Flanze building has worn a lot of hats in 100 years

History Columnist

The Flanze Apartments on the north side of Miles City were considered pretty nice in their day.

One hundred years ago, Julius Flanze (flan’-zee) spent a whopping $35,000 on the Flanze Hotel on the corner of Washington and Ninth streets. You might think that was an odd place to build a hotel but you have to remember, in 1917, the Milwaukee Railroad had the premiere passenger service in the northern half of the United States. Four passenger trains a day came into the Milwaukee Depot — two from each direction.

This was a division point on the railroad. In addition to the huge yards, complete with a roundhouse that employed around 1,000 people in 1917, this was the turnaround point for Milwaukee train crews.

After a day of work, the engineer, fireman, conductor, brakemen and other members of the train crew got off at Miles City. 

Near the old Milwaukee tracks are a number of small houses that were referred to as turnaround houses. Several crewmen would get together on a house. One crew would leave to head out and another would come in. They didn’t need a living room or very often much of a kitchen; just some place to sleep and probably a bathroom, although some originally had outdoor facilities.

The Flanze was really more of what we would think of as a rooming house than a modern hotel. There were 36 sleeping rooms when the hotel opened, split between the first and second floors. The Nov. 11, 1917 article points out the Flanze was equipped with “bath room and toilet on both floors.”

Since there 17 rooms on the first floor and 19 on the second, I do hope those were multiple toilets but, if not, I’m sure there were chamber pots.

There were two other “residential hotels” or rooming houses, one on Ninth Street half a block from the Flanze and the other slightly more than a block away on the next corner of Washington and Tenth. While the Gilmore has been converted to apartments, the St. Paul remains more of a rooming house. 

Rooming houses and boarding houses, which included meals as well as a place to sleep, were common in Miles City in the first half of the 20th century, fading from use after World War II, when apartments became the norm, even for single men.

There was also a lobby, apartment for Mr. and Mrs. Flanze, a waiting room for guests and a laundry in the basement. Eventually, according to the article, more sleeping rooms were to be added to the basement.

“Each room is provided with hot and cold artesian water,” continued the article. This was a feature of most houses that were built as rooming or boarding houses. Every room had it’s own sink to decrease the line for the bath. 

Artesian water was very popular in Miles City. Although there was a city water system, the deep artesian wells that underlie Miles City were considered cleaner and healthier than the city water system. Since the city water was drawn from the river and went through minimal settling as processing, the wells probably were cleaner.

Ironically, it was the habit the Milwaukee Road had of dumping excess diesel fuel on the ground in later years that contaminated those wells, rendering them unfit for consumption.

The Flanze was also covered in “Flex-O-Tile outside, lined with “Linofelt.” This was an early version of stucco tile and Linofelt was the brand name of an oil impregnated felt similar to linoleum, only more flexible, that provided insulation. Combined with a “Kankakee boiler” providing steam heat, the Flanze was probably pretty cosy back in 1917.

By 1967, the Flanze was getting pretty rundown but it was located close to the old Milwaukee passenger depot, which, by 1967, was being used as Custer County Junior College. Since the Flanze was very similar in design to a dormitory, it occurred to supporters of the college to give the Flanze a quick coat of paint and a few repairs and make it into a men’s dorm.

Oddly enough, at the same time the Flanze was being converted into the first men’s dorm for CCJC, a bond issue was passed to build a new, dedicated building for what was to become Miles Community College. That new building was completed about a year after the conversion of the Flanze.

Which meant the new men’s dorm was way across town from the new college. So Flanze Hall was quickly abandoned and reverted back to housing. Like the St. Paul in the same neighborhood, the Flanze provided cheap housing, usually for single men. 

Over the years, the rooming house was converted into a more conventional apartments, from studio to two bedroom units, with kitchens and their own bathrooms.

Both the exterior and the interior have changed extensively from their original appearance but there are hints of the original Flanze Hotel in the current structure. If you step inside the front door, you’ll notice the wooden floor of what used to be an open porch. There is still a small lobby inside and the original stairs (although with tighter spacing on the balusters than was probably there originally) still lead to the second floor.

With a little imagination, you can picture the Flanze Hotel.

Below is the article from the Nov. 11, 1917 Miles City Star.

(Amorette Allison is a local history columnist.)



Last Word in Modern Rooming House Completed and Ready for Occupancy.

Another building erected the past summer that is a credit to Miles City is that of the Hotel Flanze at the corner of Washington and Ninth streets.

A call there yesterday found Julius Flanze, the proprietor, up to his “ears,” as he expressed it, in work, but not too busy to drop everything and chaperone a Star man about the place.

The building proper covers a space of 50 feet frontage on Ninth Street and by 100 on Washington. It is finished in Flex-O-Tile outside, lined with Linofelt, which insures absolute warmth. The building, which is occupied as a rooming house, contains thirty-six well ventilated and well lighted rooms, seventeen on the first floor, nineteen on the second, with bath room and toilet on both floors. Each room is provided with hot and cold artesian water, and the building is heated by steam, generated with a Kankakee boiler.

The rooms average in size 101/2x16. Those on the second story are provided with enclosed fire escape. The basement is practically finished and occupied. The part of the basement not used for the heating plant and laundry room will be converted into a sleeping rooms.

A convenient sized lobby on Ninth Street answers for an office. At the right is a waiting room for the use of guests, while the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Flanze are at the left. The entire finish is of fir, well-polished, neat and pleasing in appearance.
N. P. Nelson was the contractor and the building throughout shows substantial construction, as does all of Mr. Nelson’s work. There are a few minor matters to be added that delayed shipments caused, and when completed, the approximate cost will be in the immediate neighborhood of thirty-five thousand dollars.