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  Comments (0) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Phillips House
Photo by Jaix Chaix
The house at 445 Fifth Ave. E. has several characteristics that define Kalispell neighborhoods – in a way that may seem deceiving, and distorted by time.

Originally, a small wooden residence stood at the back of this corner lot. In 1910, fire destroyed the wooden structure and the lot remained empty for the better part of three decades, as sometimes happens when calamity strikes.

Sometimes it takes a calamity of greater proportion to make any progress happen. And in this case, widespread drought and economic depression of the 1930s caused many people to seek refuge in Kalispell. At the time, Kalispell and surrounding areas were faring comparatively well – well enough to even say that Kalispell had a building “bang” (not quite enough to properly call it a “boom”) during the 1930s.

Consequently those moving to the area found times somewhat easier to endure, and some even found profit. It took a bit of both – populace and profit – to transform what was once an overgrown, eyesore lot into a desirable home inspired by the vogue, Tudor Revival home.

Like other Depression-era settlers, Leon and Ella Phillips came to Kalispell in the early 1930s. Leon brought with him vast experience in the automotive business. He worked throughout the borders and corners of Montana as a mechanic, salesman and dealer. After several successful years, he became president of Phillips-Wohlwend Motors, and built this home as his family residence, which was more or less completed in 1938.

The late 1930s was a time of transition (from hardship to hope and not much beyond). It was a time when the “haves” could perhaps afford the $695 price tag for a new 1936 Dodge Rumble Seat Coupe – along with the 6 percent interest typical of most financing arrangements of the day.

Phillips established the auto dealership bearing his name, Phillips-Wohlwend Motors, at 412 Main St. (remembered by some as Big Valley Dodge; and soon to be home to the Kalispell Brewing Company). The location has long been known as an auto dealership, from the day Phillips founded the company and for the better part of nearly four decades.

Yet while his business legacy lasted decades, the Phillips family lived in the home for barely four years. In 1942, they sold the home to Virgil Manion, then president of Manion Motors. And so continued the lineage of home ownership by presidents of auto dealerships. That is, at least until 1956, when the Manions sold the home.

Aside from being owned by auto dealers, the house was home to their families, and frequently open to relatives and guests, as both men and their wives were quite active in community and civic organizations.
Inside and out, this home was a fine adaptation of the Tudor Revival style, yet on a smaller scale. Obvious exterior elements of the Tudor Revival style, which was quite popular in Kalispell at the time, include the stucco siding, the tabbed archway and recessed front door, and the decorative shutters, just to name a few.

Today, the home is fortunately well maintained with a tiled roof and other elements that nod to its original style. And style it had, as it was one of the finer ones built in its day – a time when “rent houses” were less stylish and more typical.
While it may seem modest now, if not unremarkable to some, the house was actually quite indulgent for its day, proving that sometimes truly appreciating an historic home takes a bit of discerning “this is now” from “what was then.”

Jaix Chaix is a writer who appreciates history and architecture. You can share ideas and historical facts with him at landmarks@flatheadbeacon.com.
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