In the first half of the 20th century, Anaconda gained its reputation as a hard-working town, whether you toiled at the smelter, the pottery works, the railroad, or any of the many small businesses and shops across the city. With that hard work came the need
for places to rest, relax, and enjoy the precious hours away from the workplace. So much has changed in Anaconda since the closing of the smelter in the early 1980s–but the town’s distinctive places for recreation and relaxation remain, a big part of the reason Anaconda is one of my favorite places in Montana.
Let’s start with the magnificent Art Deco marvel of the Washoe Theater. Designed in 1930 by B. Marcus Priteca but not finished and opened until 1936, the theater has stayed in operation ever since. It is remarkably intact, especially when owners refused to follow the multi-screen craze of the 1970s and kept the lobby and massive screen
intact. It was a favorite jaunt in the 1980s to go to Anaconda, take in a movie at the Washoe and then cocktails at the Club Moderne. The interior design is attributed to Hollywood designer Nat Smythe.
A drink after the movie: still happens with regularity in Anaconda, due to the plethora of neighborhood bars, from the Anaconda Bar to the Thompson Bar. The range of sizes and styling speaks to the different experiences offered by these properties.
The Locker Room Bar has a classic Art Deco look with its green glass and glass block entrance while the JFK Bar documents its date of construction while the rock veneer on concrete is undeniably a favorite construction technique of the 1960s.
If not the bars, then you could retreat to your fraternal lodge or veterans group. Fraternal lodges were everywhere once in Anaconda and several historic ones still survive. The Croatian Hall, unassuming in its size and ornament, is one of the most interesting lodges on the east side, in the old “Goosetown” working-class part of Anaconda. Sam Premenko established the club in Anaconda’s early years.
The Elks Club in the heart of downtown is a totally different statement, with its sleek 1960s modernist facade over an earlier turn of the century Victorian styled brick building reflecting a more prosperous and larger membership.
With its glass block entrances and windows, the American Legion lodge seems like another lounge, but the American Eagle mural says otherwise.
The Copper Bowl is a wonderful mid-20th century reminder of both the raw material that fueled Anaconda. From the highway sign–a great piece of roadside architecture itself–you can see the slag piles from the smelter. Bowling, so popular once, is disappearing across the country, except in Anaconda, where two different set of lanes remained in business–at least in 2012.
If not bowling, why not read a book. At least that was the motivation behind Progressive reformers and their initiative to create “free” (meaning no membership fees) public libraries at the turn of the 20th century. Anaconda has one of the state’s earliest and most architecturally distinctive libraries in the Hearst Free Library.
Funded by Phoebe Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst), the library reflected a Renaissance Revival style in red brick designed by San Francisco architect F. S. Van Trees. It opened in 1898 and served as an inspiring public space, part library, part public meeting space, part art museum.
Another Progressive-era institution is Washoe Park, established by the copper company and home to the first fish hatchery in the state. Washoe Park was a place for outdoor recreation, with ball fields, picnic areas, and amusement attractions. It also was home for the town’s baseball field and its historic grandstands and refreshment
center still serve those who come to see. The Anaconda Copper Company had the diamond and grandstand built c. 1949 and the first teams to play were organized by the city’s different fraternal lodges. Besides the classic look of the grandstand nearby
is the refreshment/ recreation center, a building in the Rustic style, an architectural type associated with parks of all sorts in the first half of the 20th century.
New renovations at the park have been underway, improving trails, the hatchery, and the outdoor experience plus adding public interpretation at appropriate places. The park is being re-energized but respect still shown its early elements, such as the historic Alexander Glover cabin, built c. 1865 and identified as the oldest residence in Anaconda, which was moved into the park as an interpretive site, early, c. 1920.
Another outdoor recreational space that has been receiving renovation is the historic Mitchell Stadium complex, a New Deal project of the Works Progress Administration from 1938-1939. The stadium, designed to give the high school modern facilities for football and track and field, is quite the place, retaining so much of its original understated Art Deco styling.
Unlike Washoe Park, here was a new public space, in keeping with the New Dealers’ faith in recreation and community, that was not a creation of the copper company for adult workers but for high school athletes.
It also is a property that I totally overlooked in the 1984-85 survey. True it was not 50 years old then but it was a WPA project that deserved close scrutiny as part of the larger federal effort to improve high school education and public spaces.
Certainly one of the most interesting conversions of industrial landscape into recreation landscape–on a whole another scale from the rails to trails movement–is how the grounds of the original smelter site at Anaconda have been transformed into a modern golf course. Rare is the opportunity to play a round but also walk around and consider public interpretation of a blasted out mining property.
But even on the links of this innovative adaptive reuse project you cannot escape the overwhelming presence of the copper company stack, and mounds of devastation it left behind. Here is an appropriate view that sums up the company influence on the distinctive place of Anaconda.