Former Chico Hot Springs owner, local icon Mike Art dies at 86

By: 
Liz Kearney
An iconic Paradise Valley hotelier has passed away. 
 
Mike Art, 86, the legendary former owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort, died Tuesday, Oct. 24 at Livingston HealthCare, with all of his family by his side. 
 
“He had developed pneumonia and went very peacefully,” his daughter Andrea “Andy” Art, said Thursday. 
 
Plans for a memorial service are still pending, she said. 
 
Mike and Eve Art purchased the Chico Hot Springs Lodge in 1973, Mike told The Enterprise in 2013, on the occasion of the family being honored for its care of the facility by a Montana Preservation Alliance award that year. The facility was sold in 2016 to Colin Davis who had managed the property for some time. 
 
Art said when they took over the hotel, built in 1900, it had fallen into disrepair. There was algae in the pools, peeling paint, and a lot of creaking and rotting. But the rooms were in pretty good shape, if tiny. He cracked one of his signature jokes about the size of some of the original rooms. 
 
“They were so small you had to go outside to change your mind,” he quipped. 
 
Chico gained a reputation as a place where movie stars mixed with the general public without much attention paid to them. Art was good friends with Academy Award-winning actor and part-time resident Jeff Bridges and his wife, Susan, who met at Chico when she was employed there in 1977. 
 
Susan Bridges, in a statement, said Art was one of her first friends when she left Missoula to work at Chico. 
 
He was “larger than life, fun, funny and fair,” she wrote. 
 
“When Jeff and I first met and I was preparing to run away with him, Mike had ‘the talk’ with Jeff about taking good care of me and told me I always had a home at Chico,” Bridges wrote.
 
 She added, “He cared about his family, employees, friends and neighbors. I have known and loved Mike, Eve, Jackie and Andy for over 43 years. My heart goes out to them. Mike’s passing is a loss to our community, and he will be missed by one and all.” 
Bridges added that Jeff  wouldn’t be available for comment by press time. 
 
Art was friends with other celebrities in the area, especially the late actor Warren Oates. 
 
“We cashed a lot of fun tickets together,” Art said in 2013. 
 
Art was known for his corny jokes, hospitality and philanthropic generosity, especially Andy said,  to Stafford Animal Shelter and the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts. 
 
“We owe our existence in a large way to Mike,” Shane Center Artistic Director Russ Lewis said Thursday. “For both our organization and the Blue Slipper, he performed, sat on the board and helped fundraise. He and Eve were incredible supporters of the arts in this town. He will be missed.” 
 
Art’s last appearance on stage, as Lewis recalled, was as Teyve, the lead role in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” back in about 2007.  
 
One of Mike’s longtime friends, Jim Liska, of Livingston, recalled a fundraiser held at the Elks Lodge some 15 years or so ago. The event was, as Liska recalled, a medical fundraiser for an ill child and included a live auction. Mike bid high and won all the items, to the consternation of other bidders, Liska said.
 
When the auction was over, Mike wrote a rather large check and then told the organizers ‘I don’t want any of this stuff’ and told them to sell it all over again. 
 
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Liska said, adding, “He was a great friend. I think hundreds of people could say that about him.” 
 
Art had been in failing health for the past few years, but in good spirits, his daughter Andy said. 
 
“My dad was very content and happy,” she said. “He still had lots of laughter and lots of humor, and that kept things wonderful. He lived 86 years the way we all should.” 
 
 
-----
 
Liz Kearney may be reached at lkearney@livent.net.