Conrad/Tobie House

By Jaix Chaix

Impeccable. That pretty much describes the maintenance and restoration of the Conrad/Tobie House at 428 Sixth Ave. E. in Kalispell. “Timeless” would also accurately describe its condition, as the house is indeed a mesh of the past, present and future.

The house owes part of its name to its original builders and owners: Kokoa Baldwin and Charles Davenport Conrad, who were both born into notable families with considerable privilege.

Kokoa and Charles D. were married on March 12, 1907, and construction of the home was soon fully underway. As the shell was nearly complete that fall, the “1907 Banker’s Panic,” literally hit home, as Charles D. was a director of his family’s Conrad National Bank of Kalispell.

While their marriage was often pejoratively (and mistakenly) described as “half-breed,” the term “half-crazy” is perhaps more accurate and more apropos. Kokoa was much like her esteemed father, attorney (Major) Marcus Baldwin. She loved the outdoors, and life, but kept reserved.

Charles D., however, and quite unlike his father, seemingly issued bank loans more on whimsy than prudence, and there always seemed to be a kickback of some kind or another. (Charles D. also seemed ever-enamored with wine and women and later attempted to convert his parents’ home, the Conrad Mansion, into a bar/casino/bordello).

Charles D. and Kokoa had two children, William and Catherine, while living at the home, but divorced in 1915, and sold the home to the other namesake of the home, the Tobie family.

Alba Tobie was president of the Conrad National Bank (at the time Charles D. was the vice-president) and the purchase of the home for him and his wife, Frances Jurgens Tobie, seemed to be rather opportune, if not convenient for Charles D.

Frances was an accomplished artist and graced the home with artistic flair in a variety of ways. She also hosted many guests and visitors at the home during the 30 years the Tobie family occupied it.

In 1945, Chet and Jewell Chrisinger purchased the residence. Chet grew up in the neighborhood and was a childhood friend of one of the former occupants of the home: “Billy” William Conrad (the son of Kokoa and Charles D. Conrad). Perhaps most remarkably, Chet, Jewell and their four children lived in and cared for the home for more than 50 years.

While their family lineage may not bespeak notable privilege, or distinguished heritage, the house owes a considerable debt to the Chrisingers’ ownership, care and maintenance. During an era when sagging front porches were typically either removed, or haphazardly buttressed and boxed in, the Chrisinger family kept the original form of the front porch (which is believed to have been originally built in Spokane).

Thankfully, the house has also survived an era of wayward vinyl-siding, behemoth additions, and DIY renovations. And in many ways, current owner Paul Stein is doing far more than what may seem contemporary. His respect for the heritage of the home shows, and if it is indeed likely that the mix of “fish-scale,” shake and clapboard siding, the inviting wrap-around porch, and fine detailing of expert preservation of the home will be around for others to appreciate well into the future.

With all that in mind, it wouldn’t be wrong to call this the “Conrad/Tobie/Chrisinger/Stein House” (although it’s a mouthful). For the history of this fine early 20th-century home – like other historic landmarks – has as much to do with the past, as it does the present and the future.

Jaix Chaix appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and facts at landmarks@flatheadbeacon.com. He will be teaching another “Historic Homes of Kalispell” course at FVCC this fall, and guiding “cemetery walks” at the Conrad Memorial and Demersville cemeteries.

 

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