Back from the Ashes: Club Moderne in Anaconda

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The story of historic preservation is always a story of highs and lows, of achievements and losses.  I cannot think of any greater achievement in 2017 than the reopening of the Club Moderne in Anaconda. Montana architect Fred Willson designed this Art Moderne-styled jewel in the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s–life was always tough in the copper smelter town of Anaconda but particularly tough then.  The bar found its community, and a community institution it has always been, from the first time I visited it in the 1980s, see below, to when I returned to visit and photograph the building in

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2012. Between those 30 years, patrons might have changed, and poker machines might be stuck everywhere but it was undoubtedly a neighborhood institution, always, for me, a place to talk about history and community with those who lived nearby.

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The fire that came suddenly in October did not injure anyone–thankfully–but it left an immediate mark on the community soul–would once again Anaconda lose a place that might not be very important to others but was vital to the residents and their sense of identity and place.

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Despite the damage and the immediate media stories that the bar had been destroyed, the walls remained standing, and the spirit of the owners and the patrons remained resolute–here was a place that not only mattered but that was worth the effort and the funds to restore, reopen, and resume its service to the community.

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No it is not the same place it was before the fall 2016 fire. But it is still worthy of listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and it is ready to serve the community for now and into the future.  Quite a save indeed for the town of Anaconda and determined owners.

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So in this time of holiday festivities, lift a glass or two or three to the folks in Anaconda for what they achieved in never giving up and giving a second life to a landmark that deserves every bit of attention it gets. Cheers, and happy holidays!

Missoula’s Downtown Wonders

 

Missoula 2006 021 Medical Arts Building Art DecoDowntown Missoula’s architectural wonders make it a distinctive urban Western place. Let’s start with my favorite, the striking Art Moderne styled Florence Hotel (1941) designed by architect G.A. Pehrson. Located between the two railroad depots on Higgins Street, the hotel served tourists and residents as a symbol of the town’s classy arrival on the scene–it was the first place with air-conditioning–of a region transforming in the 1940s and 1950s.

missoula medical florenceWith the coming of the interstate highway in the 1970s, tourist traffic declined along Higgins Street and the Florence Hotel was turned into offices and shops, a function that it still serves today.

Missoula Co Missoula The Florence 5Next door is another urban marvel, the Wilma Theatre, which dates to 1921 and like the Florence it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The building was the city’s first great entertainment landmark (even had an indoor swimming pool at one time) but with offices and other business included in this building that anchored the corner where Higgins Street met the Clark’s Fork River. Architects Ole Bakke and H. E. Kirkemo designed the theatre in the fashionable Renaissance Revival style, with a hint towards the “tall buildings” form popularized by architect Louis Sullivan, the building later received an Art Deco update, especially with the use of glass block in the ticket booth and the thin layer of marble highlighting the entrance.

With their soaring height the Florence and Wilma were dominant commercial landmarks.  Much of the downtown was built earlier, with the Missoula Mercantile (discussed in an earlier blog) being a very important lure for customers from throughout the region–by far

IMG_7565.jpgMissoula’s first major department store and entrepreneurial center.  The late Victorian era architectural styling of the two-story building also set a standard for many other downtown businesses from 1890 to 1920. These can be categorized as two-part commercial fronts, with the first floor serving as the primary commercial space and the second floor could be offices, dwelling space for the owner, or most common today storage space.

My favorite Victorian-era commercial building in Missoula is another Higgins Street landmark, and a rarity in Montana as a Queen Anne-styled business block, complete with projecting turret bay, highlighted by stone, defining its corner location and signifying its prominence as the local bank.

 

The Classical Revival that transformed the look of so many western railroad towns from the late 1890s to 1920 is also well represented in its different architectural forms. The Missoula County Courthouse (1910) was built following the arrival of the Milwaukee Road and the county’s economic boom led by the two railroads and the thousands of homesteaders headed into northwest Montana.  Designed by Montana architect A. J.

Missoula 2006 045 courthouseGibson, the building is one of the state’s best examples of what is called “Beaux Arts classicism,” a movement in the west so influenced by the late 1890s Minnesota State Capitol by architect Cass Gilbert.

Another example of Beaux Arts classicism, in a more commercial setting, defines the facade of the Masonic Temple, designed by the Montana firm of Link and Haire in 1909.

Missoula Co Missoula Masonic TempleJust as impressive, but in a more Renaissance Revival style, is the Elks Lodge (1911), another building that documents the importance of the city’s working and middle class fraternal lodges in the early 20th century.

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And speaking of Renaissance Revival, the historic Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse also embraces the early 20th century Classical Revival movement as interpreted by three different federal architects over a 25-year period (James Knox Taylor, 1911-13; James A. Wetmore, 1927-1929; and, Louis A. Simon (1937).  The three different periods of

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construction, however, did not leave Missoula with an incoherent statement of classical architecture.  In fact, the various sections help to document different era in the city’s development, from the height of the homesteading boom of the 1910s to the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Missoula Co Missoula federal courthouseOf more recent construction is another federal courthouse, the modernist-styled Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, which was originally constructed as a bank.  In 2012, another judicial chamber was installed on the third floor. Although far removed from the classic

Missoula Co Missoula Russell Smith courthouse 2look, the Russell Smith Courthouse is not out-of-place in downtown Missoula.  There are several other buildings reflecting different degrees of American modern design, from the Firestone building from the 1920s (almost forgotten today now that is overwhelmed by its neighbor the Interstate Bank Building) to the standardized designed of gas stations of

Missoula Co Missoula firestone store1930s and 1940s, complete with enamel panels and double garage bays, standing next to the Labor Temple.

IMG_7516Modernism is alive and well in 21st century Missoula, with a office tower at St. Patrick’s Hospital, a new city parking garage, and the splashy Interstate Bank building, which overwhelms the scale of the adjacent Missoula Mercantile building–which had been THE place for commerce over 100 years earlier.

 

The Stack and the City: Anaconda

Anaconda Not RP3In my work across Montana in 1984-85 there was no more imposing structure than the smelter stack and works at Anaconda, in Deer Lodge County.  The image above was one I used in the 20 plus listening sessions I had across the state in 1984, gathering perspectives and recommended properties for the state historic preservation plan.  I used the stack because the smelter had just closed–and how this chapter in the state’s mining history could be preserved was on many minds.

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Whenever I visited the western part of the state in subsequent years, a stop in Anaconda was a must, to see if the stack was still there and what maybe was the latest of this modern landmark, this overwhelming symbol of corporate power from the early 20th century.  Some might recall the visitor center that existed there in the mid-1980s.

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The stack and its fascinating impact on the landscape wasn’t the only reason I often stopped in Anaconda in the 30 years since the survey.  There was that far different place, the Club Moderne Tavern.When I traveled the state in 1984-1985 this jewel of mid-1930s modern design was not listed in the National Register of Historic Places–Mike Koop of the state office soon took care of that after I left–and now most of Anaconda is included within a massive National Historic Landmark district about Butte-Anaconda and the copper mine culture of the 20th century.  I want to explore the layers of history, and how heritage development have shaped both towns over 30 years, in a series of posts, beginning with my work in Anaconda in 2011-12.

IMG_1649The Washoe Stack is one of the state’s most dominant man-made environments.  For like the massive dams and reservoirs at Hungry Horse, Canyon Creek, and Fort Peck, there is the massiveness of the structure itself, and the thousands of surrounding acres impacted by the property.  Unlike the lakes created by the dams of the first half of the 20th century, however, the stack left devastation in its wake, not recreation, not rebirth.

IMG_1556The old gateway to the smelter introduces you to one lasting legacy of the stack–the tons of slag located along the highway leading in and out of Anaconda.  The huge pile of

IMG_1297seems like some sort of black sand that has washed up on a beach rather the environmental spoils left by 100 years or production.

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The Washoe Smelter almost 100 years ago was considered an engineering marvel. In my last piece of published Montana research, for the Drumlummon Institute’s special book on Butte and Anaconda, I wrote: “The Alphonis Chimney Construction Company built the Washoe Stock for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in 1918. The stack is 585 feet high, 60 feet wide at the top with an interior diameter of 75 feet. Few industrial structures anywhere compare to it. The stack loomed over the company, its workers, its region, and its state.”

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Historian Laurie Mercier’s book on Anaconda has many valuable insights from local residents on what the stack means.  Bob Vine believed that the Company and God were all the same in Anaconda: “Everybody would get up in the morning and they look and see if there was smoke coming out of that stack and if there was, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world, and we knew we were going to have a paycheck.” (Mercier, Anaconda, p. 1)

IMG_1508In the 1980s, the Atlantic Richfield Corporation, a later owner of the Washoe works, announced the stack’s closing and possible demolition. A community-wide effort to save the stack was launched because, in the poetic words of local union activist Tom Dickson:
ARCO save that stack, touch not a single brick
Signify the livelihood that made Anaconda tick.
Still let it stand there stark against the sky,
Like a somewhat obscene gesture catching every eye. (Mercier, Anaconda, p. 217)

The toxic fumes from the stack infected thousands of acres, with the ironically named community of Opportunity, just north of the smelter works, bearing the brunt of the waste.  Community members continue to fight back for better cleanup of their damaged parks, yards, and businesses.  Indeed, it is still a moonscape around most of the smelter, and one wonders when that ever changes.

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Club Moderne was an oasis for me in Anaconda–an architectural landmark from the 1930s that still felt like stepping back in time, especially with a bartender so knowledgeable of the classic cocktails of mid-century.

IMG_0535That the place remained so intact in the early 1980s was impressive to me–that it remains that way 30 years later is a testament to local stewardship, and continued good times. The interior design of Art Deco details also remain to treat the eye and tempt

the drinking hand.  The place might not be as packed as in the heydays.  Anaconda’s population stood at just about 12,500 in 1930–just over 9,000 called Anaconda home in 2010.  But it, and the long lamented Copper Club (closed for years now) was why you came to Anaconda 30 years ago and spent a night–good food, good drink, and a chance

to experience one of the state’s most architecturally distinctive places.

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Bozeman’s historic districts after 30 years

Bozeman, the county seat of Gallatin County, was one of my favorite Montana towns during the 1984-1985 survey.  In some ways, it was still a cowtown, a commercial center for the hundreds of surrounding ranches in Gallatin County.  Yet it was also a college town–bars, music, cheap eats–as home to Montana State University.  In 1980 its population was over 21,000–thirty years later by 2010 it had boomed to over 37,000.  By the time I explored the town in 2015 for this new survey there were an estimated 42,000 residents, double of that of the 1980s town I had so enjoyed.

In 2007 then State Senator Lynda Bourque Moss stopped with me in Bozeman as we traveled from Billings to Helena where I was to speak to the governor’s task force on historic preservation, a meeting where the idea that I would recreate the survey of 1984-1985 first took root.  We stopped because she wanted to show me changes.  The four photos above showed me that yes, change had come, and in a big way to Bozeman.  The old Hallmark Store, which had moved into an earlier Stockman Bar, had become an upscale wine bar–a bit of California in the old cowtown of Bozeman–and when I next returned “Plonk” had added sidewalk seating.  We could have been in Aspen, at least Breckinridge, Colorado.

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Plonk and the sporting goods store, 2007

Bozeman had eagerly embraced the idea of historic districts in 1984-1985 as a way of revitalizing its downtown–so much had moved, or was going to move, out to the interstate exits.  John DeHaas at Montana State University had done so much to promote historic preservation in the 1970s and early 1980s.  A tradition and commitment were in place.  That much was clear when I surveyed the town and talked with residents and decision makers in 1984-85. The next several posts will explore the impact of those historic districts in the last 30 years, and offer observations on where next steps may go.

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Let’s start with what I saw as the public landmarks, and anchors, for downtown Bozeman in 1984-1985.  None was more important than the New Deal era Gallatin County High School, a striking Art Moderne design by Bozeman architect Fred Willson.  At that time, the “new” high school–which stood right by an earlier 20th century brick high school building–was not “old enough” to be considered for the National Register.  This building, like many of the state’s New Deal era legacy, has since been listed in the National Register.  And its grounds have been re-energized for all who walk by through the installation of a statue in honor of Malcolm Story, designed by Belgrade, Montana, artist Jim Dolan and placed in front of the earlier high school in 1995.

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Across Main Street is another public anchor, also funded by the New Deal in the late 1930s and also designed by Fred Willson:  the Art Deco classicism of the Gallatin County Courthouse.  Next door is the historic county jail, in a distinctive castellated Gothic style, which already had been converted into headquarters for the local historical society and county museum when I visited in 1984.  The facility still serves that purpose today.

A couple of blocks away from this public landscape core of Bozeman were additional public buildings, on side streets to Main Street.  Tracy and Babcock Streets had the town’s first two federal buildings/post office.  The 1915 neoclassical styled post office operated until 1964 and filled several community roles, including a turn in the 1990s hit movie A River Runs Through It until it became home to the non-profit HRDC after a complete renovation at the turn of the 21st century.  The building also has been enlivened by the addition of Jim Dolan’s statue in honor of Jeanette Ranklin, the first woman U.S. Congress representative, elected in 2010 from Montana.

Nearby is the mid-1960s Federal Building, a grand though boxy five-story building that symbolized the growth of the federal government and its impact on Gallatin County in the Cold War era while also adding a modernist design landmark to the city’s mix of Victorian and Classical architectural styles.  The earlier post office was given attention in my 1984-85; due to its date of construction and style, I paid no attention to the new Federal Building.  I didn’t repeat that mistake in 2015–the Federal Building of 1964-66 is one of the region’s most impressive statements of Montana modernism. and a much more recent Federal Building, which I ignored, for reasons of chronology that no longer apply in 2015.

The final public anchor was the Carnegie Library of 1902-1903, one of the better architectural expressions of Classical Revival style in the state, designed by architect Charles S. Haire, who shaped so much of state’s architecture in the early 20th century.

IMG_6895Then Senator Moss took me for a quick tour of its late 1990s renovation in 2007–its conversion into law offices respected both its original spaces and interior design.

 

That brings me to the four commercial anchors you encountered on Main Street in 1984-1985.  Two were massive buildings on either end of Main Street that defined the entire district–the Renaissance Revival style of Hotel Baxter, individually listed in the National Register in 1984, and the massiveness of the Victorian Romanesque style of The Bozeman Block, reminding everyone of the town’s railroad era.

In the middle of the district were two other key National Register properties–the Ellen Theatre, a wonderful Beaux Arts design scaled for the small town that it served in the 1920s.  Everyone thought that keeping a movie house/ theater downtown would help keep it alive at night.  The second building, the Union Hall, was both historically important but also could serve as a symbol of what downtown revitalization meant–a building need not

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be spectacular to serve an important role in the historic district.  The c. 1880s building belonged to the town’s boom during after the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived, and originally served as a brewery.  Here was where the Bozeman historic preservation office was located when I conducted the state historic preservation plan survey in 1984-85. Next let’s consider the town’s railroad resources, a focal point of mine 30 years ago.