A few years back I heard the owner of a building in downtown Missoula was looking for me.
It was the Penwell building (or Montaignes, as locals call it); one of the last remaining oldschool apartment complexes in downtown Missoula where a college student or young professional can afford to live.
At the time, I was especially infatuated by the roofs and fire escapes of buildings downtown, as they provide a unique vantage point for cityscape photos of Missoula. I made a photo from the Penwell’s fire escape a few months earlier, so I was worried about receiving an angry phone call from the building’s owner.
It turned out Kirk, the owner, loved the photo because it was the same view as his office window. He bought a large canvas print of the photo we now call Fire Escape. Don’t try to get up there, though. You won’t be able to these days.
Kirk and his wife, Trish, have been updating some of the units in the Penwell, turning them into bnbs. To decorate, they requested photos showing both the funky-hip culture of Missoula and the beauty of Montana’s nature, giving guests an enhanced and memorable experience. They bought an entire series of my large-format metal prints, and they look absolutely stunning in the remodeled rooms.
At first, I was reluctant to support the snowballing trend of bnb rentals in Missoula. They are quickly cannibalizing affordable housing and pushing young people farther from the city core. Knowing the Penwell was joining that trend left me conflicted.
Kirk is one of the good guys, though. The bnb project is actually allowing them to keep prices lower for long term local renters, some of whom have lived there since the 1980s. Kirk respects his residents, honors guests, and has maintained a harmonious culture in the building while finding a way to make really great improvements.
Local art is important in the Penwell, obviously. They could have very easily picked up a few cartloads of generic wall art at a box store and called it a day, but they decided to reach back out and I’m thrilled they did. Many long term residents are also artists, and display their work in the building's hallways.
The Penwell Building was originally built in 1910 by famous architect, A.J. Gibson. It was a hotel for the Milwaukee Railway, a now-defunct passenger train system. With very special architecture and a location at the center of the hip strip, the building offers guests a very authentic taste of life in Missoula. Young travelers, college students, and artists will love it.