Leonard D. Roberson, lived along First Avenue East. Company cashier Payson E. Sammis actually lived and worked in the building. And even the ever-so-aspiring business manager Clyde M. SeCor lived nearby, albeit at the The Congress (formerly at 215 First Ave. E.), along with other prominent well-to-do businessmen of the day.

The Kalispell Monumental Co. was reported to be the second-largest operation of its kind in the United States and claimed, “our work is above criticism.” However, despite the assertion, the business proved to be a monumental failure. Just three years after moving into the location, the company went bankrupt, as its business model seemed to have more to do with social status than any practical business sense.

Afterward, the American Laundry Company briefly occupied the location, as did the Main Street Motor Sales Company, which converted the building into a garage and sales showroom. Yet after a short time, the building would lie dormant and was later brought back to life as a “mini mall” of sorts.

And while the railroad tracks are gone, and the massive crane and stones are nowhere to be found, the history of the building continues – albeit ironically. Bearing hardly any resemblance to its initial purpose as headquarters for a single, pie-in-the-sky operation, this historical brick building is now home to a thriving collective of local businesses.

Jaix Chaix appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and 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.

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