Lyle Murtha used to waste too much time making trips from his home to his office six blocks away on weekends. So the architect built an apartment into his business when he designed the renovation of an old downtown building that became his new office two years ago.
Architects solve problems and design structures that function well for their clients’ purpose, he said. That’s what he did for himself, too.
“I’m always working,” he said. “I like what I do, so I don’t live for the weekends. What I do is what I like to do. It just made no sense to have my stuff in two different places when, to me, my worlds aren’t separate; they’re together.”
Murtha has been busy designing all kinds of new buildings and renovations in Casper since he opened Stateline No. 7 Architects here 10 years ago. His projects have included Fire Rock Steak House, Mountain View Clinic, Jonah Banks and the upcoming Pineview Elementary School. His work has ranged from $32 million projects to a few thousand dollars to remodel a 20x20-foot lobby for Second Wind Performance, a local auto shop.
His Center Street office is part of a wave of his renovation designs to repurpose old, unused buildings in Casper, such as the newly opened Hotel Virginia apartments downtown.
he never seems to tire of projects, Stateline's senior project manager Anthony R. Jacobsen always can tell when he's really excited about a project, he said. He'll talk a lot about ideas, like the large photo in the Virginia they installed to meet the developer's wish for a way to display the building's history.
"He's always looking for any and all work," Jacobsen said. "He's always talking about turning lemons into lemonade and doing the best with whatever you ave in any project."
One of his most recent projects is the former Pacific Fruit Warehouse in the Old Yellowstone District for ART 321, the new home of the Casper Artists’ Guild. Like his office, both are warehouses built in the same train yard neighborhood almost a century ago. The guild’s board and executive director, Holly Turner, toured his office and asked for the same look. Revealing original bricks with the conduits poking through and using elements like the original warehouse doors that are already there are some of the features that are economical while keeping the character of the buildings intact, Murtha said.
“I really appreciate what Lyle is doing for the Casper community by rethinking and showing us how beautiful our Casper buildings can be, when renovated and not being torn down,” Turner said.
His most recent project to be built is the Hotel Virginia apartments in the former county annex building on First Street. A few years ago, local officials deemed the building not worth saving and said should be torn down. Murtha alerted South Dakota's McCarthy Properties, and the South Dakota developer picked it up at a clearance price to preserve historical features around modern apartments, Murtha said. The project was similar to their collaboration to create Rapid City's first downtown lofts.
Changing minds about old buildings is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, Murtha said. He hopes the renovations inspire more people to use old buildings that otherwise sit empty or are razed, he said.
“Tear it down,” people shouted from car windows toward Murtha’s office during the renovation.
“Now people walk in off the street just to thank us for doing this,” Murtha said. “So I like opening people’s eyes to what can be done. Now I bet there’s not too many people who would want to see this building go, so that’s a complete turnaround in people’s attitudes. That’s rewarding for me.”
Murtha grew up in old school buildings in eastern South Dakota where his family owned a farm, so his respect for old buildings goes back to his childhood, he said. He also decided early to become an architect and studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His early career in the Black Hills included several historical buildings in Deadwood, Rapid City and Spearfish, he said.
“Those tests you take when you’re young that tell what you’re good at — mine was always split between math and art,” Murtha said, “So it was the logical profession for me.”
Those are skills architects have to learn in the real world, because colleges focus on the more glamorous work of creatively designing new buildings, he said. He enjoys both with his wide variety of projects throughout Wyoming and the region, which have won awards from the Rapid City Historical Preservation Commission to Behlen Building Systems.
After bouncing between South Dakota and Wyoming, he moved across the state line to Wyoming and opened his own shop at the request of clients. The name of his business comes from his history and a few present projects across the state border and because his business employs seven people, he said.
He prefers the quiet isolation away from the tourist crowds and the expanse of Wyoming landscapes he now calls home.
Expansive spaces also are part of Murtha’s most striking designs. Take Fire Rock, which he designed to be the opposite of the low ceilings and tight, dark spaces found in many bars and steakhouses, he said.
“My concept from the get-go was to do a two-story space and make it feel more like a barn, with big windows” he said.
His apartment holds with his professional style. There are just a few interior privacy walls made with the plywood construction platforms from the renovation. The eye glides from stainless steel kitchen appliances to original brick walls around the original floor of various woods.
A tar stain he couldn’t remove from the planks wasn’t a problem. The remnant from the machinists who once worked there became the inspiration for space. He added a machinist table and chairs for his dining room area.
“You can get inspiration from the building itself,” he said.
Murtha shares the apartment with his dog, Buddy, who also is listed on his business’ website as “senior morale administrator.”
When Murtha isn’t working and Buddy isn’t wandering the spaces of Stateline No. 7 Architects and greeting everyone who walks in, the two are often strolling river park trails or hiking in Wyoming’s best scenery, like the Big Horn Mountains. It's not quite true that they work all the time. But the architect designed the structure that is his work, home and life with plenty of room for the three to blend.
“I like the wide open spaces,” Murtha said.