Remember the Frontier Lounge? Dragstedt’s and The Hall Tree?
How about Cecil’s Accessories and Pallas Candy Co. in the Hammond Arcade in the 1950s?
Starting Sunday at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, you can dust off old Missoula memories of Charlie’s Cigar Store, 4B’s and the Sunny Maid Bakery and unleash the inevitable deluge of stories.
“Signs of the Times: A Trip Down Memory Lane” will feature more than 200 vintage sketches of Missoula business signs, meticulously documented by a walking encyclopedia of Missoula’s pre-box store history.
She’s Linda Lennox, who began her career at Walford Sign Co. in 1960, owned it from 1975 to 2000 and worked for its subsequent owner, Epcon, until she retired a couple of years ago.
Soon after Lennox went to work for Ryland Walford as a “temporary” phone receptionist, she noticed an alarming thing.
“They were kind of cleaning out upstairs one day and they were throwing old sketches away,” Lennox said Wednesday. “I wish I had gotten up there sooner, but I managed to rescue some of the 1940s sketches. I’ve been rescuing them ever since.”
Lennox figures there are a thousand such sketches in boxes at home, or were until Roger Bergmeier got wind of them. Bergmeier said it was seven or eight years ago that his wife, an interior designer, was working with Lennox and came home with news of the oddball collection.
A history-minded volunteer and carpenter whose hand can be seen on projects throughout the Fort museum, Bergmeier recognized the historical value of the drawings. Lennox, however, wasn’t ready to do anything with them at the time.
“Finally, last fall she says, ‘OK, Roger, let’s do it,’ ” he said, a smile tugging at his handlebar mustache. “Little did I know ... ”
The drawings came out of the boxes and the screening process began. There simply isn’t enough room at the museum for them all. Sometimes it was heartbreaking for Lennox to put the discards back into boxes.
“There were just so many variables we had to deal with,” Bergmeier said. “Wall space, the amount of money we had to do things, the sketches that we had to prioritize by people who were still in business, people who were giving us money to support the project.”
They needed a focus, and Lennox picked 1945 to 1985, before the big box stores hit Missoula.
“I thought that would be the most interesting period,” she said. “It was a different era. Businesses were locally owned and most of them were family-owned and operated. That’s what I wanted to put across, that history of Missoula, and how it started out and how it used to be.”
One of the common strands, Lennox and Bergmeier noted, are those businesses that remain in the same families with names like Tremper and DeMarois; Herndon, Hainline and Hammond; Martello and Nooney; and Lambros and Ward.
Missoula Mercantile signage is prominent, including samples of the street-side signs that marked each of the Merc’s many departments. A drawing of the iconic Fox Theater tower is represented, too, though it’s on brittle paper and so ensconced in a glass display case.
The drawings are interspersed with photos and memorabilia. Lennox pointed to a neon sign on one side of the glass case in the Highlander Brewery section.
“Walford made all of those Highlander signs during the 1950s, until they closed in 1964 when the interstate came through,” she said.
This one Lennox kept, because she had much to do with fashioning it.
“They found out with my smaller hands I could tie them together and paint them out faster,” she said.
So Lennox used to blocked out the signs to read a glowing “Highlander” in blue or pink, and mounted them on tube supports for an electrician to wire and mount to a frame. Meanwhile, she still had to answer the phone. An extension was installed, she said, so she could keep on working on a sign when the phone rang.
Many of the drawings and photos are displayed inside tasteful 34-inch high frames provided by the Art Attic. Steve Adler of Adler Architects volunteered to diagram the mounting layout of the exhibit, which will inhabit the Orientation Room downstairs and the North Gallery upstairs through Dec. 9.
It’s a display Lennox hopes will take a lot of people several visits over the next nine months to soak it all in. It’s built to travel intact or in parts to other local and regional venues after that.
“It’s just stuff I had in a box, and I have to admit I’m a packrat,” Lennox said. “To me it’s history. We’re such a disposable society these days that it’s fun to look back and say: ‘Oh, yeah. I remember.’ ”