The Mercantile Hotel: Digging Deep Into Missoula’s History

The Mercantile Hotel: Digging Deep Into Missoula’s History

At JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE, we always strive to design buildings that are contextual to their surroundings – honoring the community’s past, celebrating its present and welcoming its future. Our inspiration comes from a number of sources, and sometimes from the most unexpected places, including the site itself.

When construction began at one of our latest projects, The Mercantile Hotel in Missoula, Montana, no one expected the surprise found beneath the site. While digging the building’s foundation, construction crews discovered a tunnel.

The tunnel discovery provides a rare glimpse into Missoula’s rich history. The series of tunnels that wind around the city were most likely constructed as passageways to transport coal and carry water lines to various businesses and homes. But when the Prohibition began in 1920, the tunnels quickly became an avenue to move liquor to speakeasies. Rumor also has it that speakeasies even popped up in the tunnels themselves. Another story holds that the tunnels were also used to transport money from the Missoula Mercantile (which the hotel is named after) to bank vaults.

The 174-key Residence Inn by Marriott-branded hotel stands on the original site of the 139-year-old Missoula Mercantile, which was formerly the epicenter of commercial activity in Missoula. Over the course of its lifetime, the building housed many businesses, but stood empty for the past several years due to asbestos and lack of structural integrity. Luckily, the historic pharmacy on the corner of the site is still in good condition and will be transformed into a two-story presidential suite.

JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE’s design of The Mercantile Hotel pays homage to the site’s commercial history with six ground-floor retail spaces totaling 20,000 square feet. These spaces, which open to the street, are designed to attract both hotel guests and residents to recreate the bustling city hub.JOHNSON-NATHAN-STROHE-Mercantile-Hotel-Missoula-2