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Fire gutted a historical landmark -- the Club Moderne bar, 801 E. Park Ave. -- in Anaconda Monday night.

Firemen arrived around 8:40 p.m. after bar staff unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the fire, said Fire Chief RJ Tocher.

About eight people were in the bar when the fire was discovered, and all escaped unhurt, the fire chief said.

He said they first became aware of the fire after hearing crackling and popping noises and witnessing a flame descend from an upper corner of the ceiling. After bar owner John Hekkel tried to douse the flame with a fire extinguisher, more flames appeared, and that’s when everyone exited the building and someone called 911, Tocher said.

Tocher said the cause of the fire is undetermined, but that it appears to have originated inside the ceiling near the middle of the building.

He noted that three roofs from successive renovations composed the top portion of the building, leaving two empty spaces filled with air, which appeared to help fuel the flames.

Firemen battled the blaze for about three hours. When they arrived, firefighters entered from the front and ventilated the building by pulling down the ceiling, while others worked at putting out the fire from above. He said the task was difficult because of the multi-layered roof.

Tocher added that one firefighter was hospitalized for smoke inhalation, but his condition was unavailable.

Tocher, a 48-year-old Anaconda native, described the circa-1930s bar as a community mainstay.

“To me it’s a sad day in Anaconda and Deer Lodge County,” said Tocher. “This is one of Anaconda’s iconic structures.”

Famous for its original Art Deco design and home-town atmosphere, the Club Moderne was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It was built in 1937.

Owned by John and Stephanie Hekkel, the bar was designed by architect Fred F. Willson in the Streamline Moderne style. It was built by Frank Wullus in 1937 for John Francisco.

In April, Club Moderne beat out the Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls to win the top award in The Big Tap: 2016 Historic Bars Tournament Championship, an online contest. The National Trust for Historic Preservation sponsored the competition.

Jim Davison, Anaconda Local Development Corporation director, said the loss has stunned the community.

“We watched the club last night and I was down there this morning," said Davison. "It’s pretty devastating. The community’s pretty upset and of course, losing that historic structure that contributed to that district is pretty sad.”

Anaconda native John McNay said Club Moderne was a favorite stopping point for class reunions over the decades. He graduated from Anaconda High School in 1975.

“I’ve had several class reunions in Anaconda since I graduated and we always ended up at the Club Moderne,” said McNay in a phone interview from his home in Cincinnati. “Sometimes we started there, but every class reunion held in Anaconda usually ends up there.”

It was not necessary for a special occasion to drop in, though.

“It was a regular stopping place for me whenever I came home, and probably for large numbers of Anacondans when they come home,” McNay added.

The club harkened back to the days when smeltermen, getting off-shift, rode the streetcars during the 1930s and 1940s to their Goosetown neighborhood, then disembarked at the Club Moderne or one of several other corner bars for a drink after work.

“There were a lot of those places in Anaconda,” said McNay. “I think that’s why losing the Club Moderne is such a loss. We’ve lost a little fabric of the neighborhood.”

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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