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.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Store Beautiful

Photo courtesy John McKee.
By Richard I. Gibson

Symons’ first store opened October 14, 1897, at 54 West Park, but within a year they expanded to the York Block (68-72 West Park) and in 1899 Symons purchased the Maule Block a bit further west, multiplying their total area by six times, to 50,000 sq ft.

All of that was destroyed by the great fire of September 24, 1905, but the Phoenix Block rose from the ashes. By opening day December 5, 1906, the Phoenix held the much expanded Symons Department Store where 300 employees worked in 92,000 square feet of store. Thirty-three more years took a toll, and in 1938-39 a major renovation resulted in the grand re-opening of Symons on May 6, 1939—a $200,000 project created “the store beautiful,” as the Montana Standard called it.

Among many other things, you could have purchased a hard-bound copy of Gone With The Wind for $1.18 (marked down from the usual $3.00), anticipating the December 1939 movie release. They had 1,000 pairs of shoes at $1.49 each, ironing boards for 89¢ and sweaters for 49¢. Their fur department boasted the hiring of Miss Lula Brewer, fur designer and buyer back in Butte after nine years in high-class New York City. Furs with “clever little collar or collarless necklines display a new smartness,” for the best-dressed ladies of 1939.

Valuable furs were kept in a vault under the sidewalk on the Galena Street side of the store. John McKee’s photo here is of the surviving vault door at the sub-basement level. The door probably dates to the 1939 renovation, although the Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company was in business under that name from 1892 to 1959. The vault behind this door was cedar-lined and contained untold thousands of dollars worth of furs over its lifetime.

The upper floors of the southern part of the building (facing Galena) were removed about 1965.


  1. Always wondered about that--so it was called "Phoenix Block" only after the fire?

    1. Correct - prior to the 1905 fire, it was multiple buildings, all of them (or most, at least the big ones) with parts of the Symons Store(s) on the ground floors.