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!

Modernism in a Montana Ghost Town: St. Timothy’s at Southern Cross

Southern Cross is a Montana ghost town located in the mountains overlooking Georgetown Lake.  Established c. 1880 and active until World War II, the town retains several historic structures, from a historic boarding house to individual residences to ramshackle mining buildings.

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But there is also one of the most interesting examples of Montana 1960s modernism on the edge of the town:  St. Timothy Memorial Chapel.  This contemporary styled mix of native stone, timber, and geometric angles dates to 1965. It was built as a community church, in memory of Timothy Dillon Bowman by his parents John W. and Crete Dillon Bowman.

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Timothy Bowman had died in 1956, and his parents picked out a beautiful view of Georgetown Lake for the chapel site.

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The building has changed very little since its construction almost 50 years ago and the county has few churches, really buildings of any sort, that compare with its modern Rustic styling.

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The Washoe Stack at Anaconda

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As a 20th century industrial landscape, Anaconda has few peers in Montana, or even the west.  I want to share that landscape in a series of posts that highlight both the well-known and the not so well known properties of the town.  

Even as a neophyte to Montana’s history, I understood the significance of the news that the smelter was closing in Anaconda in the early 1980s.  I had already taken images of the town’s most defining landmark–the Washoe Stack–and I soon went to Anaconda to take more because no doubt the end of the company meant major change–and many of my friends thought it meant the end of the town itself.Image

The stack dominates the Deer Lodge Valley moreso than any man-made structure in the state.  As I much later wrote for Drumlummon Views in 2009: the Washoe Stack was “built by the Alphonis Chimney Construction Company 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 as the Anaconda company owned and ran Montana as ‘a commonwealth where one corporation ruled supreme.'”  Historian Laurie Mercier interviewed many Anaconda residents in the 1980s.  One of her most compelling sessions came with Bob Vine.  He 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.’”

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But once the corporation closed its doors and began to scrap the smelter and its works, the stack quickly became an isolated symbol of past times.  Again, in the Drumlummon Views essay of 2009 I recalled the efforts to preserve the stack: “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.'”

When I last visited the stack in 2012, Dickson’s wish was true.  The stack stands “stark against the sky,” no matter the vantage point.

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View from highway 589

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From the old stack walking trail and golf course

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From the 4-lane highway between the town and interstate

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And, perhaps most appropriately, from the town’s cemetery where so many of those who toiled there are buried.  The stack is a landmark of engineering achievement–yes–but it is also a landmark that reminds us of corporate impact and community persistence, and it is that later idea:  of how Anaconda remains and what it says today that I hope to explore in future posts.