In the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985 I was hardly alone when I gave scant attention to resources between World War II and the Vietnam War. At that time, the “50-year rule” of the National Register meant that officially, at best, we should be only considering buildings from the very first years of the New Deal. The state office already had gone beyond the so-called rule, however, with nomination projects in Essex and Eureka, Montana. We understood that the “rule” was really a guideline. But still no one thought about the 1950s and 1960s–too recent, and not as threatened as the resources from the Victorian era through the turn of the 20th century, especially in Butte.
You don’t think Montana modernism when you think of Butte, but as this overview will demonstrate, you should think about it. I have already pinpointed contemporary homes on Ophir Street (above). The copper mines remained in high production during the Cold War era and many key resources remain to document that time in the city. For discussion sake, I will introduce some of my favorites.
Certainly I should have paid more attention to such Art Deco landmarks as the Emmanuel Conception Church, by J. G. Link Company, 1941, or even in Uptown the classic corporate design of the Firestone Tire Center and service station.
I looked at schools constantly across the state in 1984-1985 but did not give enough attention to the late 1930s Butte High School, a classic bit of New Deal design combining International and Deco styles in red brick. Nor did I pay attention to the modernist buildings associated with Butte Central (Catholic) High School.
Then there are two really interesting schools from the late 1950s and 1960s: John F. Kennedy and the Walker-Garfield elementary schools. I have already discussed in an early post about the JFK School.
You would think that I would have paid attention to the Walker-Garfield School since I stopped in at the nearby Bonanza Freeze, not once but twice in the Butte work of 1984. I
never gave a thought about recording this classic bit of roadside architecture either. Same too for Muzz and Stan’s Freeway Bar, although maybe I should not recount the number of stops at this classic liquor-to-go spot.
Uptown has its modern era jewels, like the D.A. Davidson building above, but largely in how owners tried to give older structures facelifts with contemporary designs in the 1960s and 1970s. Back in 1984 we dismissed such building as “remuddlings” and sometimes they were exactly that. But when you step back and consider it, the additions were new layers of history added to those of the past, creating a physical document with chronological depth, and interest.
Garages were not new to the city in the post-World War II era but automobile ownership increased in the post-war years, and the demand for downtown parking from residents who had moved into the suburbs never slacked for years. The demand led to a lot of parking lots in place of historic buildings but it also led to the Silver Arrow Garage and shopping centers, one of my favorites from that time.
Probably my favorite Uptown modernist building is both an office and production facility–the sleek International-style Montana Standard Building. Not only is the Standard the touchstone for community news, the building is an important addition to the city’s 20th century architecture.
Butte public buildings also embraced the new era in design. The Butte Public Library is not so successful, with its understated classicism in a modern setting being neither particularly effective nor compelling. The Uptown Butte Fire Station however is an excellent example of contemporary style.
There is such a thing as Butte Modernism. While the city may not have the number of classic 1960s and 1970s buildings of, say, Billings or Great Falls, it has enough to mark those years of change and transition from the first half to the second half of the twentieth century in the Copper City.