Days Be Gone

People assure me that Whitefish remains a great, welcoming place

By Mike Jopek

It will never be the same. Those days are done. Call them history, gone, a part of the lore weaving a tale of a town older than the Hori Gardens 100 years ago.

It doesn’t mean people won’t keep it great. We live in a community that welcomes tourists and strangers from across the nation. It pays the bills and produces fantastic public amenities not found elsewhere in the Northwest.

In my 20s, before Internet, cell phones or laptops, lift tickets to the mountain cost $20. Several beater-homes on small lots on Dakota Avenue sold for $18,000. A cheeseburger was $4, great coffee was a buck, and a two-egg breakfast downtown cost $3.

Fast-forward several decades to the overnight demolition of the Frank Lloyd Wright building. It was an ugly building, wrought with age, decimated by harsh Whitefish winters. But it was a Frank Lloyd Wright. That will never change, and Whitefish tore it down in the name of progress.

Since that night, that end of town has been booming. There’s plenty of new economic activity. People like it, and business seems good. Workers are making a living, hopefully earning enough to buy a median priced home in town. To live in the town where you work is a big thing.

Gone is the old City Hall, the old Central School, the old high school, old hospitals, and soon the old elementary school. Gone are the old bleachers at the baseball fields, the old cop shop, and old fire hall. Gone are many old tiny homes and the oldest buildings downtown.

My heart ached as excavators chewed down the 100-year-old Duncan/Sampson home on Second Street, still marveling at the historic phrase, “rafter vandals.”

The downtown brewery, built in the mid 1990s, replaced the Cadillac. The brewery, like the entire Markus Foods block, is slated for redevelopment. I bet it’s big. I hope it’s nice and a good fit for people living here.

It will never be the same. Yet somehow through it all, yes there has been a lot – we’ve been one of fastest growing areas of Montana for several years– Whitefish still remains a great place where people want to live.

Newcomers occasionally mention how cheap Whitefish is to purchase a condo, a recreation home, relative to places like Aspen, Vail, or San Francisco. That’s not what I hear talking to working people trying to buy a home to raise a family in Whitefish.

Wages haven’t kept pace to afford workers ownership in a community that’s witnessed the median housing prices increase 10 percent annually over the past four years to top off at over $433,000 toward the end of last year.

Our farm, a minute from town, will one day become a part of the city. I’d prefer an orderly transition from rural farm life to urbanization. The county will realistically allow more haphazard growth.

Whitefish is a railroad town. Our streets run parallel to the tracks. It was a timber town, transitioned into a ski town, and now a recreation destination for millions of visitors, Millenials and retirees.

Life was hard in young Whitefish. It still is for lots of locals enjoying a long history of hard work. Today’s downtowners work just as hard as you and I did back in the day.

Whitefish must plan for growth and hold tight to trusted values. Like rural timberlands, some urban places should conserve the last remnants of public spaces within town.

People assure me that Whitefish remains a great, welcoming place. Keep it up. Get ready for the next generation. Leave youngsters the same opportunities for success that you offered our generation.

We are on the front end of growth. The big stuff is still coming. Hang on to your hats. We’re on the fast train to historic change.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.