The lofty, two-story Commercial Building at the Missoula County Fairgrounds provides a respite from the August sun, smoke or rain. Generations of fairgoers instantly recognize the smell and feel when they step inside.
The building was known as the Agricultural Hall when it opened in 1915. Those fighting a plan in 2007 to move the Commercial Building from its prominent place inside the east gate hailed it as “the heart and the soul of the fairgrounds.”
That plan was tabled and chances are good the iconic structure will live to see 100 in its original location.
The 180-foot-long building’s distinguishing features include wooden cupolas near either end of the green roof. The west one was turned into a security overlook in 1967, reached via an exterior wooden ladder. Interior stairways on both ends provide access to the second floor.
The Commercial Building is used for boat storage and the like in the off season, and it’s available for fundraisers, weddings and craft shows come spring and summer. At fair time, it’s given over to commercial displays, political booths and other non-agricultural exhibits.
At the 1915 fair in late September, displays on the main floor included vegetables, prize-winning grains from the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and “the best apple show that has ever been held in Montana,” according to a newspaper account.
The U.S. Forest Service had a booth on the north side that year; on the south side, the Missoula Mercantile had four and the Missoula Public Library another. The second level was dedicated to exhibits by clubs and students from second grade up to university age.