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. Many of these blog posts have been converted to podcast episodes, available at KBMF.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Butte Hotel

By Richard I. Gibson

Butte Hotel, left center with awnings, c. 1904.
Windsor is 2-story to left; Hirbour Tower at far left.
Original California Saloon (gray) at right behind the people.
The four-story Butte Hotel at 23-31 East Broadway (a parking structure today) was erected in 1892-93, opening in August 1893. It contained 120 rooms, expensive at $3 to $5 per night, as street cars “pass the door every 10 minutes,” their advertising boasted in 1895.

The Wilson Brothers, Frank and Hugh, were merchants in Centerville where they ran a general store at 942 North Main Street in the early 1890s. Apparently it was successful enough for them to erect the Butte Hotel on a vacant lot, the former site of the St. Nicholas Hotel. The St. Nicholas dated to before 1884, and I do not know if it burned down or it was demolished, but the location was a vacant lot by 1891.

Hugh Wilson was the first manager of The Butte. In 1918, brother Frank bought him out and managed it for years thereafter, succeeded by his widow, Mabel. The place became associated with the Democratic Party (Republicans met down the street at the Anaconda Employees Club, the old Thornton Hotel), and was known as “Liberty Hall” for the political addresses delivered from its balcony.

The Butte Hotel was one of the primary residences of Augustus Heinze. It contained both a public restaurant and a dining room for hotel patrons, as well as various store fronts on the first floor, and of course a big saloon and billiard parlor.
Butte Hotel lobby, 1895.
John Jahreiss operated a noted barbershop in the hotel. The Cabaret (probably in the original dining room) was a venue for national performers. The sketch here, from 1895, shows the lobby as viewed from the main Broadway Street entrance.

The hotel was vacant for some years until 1952 when remodeled stores opened on the first floor, and in September 1953 major remodeling had created 42 “ultra modern apartments” in the Butte Hotel building.

Unfortunately, the most expensive fire in Butte’s history to that date destroyed the building on August 9, 1954. Almost all of the apartments were occupied, and the fire left 125 residents homeless. Damage was estimated at more than $1,000,000 in 1954 dollars.

Montana Standard: coverage of August 9, 1954 fire.
The Windsor building to the west of The Butte was also destroyed in the fire. It was built in Deer Lodge in the 1870s and moved to Butte about 1880, and held Clifford’s bar and cigar store when it was destroyed in 1954, having survived the Shabbishacks campaign of 1928.

The Butte Hotel had survived at least two previous fires, one on July 13, 1901 ($10,000 damage) and another during World War II in a bingo parlor on the first floor.

The sketch of the lobby is from an ad in The Great Dynamite Explosions at Butte, Montana, by John Francis Davies (1895). The postcard image (from Dick Gibson's collection) is from between 1901 (Hirbour Tower present) and 1905 (original one-story California Saloon present – it was demolished in 1905). The fire photo is from the August 10, 1954 Montana Standard (in the Butte Archives).

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