Butte’s Dumas Hotel needs help!

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The Dumas Hotel was the location of the last operating brothel in Montana.  The brothel closed in 1981, the same year I arrived in the Big Sky Country.  During the historic preservation survey of 1984-1985 the state preservation office knew the history of the Dumas, and it was part of the Butte National Historic Landmark district.  But its future was largely unknown–could it be a museum?

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When I revisited the Dumas in 2006 it seemed well on its way to being a tourist attraction, not a historic site where the issue of prostitution in Butte could be interpreted fully and fairly.  Then in 2012 the future seemed different; new owners were taking the needed restoration seriously.  Then in the middle of this decade one of my MTSU M.A. students, Veronica Sales, took on the topic of the Dumas as her thesis, creating a solid context for future renovation and a more robust and accurate interpretation.

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But the unexpected death of the hotel’s owner, Michael Piche, in early 2018 has put that promise to the test.  Piche was only 34.  Who could replace his energy? Renovation stopped in its tracks.

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The place was disheveled when I visited in May. The family had just reopened the place and openly wondered what would and could happen next.  Let’s hope the future involves

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a comprehensive restoration and a “whole story” interpretive program.  The sex trade in the American West is an uncomfortable but necessary story and the Dumas has plenty of evocative spaces, like the bare room above, that address the reality of the business.

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Progress has been made from 2012 to 2018.  But this historic place needs our help–and a similar effort needs to take place for the brick Blue Range of “cribs” that is located across the street.  The preservation of the Dumas Hotel is important as the best intact

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example of a northern Rockies brothel.  The preservation of this building and what is left of Butte’s historic red light district need to be a concern for many who want to tell the whole story of the copper mining era in Butte.

Hamilton’s Daly Mansion: A New Interior and New Interpretive Directions

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The story of the Daly Mansion from a shuttered family owned property in 1984-1985 to a fully realized historic house museum 30 years later also reflects well my timeline of engagement with the historic landscapes of the Big Sky Country.  It was a time capsule in the mid-1980s–a house starting to come apart but full of family furniture, papers, and countless treasures.  When the house was saved but the interior furnishings sold at auction, it seemed like a permanent separation.

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My first post on this blog in 2013 about the Daly Mansion and its restoration lauded the determination of the local non-profit to finish the exterior renovation and repairs, and to have the place open to the public on a regular basis.  It was and is an impressive achievement in a time when so-called experts say the era of historic house museums is over. But it was very much an exterior tour–when I visited six years ago, photographs were not allowed, not so much to protect items but because so much remained to be done. The place just did not have a historic “lived in” look.

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In the last five years, the Daly Mansion board and its many local supporters have finished the job.  Key pieces of family furniture, like the settee above and much of the dining room below, have returned, due in large part to purchases and commitments made at the original auction in the 1980s but many objects coming back to the house due to the persistence of board members and the willingness of auction buyers to return items now that 30 years have passed.

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The result is a house museum that depicts well the life of a wealthy family on their version of the 20th century country estate, and now with an appropriate focus on Margaret Daly, who selected the architectural style, purchased many of the furnishings, and kept the estate forefront in Montana luxury for four decades (Marcus Daly died in 1900, before the Colonial Revival conversion of the original house; Margaret lived until 1941).  Margaret Daly’s bedroom furniture had long been in the collections of the University of Montana Library–they are now in their rightful place in the Daly Mansion.

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The lushness, and personality, of Margaret Daly’s private quarters is now the norm across the house, from the first floor parlor to the second floor setting room.

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Even the third floor ballroom, once an evocative but largely empty space, is now used to display and interpret the rather amazing clothing collections of the museum.

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Certainly the words of one visitor during my May 2018 ring true:  “they were rich but had little taste” in the decorative arts.  But for Margaret Daly her Riverside estate was not a showplace as much as a place to escape for the summer.  The hodge-lodge of trendy but individually undistinguished furniture and objects suited that purpose just fine.

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The Daly Mansion is at a new place–a preservation and restoration project that had stretched out for thirty years.  But now the interior story, especially the focus on Margaret Daly, steps up to center stage.  The meaning of Riverside and the Bitter Root Stock Farm is still waiting for a full exploration and analysis.

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Anaconda’s Club Moderne: May 2018 Update

In my brief trip to Montana in May 2018, I had the opportunity to visit several iconic places that had undergone changes since my field visit earlier in the decade.  One such place was Anaconda’s Club Moderne, one of Montana’s most outstanding Art Moderne-styled landmarks of the 1930s.

The tavern had caught fire in 2016 and at first everyone thought all was lost.  But the owners and the community responded quickly, the Club reopened in 2017, as I reported in a blog in late 2017.

To my eye, the place certainly looked the same from the exterior, with the new paint job even sprucing up the colorful sign, which had been an early historic replacement of the original more austere lettering.

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The interior had naturally changed the most since the fire caught into the roof and had burned out the roof, taking quite a bit of the original decorative material, but surprisingly enough was left to tell me that I was still in the old bar.

I really thought the restoration of the lounge had succeeded–the large open space with its distinctive bar remained, but again some modernization had taken place, with the touch of the phoenix rising along one interior wall being most appropriate.

My conclusion: the Club Moderne is still a very valuable historic landmark, and the restoration undertaken by the owners and supported by the community is impressive. What is striking to me as well is that two neighboring communities, Deer Lodge to the north and Anaconda, had both in this decade rescued historic community landmarks, Deer Lodge with its Rialto Theatre and Anaconda with the Club Moderne. Historic Preservation is alive and doing well in southwestern Montana.