Six years have passed since a group of Anaconda residents formed a nonprofit aimed at restoring the Smelter City’s Montana Hotel, and now it appears as though those efforts are starting to pay off.
In June, one new tenant will open for business in the sunny, picturesque northeast corner of the building, and another plans to open this summer in the southeast corner, where the building’s iconic bar once stood.
The group responsible for the new activity is the Anaconda Restoration Association, whose members in October were awarded a lease agreement for a majority of the units inside the Montana Hotel.
The lease is for a term of five years with an option to purchase the property for $200,000 from its current owner, Jill Bolstad.
That’s according to John Lombardi, operations manager for The Anaconda Restoration Association.
Originally from South Carolina, Lombardi retired in Anaconda with his wife in 2013. He described Anaconda as being like a Norman Rockwell painting — the kind of place that boasts an emphasis on family and community. The kind of place that he and his wife wanted to call home, he said.
Today, Lombardi can be found driving the tour bus for the Anaconda Chamber of Commerce, and he says he joined the Anaconda Restoration Association because of the passion of its board members, people like Vice President Margie Calnan Smith, who he described as an ardent advocate of the Montana Hotel.
“She motivates me because I see the fire and the commitment,” he said.
Smith, meanwhile, said the restoration effort is the result of the association’s 11-member board.
The association got its start in 2012 when a group of residents started forming a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Anaconda Community Foundation to buy the hotel.
Those initial efforts fell through, but in 2017 the group reformed and acquired the lease agreement from Bolstad months later.
The Montana Hotel was once Anaconda’s crown jewel, and many in the Smelter City would argue that it still is.
Built by Marcus Daly in 1888, the Montana Hotel opened with 185 rooms and four floors, boasting a bar, restaurant and chandeliered ballroom.
By the day’s standards, it was a modern, upscale establishment with French architecture and a mosaic inlay of Daly’s favorite racing horse Tammany.
But flash forward to the 1970s, and the hotel was a much different place. The once opulent hotel had fallen into disrepair. In 1976, more than 2,000 items from the hotel were sold in a liquidation auction, including pieces if its ornate bar. And in 1978, the hotel’s then-owner removed the building’s top two floors and iconic turrets to protect the structure from a leaking roof.
In other words, things were not looking good for the Montana Hotel.
By the time the Anaconda Restoration Association became interested in the property, they were told by an architect that they only had 10 years to make improvements to the building or else it would become obsolete, Smith said.
Since acquiring the lease agreement in October, board members and volunteers have done a number of upgrades to the building, Lombardi said, including installing new flooring in places and plumbing, along with painting and other renovations. Meanwhile, Anaconda residents Amber and Paul Puccinelli have installed a temporary art installation on the building’s east façade.
One of the building’s new tenants is Anaconda resident Ray Reed of 406 Bistro fame.
In 2016, Reed opened 406 Bistro in Deer Lodge, serving as chef and co-owner. The bistro, which has since closed, was known for its fresh, homemade goods — things like sticky pecan rolls, coffee cakes, breads and soups.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” said Reed, noting that the location, in the heart of Anaconda’s downtown district, at the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street, was one of the first things that caught his eye when he moved to the Smelter City 5½ years ago.
Reed has a goal of opening the business, which will operate under the name 406 Bistro Coffee and Catering, in June and he has already started using the space for catering.
He initially plans to be open a few days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, he said.
Reed, who’s worked in the food-service industry in Chicago and New York and served as a nurse for 24 years, said 406 Bistro will feature breakfast and lunch items — everything from pastries and crepes to deli sandwiches and open-faced sandwiches, which he’s calling “toasts.”
“It feels awesome,” Reed said, when asked how it feels to partake in the hotel’s restoration. “I love being a part of it and bringing new life to the building.”
Reed’s next door neighbor will be Dublin Bay Knitting Co., whose owner Tricia Maynard plans to open for business this summer.
For 12 years Maynard has been operating Dublin Bay in Portland and is relocating the business to Anaconda to be closer to her parents, Ken and Nancy Maynard, who moved to Anaconda two years ago.
Maynard said the business specializes in yarns from Ireland and the United Kingdom and supplies for knitting and crochet. In addition, Maynard has a line of her own yarn called Solstice, which she hand colors using yarn made from natural fibers.
Father Ken Maynard, who Lombardi described as a “master craftsman,” is doing the buildout for Dublin Bay in the southeast corner of the building, the former location of the Montana Hotel’s bar.
Joe Strelnik, a member of the Anaconda Restoration Association who once worked at the bar, said many of the bar’s pieces were sold during auction in the 1970s. But through the years, he said, Anaconda residents have located and purchased a number of the pieces and brought them back to Anaconda.
What remains of the bar, Ken Maynard said, he aims to incorporate into the new retail space.
He plans to use three large wooden arches from the back bar and other bar elements to construct shelving, which will look very similar to the original bar.
As for Smith, she said what makes saving the Montana Hotel worthwhile is its importance to not only the history of Anaconda but also to the history of the state and country.
Butte and Anaconda helped build this country, she said, paving the way for the advent of electricity with its copper and providing metal to war machines of Word Wars I and II.
“It’s a cornerstone,” said Smith of the Montana Hotel. “We just knew there was no giving up.”