Gilbert Cass’s design for the Montana Club was built on the ashes of the original 1880s building. The floor of the entry and the Gothic arches of the first floor survive from the first building. Gilbert added an elegantly detailed, Italianate gable-roofed front entry. The cornice ventures into the Mission style. Third-floor corner windows are detailed with Renaissance-inspired brick surrounds. The windows of the fifth floor enclose an English dining room complete with leaded windows featuring cartouches of western scenes of cowboys, Indians, and covered wagons. The interiors are American Colonial or English in origin except for the rathskeller. The idea for a rathskeller may have come from the Minnesota State Capitol where Gilbert was designing a rathskeller at the time. Like the State Savings Bank (1906-09), this building is eclectic and hard to pigeonhole into a “style,” although the overall character of the exterior is Italian Renaissance revival. Carsley described the project as a design depending more on the elaboration of color than ornament. The engineer was Gunwald Aus. The contractor was the Congress Construction Company of Chicago.
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CLUBHOUSE
1885: Montana Club incorporated for “literary, mutual improvement & social purposes” for 130 members drawing from Montana Territory & beyond, including attorneys, bankers, mining, livestock & timber magnates, politicians, self-described “capitalists,”, etc. to form an exclusive men’s club.
1891: Subscription drive launched to raise $75,000 for permanent clubhouse to be designed by German-trained architect John C. Paulsen & John LaValle, with interior plans modeled after London’s “gentlemen’s clubs.” Triangular lot at Sixth & Fuller purchased for $45,000 from former Territorial Governor & club member banker Samuel T. Hauser.
1893: Clubhouse is completed & includes card rooms, reception rooms, library, “bachelor” apartments & on lower floors houses a life insurance company & Helena Water Works Co. Women are welcome only at prescribed times & only when accompanied by a member.
1903: Clubhouse burns to the ground, the fire ignited by the bartender’s son who confessed “…all that I intended to do was to have the horses run…” Insurance covers approximately $62,000 of the total $150,000 loss.
1903: Building Committee is hastily assembled from Board of Governors, setting new building’s cost at $80,000 & recommending St. Paul/New York City architect Cass Gilbert as their choice to design new Clubhouse. Gilbert was well-known in Montana due to his initial work for the Northern Pacific Railroad while employed by New York’s McKim, Mead & White. Known as the “father of the skyscraper” for his designs for the Woolworth Building in New York City, the prolific Gilbert also designed, among others, the Minnesota & Arkansas State Capitols, U.S. Supreme Court, and the A.J. Seligman home, original Northern Pacific depot & St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena.
1903: Club members instruct floor plan for new Clubhouse to be identical to that of the old but with the addition of a Rathskeller which is traditionally a bar or restaurant in the cellar of a city hall in German-speaking countries. Gilbert initially proposes new building to be in the Spanish Renaissance style with brick & terra cotta upper stories.
1904: After substantial revisions, Board of Governors approves more modest design to be built with stone for first story recycled from original Clubhouse & remainder quarried from nearby T. Kain quarry west of Helena, local Kessler/Western Clay Mfg. Co. brick, & native timber with construction by Congress Construction Co. headquartered in Chicago with branches in Seattle, New Orleans & Nebraska. George Carsley of Gilbert’s St. Paul office supervises project which is not to exceed $105,000.
1904-1905: Chicago interior design firm Mitchel & Halbach selected to decorate Clubhouse, utilizing furniture designs Gilbert had designed for Minnesota State Capitol & manufactured by Karpen Brothers also of Chicago. Lighting fixtures designed by Cleveland firm & art glass windows in sixth floor Banquet Room crafted to depict “…the progress of civilization in Montana…”
1905: New clubhouse opens to members in early summer with a final cost of $125,000