Riffo/Pierce Residence

Marion B. Riffo designed high schools and hospitals, and structures of all sorts in between

By Jaix Chaix

Oftentimes, humbleness hides rich history, as the Pierce Residence, at 614 First Ave. W. can prove.

The house was built in 1901 and for much of its early history, it was home to more than a few tenants at a time. Perhaps the most recognizable among them was Marion B. Riffo — one of Kalispell’s prominent early architects. Riffo designed high schools and hospitals, and structures of all sorts in between. Arguably, his residency here must have influenced his work (even if in ways we’ll never know).

Aside from architecture, Riffo was also musically inclined. He directed the Glacier Park Juvenile Band, the Montana Elks Band, and the Montana State Juvenile Band. Thus, at a time long before digital and downloads, having an accomplished musician such as Riffo for a neighbor was a welcomed delight, for he could fill the air with popular music and melodies of the day.

Around 1920, William James Pierce and his wife Florence Odelia Pierce (née Watson) moved in. And for nearly 30 years, they would live a rather typical life — that is, “typical” according to the more exacting standards and trying measures of the generation.

Like many other late-arrival pioneers, the Pierces came to Kalispell in 1899 from “back east” (Ubly, Mich.). William worked as a housepainter (Robbins & Pierce), while Florence kept house and raised their six children: Frank, William Jr., Clarence, Howard, Lydia and Leona. Indeed, theirs was also a typical relationship regarding things “bread.” That is, he made it; she baked it.

Like other residents of Kalispell during the 1920s, the Pierces flourished a bit during the “bang” (it didn’t really amount to an economic “boom”). And like others struggling during the Great Depression, they rented “furnished sleeping rooms” — making space despite being a family of eight.

Likewise, they were typical in their social affairs, helping their own and helping others as well. Like other honorable citizens of the day, William kept rank with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Meanwhile, Florence was an esteemed member and leader of several social and women’s organizations. She was once president of the Kalispell First Mothers Club, which organized in 1899 to give “clothing to needy children regardless of race, creed or color.” The club often met at members’ homes to tie quilts, mend clothes and repair toys for children.

Among these and many other informal gatherings, Florence also hosted more formal affairs, such as one held on April 13, 1931 for members of the Women’s Relief Corp drill team. The occasion was noted in a local newspaper, which remarked how “sweet peas and forget-me-nots were used effectively about the rooms and dainty refreshments were served …” [hence, decorating with vegetables is hardly new, no matter how many pins on Pinterest attempt to suggest otherwise].

And so the Pierces left a legacy at Kalispell, one that culminated perhaps with their golden wedding anniversary. On Jan. 19, 1941, more than 100 friends and neighbors visited the home, bestowed gifts and reminisced in celebration of the couple’s 50 years of marriage.

Unfortunately, the bliss of their golden years would be short-lived, as William passed away months later in June of 1949, and Florence passed in December 1950 (both are at rest in the Conrad Memorial Cemetery).

Afterward, the house remained a rather busy and industrious place, as perhaps it had always been. Some may recall the address as home to the Shumacher family and Schumacher Upholstery from the late 1950s until the 1970s.

And much like the door that opens to a once-there balcony, there’s often more to history and a house than just a humble facade.

Jaix Chaix is a columnist and author of Flathead Valley Landmarks and other local history books that are available for sale at the Flathead Beacon at 17 Main St. in Kalispell.

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