Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Carpenters' Union Hall in jeopardy

 By Richard I. Gibson

Update, January 29, 2013: At a settlement conference before a federal judge, the local Carpenters Union Hall, Inc. and the regional union council agreed that the Carpenters Union Hall Inc. is the rightful owner of the building, will retain possession, and the deed will go to them once the local judge reviews the terms of the federal ruling. This is good news; it was the competing regional council that claimed to own it and wanted to demolish it.  Montana Standard article.

While molten rock was solidifying to become the Butte granite 78 million years ago, sandy rivers flowing near what is now Columbus, Montana, watered dinosaurs and primitive mammals. And some of those river sands found their way to Butte — with a little help from an Italian-born quarryman.

Brick and granite dominate Butte's construction materials, but a few other natural stones are present as well. The entry arches and window sill courses at the 1906 Carpenters' Union Hall, 156 W. Granite St., are made of gray Montana sandstone, quarried near Columbus between 1890 and 1910.
From architect's plans, June 17, 1906. Click to enlarge.

Carved decorative vertical lines dominate the rock, but they do not conceal the original cross-bedding—angular sub-horizontal curving trends in the fine-grained sandstone layers that reflect the currents in those 78-million-year-old rivers. The quarry just north of Columbus also provided the stone for much of the Montana State Capitol in Helena, and it can be found on the Silver Bow County Court House and other buildings. Michael Jacobs (born Jacobucci) came to Montana from Italy as a stone carver and mason, and eventually became a manager at the quarry around 1901. Jacobs became rich on this popular sandstone, finishing his 3,500-square-foot mansion in Columbus about 1907 and serving as the town's mayor in 1913-14.

The Anaconda Standard for June 17, 1906, headlined the sketch included here “Carpenters’ Union Hall to be Model.” The building was expected to be a notable addition to the central part of the city, with rooms specially designed as meeting halls for various organizations. “Careful attention has been given in the designing to heating and ventilation, and the structure will be a model in this respect.”

The value of the hall was evident within a few years. A previous blog post reported on Emma Goldman’s visit to Butte in 1910, when she spoke at the Carpenters’ Union Hall. Now, in 2012, the building is threatened with demolition in a squabble between the corporation that owns the building and the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters from Seattle that claims to own it. At a court hearing May 4, 2012, the parties decided on a plan for paying bills, but the broader question of ownership remains unsettled and will likely go to a trial later this year. The local folks want to re-roof the building to save it; the Seattle union seems to prefer to let it decay to the point that demolition becomes the only option. In my opinion—and I’m not a party to this case—that sounds to me like aggravated demolition by neglect, something that is illegal in Butte. It will be interesting to see if the city-county is willing or able to enforce its own historic preservation law. 

The same June 17, 1906, newspaper touted other elements of Butte’s 1906 building boom: plans for the new State Savings Bank (Metals Bank) were being reviewed, while work on the Symons Store (Phoenix Block), Leonard Hotel, Public Library, Marshall Flats (Copper at Montana), and a 16-room flat on West Galena near Columbia (Clark St. today) were all progressing favorably. The Napton was also built that year. The lot at Granite and Alaska, where the Silver Bow Club was about to be erected, was being cleared. The large house that stood on that corner had been cut in half with the plan of moving it to South Idaho Street; progress was slow, and it took a week to get the front half just two blocks west to Idaho, disrupting the trolley system, but “the contractor is a nervy man and he seems determined to get the building moved to its new location at any cost.”

Note: the first part of this post was previously published in an article I wrote for the Montana Standard in 2008.

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