Heart of Missoula

heart-of-missoula-fish-sculpture

The Heart of Missoula is a perfectly accurate name for this vibrant area coursing with activity, civic involvement, and life.

Downtown Missoula is a bustling center of commerce and activity revered by all Missoulians, but it is also a neighborhood, a home to many residents who relish being in the middle of it all. There are grand historic homes along the east-west streets of Pine, Spruce, and Alder, which are named for native Montana tree species yet lined with other deciduous trees. There are also affordable apartments, high-end condos, and modest bungalows surrounding the downtown proper. Monday through Friday, Heart of Missoulians share their neighborhood with architects, lawyers, business professionals, Forest Service employees, retailers, and restaurateurs. On the weekends people flock from all over to shop, dine, and gather for entertainment. In the spring, summer, and fall the morning farmers’ markets turn over to festivals in Caras Park in the afternoon and evening. In the winter, downtown is still alive with holiday shopping, events, and a homegrown film festival in February. The Heart of Missoula recaptures a sense of neighborhood that pre-dates the 1940′s and 50′s Norman Rockwell vision. This dense area of homes and commerce harkens back to the old Western settlement where community was everywhere you turned and your grocer, banker, and barkeeper were also your neighbors.

Neighborhood Council:

Area Transportation:

  • The Heart of Missoula is served by Mountain Line Route 1, with its Downtown Transfer Center located on Ryman Street near the Missoula County Courthouse.
  • The Riverfront Trail runs east-west, extending along the south border of the Heart of Missoula Neighborhood.
  • Taxi cabs can be accessed throughout Missoula, but are especially popular downtown. Taxi services include:
    • Yellow Cab, 406-543-6644
    • Green Taxi, 406-728-8294

School Information:

Demographic Information:

Missoula County

City of Missoula

Thinking of moving to this neighborhood?

Heart of Missoula Neighborhood Volunteer Advocate:

A Heart of Missoula address allows for an urban experience, yet home base is conveniently located near all of the wild wonder of western Montana.

heart-wilma-nightA life of interaction is what you’ll find in the Heart of Missoula. With virtually every option for transportation easily accessible, including several rickshaw services on weekend nights, residents rarely need to drive. Getting out of the car means bustling sidewalks and face-to-face interaction with neighbors and visitors. If walking for its own sake isn’t enough, you can learn as you go on the self-guided Historic Walking Tourof downtown or the Public Art Tour.

For those who live here, downtown becomes an extension of home. The Historic Wilma Theater, which also offers condos and short-term and vacation rental properties, is a living room for cinema. The Catalyst Café & Espresso, Break Espresso, Liquid Planet, or any of the other caffeine dispensaries feel like your kitchen. The Missoula Farmers’ Market and the Clark Fork River Market are your gardens. The Missoula Saturday Market, better known as The People’s Market, could be your closet and jewelry box. Heart of Missoulians also benefit from expanded assets that they don’t necessarily have at home. This includes the thousands of books in the Missoula Public Library and walls adorned with fine art at the Missoula Art Museum (MAM) – both of which are free to the public.

heart-carousel-horseOpportunities for families are brimming in downtown Missoula, and the beauty is, they can be found so close together. If you walk west on Front Street from Higgins you’ll find yourself at the Missoula Children’s Museum filled with interactive exhibits specially designed for that childlike curiosity. From here, walk towards the river and you’ll start to hear the joyful sounds of laughter and calliope music coming from A Carousel for Missoula. This stunning installment to downtown has an equally beautiful story. Today, you have to wait your turn to take a turn on one of the lovingly hand-carved wooden horses, especially if you want a spot on the outer edge so you can attempt to grab the brass ring from dragon’s mouth to win a free ride. Next to the carousel is the fantastic, labyrinthine play structure of Dragon’s Hollow. Various hallways lead to slides and stairwells taking kids on a different journey each time they visit.

For a grown up date night or late night, the nocturnal life in this college town is exciting, yet it’s not overtaken by college students alone. First Fridays are held year-round opening many downtown businesses and galleries up for evening art and activity. Performances at the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) are a wonderful occasion to come downtown. The theater is known best for its little red trucks that bring performing arts education to schools throughout the country and even the world. Missoulians can take in full theatrical productions at MCT’s home theatre, the renovated Central School Building located on Broadway, east of Higgins. Live music can be heard many nights of the week pouring from scene staples like the Top Hat, the Union Club, and when a movie isn’t showing, the Wilma. Downtown of course has a number of famous watering holes depending on your preference – from wine and distinctive appetizers at the Red Bird Wine Bar in the art deco Florence Building to beer, banter, and blazingly good Cajun food at Charlie B’s and the Dino Café.

So while many of America’s downtowns have faded, Missoula’s has flourished. Thanks to a monumental effort by city leaders, community members, and the Missoula Downtown Association (MDA), the Heart is healthy. MDA is tireless in its promotion and improvement of downtown. This includes organizing Out to Lunch outdoor entertainment and food every Wednesday and Downtown Tonight dinner every Thursday in the summer and playing host to the River City Roots Festival, a free concert and street festival in late August.

Among all this activity, there are also some lesser-known attractions that are residential mainstays. If you can’t make the Saturday farmers’ markets, there is a Tuesday evening market located on North Higgins near the Xs. If Caras Park is too crowded, try volleyball, tennis, or frisbee in Kiwanis Park, also along the river. If you want to shorten your journey, always opt for the Riverfront Trail. It takes less time and you never have to search for a parking spot. If you’ve already seen the recent exhibits at MAM, check out the new art on the graffiti wall at the California Street Bridge. And if you happen to be out walking along the river on a beautiful April day, don’t be surprised if a teenage skateboarder yells, “Happy Spring!” as he passes. This is simply the neighborly thing to do.

The Heart of Missoula is central to Missoula’s history. Because of the sawmills along the Clark Fork River, the town developed from this focal point. There were a handful of influential people that founded Missoula and their names can be found on street signs and buildings throughout town. One man whose name is no longer as ubiquitous is that of A.B. Hammond. A contemporary of C.P. Higgins and Frank Worden, Hammond was part owner of the Missoula Mercantile and a prominent and shrewd businessman whose questionable logging endeavors in particular placed him under a cloud of suspicion. Unlike C.P. Higgins, Hammond was not a well-liked civic leader, and the tension between the two men manifested in a building boom on both sides of the river. The rivalry and the local sentiment about Hammond continued well after both men’s deaths. Today Missoula’s main downtown thoroughfare is named for Higgins, many of his buildings still stand, and the north-south streets in the University Neighborhood are named for his children. As for Hammond, if you happen to walk on north Gerald Street, look down and you will see his named stamped into the sidewalk on the street that once bore his name. This faded tribute to Hammond is still very much overshadowed by a local affection for Higgins. To learn more about Missoula’s founders, history and, architecture, check out the book Montana Mainstreets, Volume 6: A Guide to Historic Missoula by Allan James Matthews, which can be found on Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula at Fact & Fiction Bookstore.

Missoula continues to pay tribute to its formative leaders today. If you walk along the Clark Fork near the white-tented pavilion of Caras Park, make sure you stop to watch kayakers and even surfers practice on Brennan’s Wave. Built as a memorial to world-class kayaker and Missoulian Brennan Guth who died in a boating accident in 2001, the Class 2 white water wave is almost always in use. Paddlers and boarders alike put on quite the performance. Find out more about how Brennan’s Wave came to be by clicking here.

The Heart of Missoula represents the city’s active life quite well. In 2009, Runners’ World magazine declared the Missoula Marathon the best overall marathon in its Readers’ Choice Marathon Guide for 2010. This major undertaking was hatched by Run Wild Missoula, an enthusiastic and growing running organization, often found either setting out or coming back from a run at downtown Missoula’s Runner’s Edge retail store. The marathon, a dream for many years, became a reality in July of 2007. The full marathon starts in Frenchtown and winds its way back into Missoula through the western part of the city. Runners hit the final stretch by crossing the Clark Fork River on the Higgins Avenue Bridge and finish triumphantly in front of the Wilma Theatre. Because of the national exposure, this event is sure to bring more and more visitors to the Heart of Missoula and beyond.

Many of us remember the various ways we kept up on the comings and goings of our hometowns and neighborhoods. Whether it was through the grapevine, a community group, or the weekly newspaper, we had a resource for information and an outlet to share our thoughts. The LiveMissoula! neighborhood blogs revisit that concept in a new way by providing an open, online destination where neighborhood stories can be posted and shared. To contribute to the discussion, we encourage you to add your comments. If you have an idea for a story, contact the Neighborhood Volunteer Advocate listed under each neighborhood’s Fast Facts pages.