Built as the Elite Hotel, this structure is prominently sited on the corner of Park and Second streets in Livingston, a railroad town now known for its large literary population. The hotel is across from the Italianate rail depot (1901–1902, Reed and Stem), which delivered tourists to Yellowstone National Park from points east not long after the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid in 1882. Like many Montana hotels associated with the growth of the railroad, it both prospered and declined with the ebb and flow of tourism to the region’s national parks. The town’s primary growth occurred between 1882 and 1915, and much of the built fabric from that period retains its character, with the early wood-frame structures rapidly replaced by more substantial and fireproof buildings of sandstone and brick.
The hotel’s initial construction was financed by U.S. Senator James E. Murray, though the hotel was owned by Josephine Kline. The two-story building maintained the characteristic features of railroad hotels throughout the West, with shops and a lobby on the ground floor, and entrances on both street frontages. In 1922, the hotel expanded from two stories to four, and was renamed the Murray. It enjoyed a successful run as one of the finer hotels in the region, serving both the tourist trade and rural population of Montana. The brick structure is similar to the other early-twentieth-century commercial buildings along Livingston’s commercial corridor, but the Murray Hotel’s stone lintels and stringcourse, decorative corbeled brickwork, and terra-cotta emblems atop pilasters defining the window bays, modestly articulate its ambition as grand hotel.
As in many small western towns, the Murray Hotel functioned as the town’s hub of social and economic life. Newspaper advertisements indicate that several businesses operated on the ground floor, including cafes and a travel agency. A 1912 photograph shows a well-appointed cafe and lunch counter, and another from 1937 features a lounge with Art Deco banquettes and a bar with slot machines. The double-height lobby retains much of its original spatial character, including an ironwork mezzanine and stone wainscoting, and a 1905 hand-cranked Otis elevator. It is not clear when the double-sided neon “Hotel” sign that runs nearly the full height of the building was added; images from the 1950s show a more modest black-and-white sign mounted in the same location. The neon “Murray’s Cafe” sign that wraps around the corner also appears to be a post-1950 addition.
The hotel continued to operate despite changes in rail service: passenger rail to Yellowstone National Park ceased in 1948, and Amtrak ended passenger service to Livingston in 1979. Livingston remained a popular gateway to Yellowstone, although visitors primarily came by car after World War II. The Murray Hotel appeared in the Negro Traveler’s Green Book, a guide to accommodations that were friendly to African American travelers, from 1956 to 1963, along with the nearby Yellowstone Motel and Willow Park Cottages.
The hotel has changed ownership several times, including in 1978 and then again 1990. The latter transition included a renovation that consolidated some of the rooms, bringing the total down to 29 from 66. The current owners have restored the hotel and celebrate its storied history, which has attracted several celebrities and major media outlets.
Cohen, Stan. “The Murray Hotel.” In Montana's Grandest-Historic Hotels and Resorts of the Treasure State, 77-80. Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company.
“Commercial District,” Park County, Montana. National Register Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1979. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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