Teslow tear-down: Plans in place to dismantle crumbling iconic structure

By Hunter D’Antuono
Enterprise Staff Writer

The Teslow grain elevator, long an iconic part of the Livingston townscape, is facing demolition in the coming weeks. 

Engineers and architects on the project said its dilapidated state is posing a significant health and safety hazard. The building’s deteriorating condition became especially apparent after the night of Nov. 17, when a windstorm blew off a huge section of the elevators’ roof, sending it crashing to earth on the leeward side of the building.   

“The walls on those upper sections are unstable at this point,” said Scott Higinbotham, a structural engineer of Bozeman firm A&E Dynamics. “We’re working on a plan — the general consensus is pulling the building down.”   

But many locals decried the impending demolition of the old structure on the Facebook page “This is REALLY Livingston,” which recently served as the forum for a Teslow grain elevator photo contest. 

While the building itself is privately owned by Christina Blackledge, of Texas, the elevator sits on land leased by Montana Rail Link. 

Livingston developer Chris Salacinski is in the process of acquiring the building from Blackledge. Salacinski purchased the properties of the old LivingstonHealthCare facilities, and is turning the buildings into low-income apartment units. 

Salacinski is heading up the logistics of the operation and is absorbing the costs associated with the tear-down, which by his estimate, will run around $15,000 a week for all related expenses. He said he became involved in the project through a mutual friend of Blackledge.  

“We’re going to get down the top part as soon as possible,” said Salacinski, adding that could happen as early as next week. 

Higinbotham said the biggest obstacle to demolition is the wind. He estimated the demolition could take up to two months to complete when contending with the infamous Livingston gusts. 

“The metal is the largest concern, because it becomes a sail in the wind,” he said.   

MRL spokesperson Jim Lewis said “MRL will not have any hand in the reinforcement and/or demolition of the building, as MRL does not own the building.”  

However, Salacinski said that through his talks with MRL, he knows the company does not want anyone involved in the project to enter the structure, citing liability concerns.    

Other grain elevators around the state are facing similar predicaments as the Teslow elevator. Lewis said MRL owns an elevator in Laurel and is tearing it down due to “structural issues.”   

In Columbus, the Stillwater County News reported in December that a historic grain elevator near the tracks is also being dismantled.   

Former Livingston City Commissioner Bob Ebinger said the city tried to acquire the Teslow elevator the last time it was for sale over 10 years ago.

“It is a shame that the city wasn’t able to buy it,” Ebinger said.

Salacinski said he is open to ideas about what to do with the materials of the Teslow elevator.  

“If I can donate something that would be of benefit to the community, I’d do it in a second,” he said. 

Jordan Zignego, an architect on the tear-down, said the timber and tin materials could go toward a civic project for Livingston.  

Building on that idea, Alandra Knight, a friend of  Salacinski’s assisting him with the elevator pull-down, suggested the timbers could be used for shelters at Livingston’s McNair Skatepark, which has plans to construct a large, concrete park. 

Marie Stevenson, an art teacher at Sleeping Giant Middle School, said her grandfather, Walter Teslow, bought the elevator in Livingston in the mid 1950s. Stevenson said the Teslows also used to own a second elevator in Livingston, which still stands near the intersection of Park and K Streets. 

At the company’s peak, the Teslows owned 29 grain elevators around Montana, said Stevenson.  

 A 1943 edition of a Polk City Directory states The Livingston Milling Co. used to own the property at the current site of the Teslow elevator, suggesting that the elevator has existed since at least the early 1940s.  

Clyde Park resident Bill Schilling was the last owner of the Teslow elevator who used it for its intended purpose, when he stored commodity grain there for the United States Department of Agriculture before selling the elevator in 2000. Schilling also owned the elevator on Park and K Streets. 

“It’s an icon, but in its present state, it’s a health hazard. It cannot be reused,” said Zignego. “Maybe we can design something else from that icon and have it rejuvenated.”