The past year was a good year for what once was a mercantile, apothecary, noodle parlor, boarding house and family home — and what is now the Mai Wah Society Museum — and steps are moving forward to make more visible improvements this year.
After securing a national grant worth $133,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, plus additional funding from the local grants, the Mai Wah Society has made progress on restoring the Wah Chong Tai mercantile building and Mai Wah Noodle Parlor on West Mercury Street in Uptown Butte.
“We have also had some significant donations from Mai Wah members to help cover our cost share for these projects,” said Pat Munday, president of the society’s board of directors. He said repairs have totaled “just over $200,000” and that the first phase of restoration work is halfway completed.
Once at the heart of Butte’s Chinatown, in its heyday the Wah Chong Tai mercantile building, erected circa 1891, and the Mai Wah Noodle Parlor, built in 1909, served as a town center for the Chinese community.
Facing the front facade of Mai Wah Noodle Parlor building, Munday pointed at the colorful windows and doors that were recently installed. He said half the windows have been replaced, “thanks to Rex Builders and funding from Partners in Preservation and Butte SARTA.”
“Rex has done an amazing job at the level of detail trying to keep everything authentic and original,” Munday said. “We wanted to restore the building, but we didn’t want to alter its character.”
To keep the historic integrity of the building, Munday said the newly installed doors and windows are all “historically authentic hardware” from the 1890s and early 1900s that have been refurbished to look new.
He added that Rex Builders is in the process of refurbishing stained-glass windows to replace the current ones on the second level of the building. “My guess is that Rex will wait until spring to replace the windows with stained glass,” Munday said.
On the west facade of the Mai Wah Noodle Parlor, Munday said the society’s contractor Josh Selensky, “a Butte master mason,” is halfway through rebuilding the brick wall.
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“The wall is three bricks deep, a solid brick masonry wall. But as you can see the outside layer is really highly degraded because of the sun, weather and pollution over the years,” Munday explained, pointing at the scaffolding surrounding the remaining section of the wall under reconstruction. “Josh has stripped all that off and has reconstructed it all with historic brick he scavenged around Butte.”
Once the west wall is completely rebuilt, Munday said the next phase of construction will be to replace the windows that “are well over a hundred years old.” But that work will require another round of grants and more fundraising.
Another noticeable change is the reconstructed vaulted sidewalk.
“The new sidewalk is in, thanks to LeProwse contracting and funding from the Butte URA,” Munday said. The Mai Wah Society received $31,950 from the Urban Revitalization Board last year to put toward the sidewalk.
The original sidewalk vault allowed access to the building’s basement without having to enter the main entrance of the building. According to Munday, the basement under the Mai Wah Noodle Parlor was used as living quarters, while the basement at the Wai Chong Tai side was used as storage space.
Munday said the steel that held up the original sidewalk vault “was really rotted out” but has now been reconstructed according to “New York City Code.” That means, Munday said, the sidewalk can hold large vehicles weighing as much as 20 tons.
Munday said there’s “just a few tweaks left to do” on the sidewalk, such as fixing the curb and reinstalling a handrail.
Other features planned in the current round of restoration include installing a new roof and skylights, which Munday hopes work will be underway by spring.