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  Comments (1) Total Friday Apr. 18, 2014
The Graham House
Photo by Jaix Chaix
Even if you’re not paying attention, the moment you pass by the house at 825 Sixth Ave. in Kalispell, you will take notice. Indeed, the Graham House may leave you wondering whether you just traveled back in time, or forward. It’s a chic, Art Moderne-style home that is extremely rare in more ways than one.

The house bears the namesake of Wilbur and Celeste Graham, who built the home in 1942, during World War II. This was an unsettling time in America – a time of collective sacrifice and rationing no generation has known since (and perhaps few today truly understand). It was a time when most goods and provisions were rationed for “the war effort.” Building materials were also quite scarce. And remarkably, this is one of the few homes built in Kalispell during the war.

Yet this was also a time of resourcefulness. Aside from victory gardens, Americans found clever ways to make things last longer, to devise clever substitutes, to re-use, recycle, and otherwise “make do.” And in this spirit, Wilbur Graham, a building contractor, likely found the means to assemble the materials he needed to build this unique home.

When it came to choosing a style for their home, the Art Moderne, or “Streamline Moderne” style must have seemed like a perfect fit (although a rarity). Streamline Moderne is much like Art Deco, but without all the ornamentation (indeed, a sleeker, more “streamlined” version, if you will). It was a style that looked to the future with frugality in mind.

In nearly every way, this house is a textbook example of the Streamline Moderne style. And the house has nearly all of the hallmarks of the style, including curves (instead of edges), a preference for horizontal orientation, accentuated by a flat roof, smooth surfaces (especially stucco) and a light-colored exterior (whites and natural colors were preferred).

Streamline Moderne also took cues from industrial and transportation designs of the late 1930s. Here, the “porthole” at the front door is a nod to nautical elements (ships), which were an important feature of the style as well.

What makes the Graham House even more unique (aside from being one of the few examples of the style in Montana), is that it is a residence – most dabblings in Art Moderne were done with commercial buildings. Incidentally, Wilbur built the long garage at the back of the property so he could work in his office there, and again honor the style with an elongated, horizontal structure.

And while Wilbur passed away in 1958, Celeste lived in the home for nearly 60 years, until she passed in 2001. That’s a remarkable time for any house to be cared for by its original owners.

Appreciate the Graham House for its style and form, and as one of the rare examples of Streamline Moderne in Montana. But also appreciate it as a symbol – a house that embodies a rare blend of ingenuity, resourcefulness and optimism that seldom finds its way to the drawing board.

And appreciate this home as a unique landmark – one built in the rarest of progressive styles, during the worst of trying times, and in a defining manner of American spirit.

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

Take the “Historic Homes of Kalispell” Course
This April, Jaix will teach a course about “Landmarks” and historic homes of Kalispell at Flathead Valley Community College. Read more in the FVCC Community Education Classes brochure, call
(406) 756-3832 or enroll online at fvcc.edu.
On 02-19-14, ride4fun commented....
I love this house and have driven by it many times.  I also wanted to take this class offered at FVCC, but won’t be in town.  So this is a request for Jaix Chaix to please teach the class again.
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