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!

Anaconda’s public landscape

IMG_1419The public landscape of Anaconda has already been touched on in this blog–places like Washoe Park, the cemeteries, or Mitchell Stadium for instance.  Now I want to go a bit deeper and look at public buildings, both government and education in this smelter city.

deer lodge courthouse IMG_0529Let’s begin with the only building in Anaconda that truly competes with the stack for visual dominance, the imposing classical revival-styled Deer Lodge County Courthouse.  When copper baron Marcus Daly created Anaconda in the 1880s it may have been the industrial heart of Deer Lodge County but it was not the county seat.  Daly was not concerned–his hopes centered on gaining the state capitol designation for his company town.  When that did not happen, efforts returned to the county seat, which came to Anaconda in 1896.  The courthouse was then built from 1898-1900.

Daly didn’t have the state capitol but he did have a county courthouse worthy of landmark status: their architects, Charles E. Bell and John N. Kent were also the architects for the Montana State Capitol in Helena. What truly sets this county courthouse apart from many

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IMG_1382in Montana is the lavish interior of the central lobby and then the upper story dome.  The decorative upper dome frescoes come from a Milwaukee firm, Consolidated Artists. Newspaper accounts in 1900 recorded that the completed courthouse cost $100,000.

City Hall, 1895-6, Lane and Reber of ButteThe bombastic classicism of the courthouse was at odds with the earlier more High Victorian style of City Hall, built 1895-1896, and attributed to J. H. Bartlett and Charles Lane.  But classicism in the first third of the 20th century ruled in Anaconda’s public architecture, witness the Ionic colonnade of the 1931-1933 U.S. Post Office, from the office of Oscar Wenderoth.

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Public schools in the first third of Anaconda’s development also reflected Victorian traditions, such as the understated Collegiate Gothic of the Junior High School, 1927-1928, from the Great Falls architectural firm of Shanley and Baker.

Junior High, 1928, Main StOnce Anaconda, bursting at the seams following the boom of World War II, chose to upgrade its public schools, it took a decided turn away from traditional European influenced styles and embraced modernism, as defined in Montana during the 1950s.

Lincoln elementary, Chestnut at E. 4thThe long, lean facade of Lincoln Elementary School (1950) began the trend.  Its alternating bands of brick punctuated by bands of glass windows was a classic adaptation of International style in a regional setting.  The modernist bent continued in 1950-1952 with the Anaconda Central High School, the private Catholic school, now known as the Fred Moody middle school, only a few blocks away.  Except here the modernist style is softened by the use of local stone, giving it a rustic feel more in keeping with mid-20th century sensibilities and the Catholic diocese’s deliberate turn to modern style for its church buildings of the 1950s and 1960s (see my earlier post on College of Great Falls).

The celebration of symmetry in a factory-like style advocated ed by some mid-20th century modernists is no better stated than in the Anaconda Senior High School, the public high school completed in 1954-1955 and designed by the Montana firm of J. G. Link and Company.

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If anyplace in Montana better conveys the post-World War II turn in public education to resemble the corporate ethos beginning to dominate American culture it is this high school building.  From the railroad depot, at the bottom of Main Street, one catches a glimpse of the long horizontal facade, and immediately think–there’s a corporate office, maybe a factory, up the street. This is one interesting building.

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So too is a very different building as to purpose but not to style, the National Guard Armory.  Appropriated by Congress in 1960 and built in 1961 for an estimated $66,000, the armory is a functional concrete building that speaks well to the style of modernism so often associated with military buildings of the Cold War era.

Montana Ntl Guard armory, Anaconda 1950s

Bozeman’s neighborhoods

The quality of Bozeman’s historic residential area between downtown and Montana State University was apparent even to me in 1984-85–someone at the time much more in tune with public buildings, industrial corridors, and downtown blocks than the mix of Victorian, vernacular, and 20th century revival styles that you find in Bozeman’s historic neighborhoods.

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Everyone at the state historic preservation office was excited about the 1985 listing of the Burr Fisher House, designed in distinctive Spanish Colonial style by Bozeman architect Fred Willson, and wherever you looked you saw potential for many other properties, if not entire neighborhoods. Passing decades had left to neglect, perhaps not the wisest choices in treatments or tenants, but the potential remained to be tapped.

As indicated by the above before and after photos, with the 1985 image on the left and the 2015 image on the right, the last 30 years have been a time of transformation and restoration in many of the downtown neighborhoods.  Indeed, where there were no historic residential historic districts, there are now multiple districts, crisscrossing the city and creating a real foundation for community stability, pride, identity, and growth.

What I didn’t notice as well in 1985 as I did last year was the neighborhood’s imprint of Montana modernism from the New Deal era, represented so well by the Longfellow School

and its long horizontal massing and stylish entrance, to the contemporary styles of the 1960s into the 1970s, as seen below, in the Grand Avenue Catholic Center, and the contemporary style house on Story Avenue.

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Gallatin Co Bozeman Story Ave 1950s modern

These dwellings are truly just a taste of the richness and diversity of architectural statements in the town’s historic neighborhoods from Main Street to the university.  Bozeman’s successful neighborhood districts represent one of the lasting achievements of historic preservation and property owner engagement in Montana over the last 30 years.

 

Bozeman and two railroads

IMG_6990On Bozeman’s Main Street today there is a huge mural celebrating the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882. The impact of the railroad on the town was certainly a topic of interest in the 1984-85 survey, and one image included the existing Northern Pacific Railroad and adjoining grain elevators and other businesses reliant on the corridor.IMG_2659Today that same place has been transformed, through adaptive reuse, into a micro-brewery and restaurant–pretty good place too, and a great place in 2015 for me to get out of a persistent rain.  The Northern Pacific reached a deal with rancher Nelson Story in 1882 to build through his property but also provide a spur line to his existing mill operations.  From the beginning both the railroad and local entrepreneurs saw an agricultural future for Bozeman and Gallatin County.

A similar re-energized future has not yet happened for Bozeman’s historic Northern Pacific passenger depot.  The depot is a turn of the 20th century brick building that received a remodeling and expansion from Bozeman architect Fred Willson c. 1922 that turned it into a fashionable (and for the Northern Pacific line, a rare) example of Prairie style in a railroad building.

IMG_6976The depot and adjoining buildings have been designated as a historic district, with a pocket city park providing some new life to the area.  But this impressive building’s next life remains uncertain even as the city encourages creative solutions for the area.

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IMG_6973The c. 1922 depot is adequately moth-balled–the new roof has lots of life left–and as the city maintains it is structurally sound with key interior features intact.  Yet graffiti now mars one end of the building, and any building that is empty, especially in such a booming local economy, is cause for concern.

Why?  Because Bozeman has a tradition of tearing down historic railroad depots.  The images above from 1985 were of the town’s Milwaukee Road depot (c. 1907).  It was abandoned then, and I was concerned because so many of the railroad’s buildings had already disappeared across Montana, and because the arrival of the Milwaukee Road in Bozeman had launched an economic boom that shaped the town from 1907 to 1920.  In 2003, despite howls of protest, the building was demolished–a new use for it had never been found.

IMG_2660The same fate did not befell the Milwaukee Road’s other significant building in Bozeman, its concrete block warehouse, shown above in an 1985 image.  The open space, solid construction, and excellent location helped to ensure a much longer life for the building, which is now a building supplies store, with a repainted company sign adorning the elevations of the building.

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IMG_6993It is encouraging that the city recognizes the significance, and the possibilities, for the historic buildings along Bozeman’s railroad corridor.  Let’s hope that a permanent solution soon emerges for the empty Northern Pacific depot.

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.