Locati Architects Rebuilds the Heart of a Montana Downtown

12/06/2011 | Post

The F&H Building, designed by Locati Architects, reopened in July of 2011 on Bozeman’s Main Street, replacing a gaping hole in the heart of the community after the original building was destroyed in a tragic March 2009 explosion.  Shortly after 8:30 in the morning on March 5th, 2009, an otherwise quiet day, a horrifying “boom” shattered windows and lives in the town of Bozeman, MT.  In a matter of seconds, a woman was killed, four of the city’s oldest and most iconic buildings were reduced to ash and rubble, and several other buildings in the core of the downtown were severely damaged by an explosion caused by a leaky natural gas line.  Before the unfortunate incident, the downtown’s nationally registered Historic District “had a tremendous variety of buildings and architectural styles,” recalls Mark Hufstetler, a Bozeman resident of nearly 30 years and Chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Board.  Thus not only was the destruction devastating to many downtown Bozeman businesses, but to the historical character of the area as well.  Tragically, the blast also claimed the life of Montana Trails Gallery manager, Tara Reistad Bowman.

A year after the disastrous event, Bozeman’s own Locati Architects and general contractor Martel Construction were chosen to create a new downtown structure, the F&H Building.  Named for the owners Ralph Ferraro and Mike Hope, the project was sought after by architects near and far, 27 of whom submitted proposals for the design.  Jerry Locati, Locati Architects’ founding partner, said they were privileged to be entrusted with the design challenge that had the eyes of the community on it; in particular the locally famous Rocking R Bar, originally opened in 1947.  It was an opportunity the architects relished, considering the pressure of not only reconstructing a historic city building, but also helping to resurrect a downtown that had lost a large portion of its identity.  Most important to Locati Architects, whose partners are all Montana natives, was the decision to keep their design faithful to the “small town” and historic feel of downtown Bozeman, while simultaneously creating an exciting new space for the displaced R Bar and future businesses in the F&H Building.

F&H Building, photo by Karl Neumann

The new structure was conceived, designed, and built from scratch for the site covering nearly 100 feet of a city block.  Keeping in mind the historically narrow standard for downtown city buildings in Bozeman, the first challenge was to devise a plan for maintaining the rhythm and charm of the area with a large, newly built structure.  Jerry Locati along with partners Greg Dennee and Steve Locati, designed the building together and addressed this challenge by creating a building that appears to be several different structures thanks to creative massing, receding entryways, changes in materials, and balconies on each of the three stories.  The design solution also includes oversized awnings and large, street level doors that open like accordions to Main Street during summer months.  For the Rocking R Bar, a vast glass and steel overhead door opens the entire bar to the street, blurring the lines between indoors and out and welcoming friends into the space.

Two years, four months, and 21 days after the devastating gas explosion, the Rocking R Bar was brought back to life and opened in the F&H Building on July 26, 2011.  To the great delight of many locals, the original Rocking R Bar neon sign, which miraculously survived the blast, was refurbished and displayed on the new building’s exterior.  The popular downtown drinking hole hosted an enthusiastic crowd of over a thousand people on the day of its re-opening.  Many of the employees of Locati Architects were amongst the crowd; exchanging stories and memories of the legendary bar and also eager to create new ones in the fresh location.  A positive outcome from the tragic events of March 2009, the gaping hole has now been replaced with an elegant and optimistic presence that will be an anchor in Bozeman’s downtown for many years to come.

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