Julie Tompkins Field Notebook Entry for 6/17/2013

After a week of preparation – of research and method and lecture – we finally arrived at the day we’ve been waiting for: Mapping our historic Missoula basement! Our site is the La Flesch building at 119 W. Main, which has a long and storied past ranging from very early publishing empire to infamous venue known to diehard Pacific Northwest music fans.  I just so happened to be a bartender there, 15 years ago. I can vividly remember checking my first gun at the bar and hearing about tunnels under the streets.  Look at me, now.

The time leading up to our measuring and mapping has been incredibly helpful.  We’ve learned the archival wonders available to the public at the Mansfield and Missoula Public Libraries, and the countless free resources online through historic preservation organizations and the State of Montana.  That’s how we know our location has a vault space under the sidewalk (which the La Flesch family has thoughtfully preserved) and an original structure dating back to the late 1800’s, when it housed both the Missoula Gazette and early Missoulian newspapers.

What we find upon entering the basement is a thick rubble wall, dry and in good condition.  The La Flesch family fully restored the building to bring it back to its early splendor, so we’re not only mapping the original footprint but a southern addition as well.  Our morning is spent measuring the sidewalk vault and dimensions of the basement, noting interesting features, such as a roughed-in work cubicle which bears the 117 street number of a bygone business address (which can also help us date it).  We believe it may have been part of the publishing shop, long ago.

Tomorrow we’re back in the basement, to get the final measurements for our plan map, which will not only guide our field research, it will help business owners like Jay and Stephanie La Flesch have an additional record of the historic property they own.  We also went into a very long and interesting tunnel, but that’s a whole other story. Want to know more?  Keep reading…