Crying history? 

History: It’s everywhere you want to be. When the Safeway-St. Patrick Hospital land swap threatened the City Shops building with demolition last year, the local Historic Preservation Commission began researching whether the building would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. (No word yet.) Now, the University of Montana golf course has captured the commission’s attention. Last December, UM administrators announced they were considering the development of a retirement community somewhere within a 154-acre parcel at the south end of campus. UM’s interest in tinkering with the nine-hole course and surrounding fields prompted some protests from neighbors and golfers at a public meeting. It also prompted a commission member to ask a question about the course, says Missoula Historic Preservation Officer Philip Maechiling: “Say, how old is that?”

It’s old. The green opened up as early as 1912 or 1914, he says. Its age, in part, led the commission to ask locals to consider “whether or not historic open space has value to the community and to the university” in the course of reviewing UM’s plans.

The historic preservation camp places historic value on quite a lot of Montana. Locally, the face of Mount Sentinel is listed on the national register. In May 2004, the McCormick Neighborhood Historic District—a neighborhood consisting of 339 buildings—was added. In Butte-Silverbow County, the Butte Historic District is listed. Address: Butte city limits.

One might wonder whether valuing so much, in fact, means valuing little in the way of historical significance. Preservation officers, though, say that historic preservation is tied directly to tourist dollars.

“I think more often than not, we’re seeing more cases where historic preservation is seen as an economic impetus for growth and tourism,” says State Historic Preservation Officer Mark Baumler.

He admits, though, that citizens hollering to the commission aren’t always hell-bent on saving buildings or sites for history’s sake.

“I think everybody has agendas. Certainly historic preservation hasn’t always been the number-one reason that someone might get involved in preserving a building,” Baumler says, though he stops shy of implying that such strategies are par for the course.

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