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Butte business owner brings back original neon lights on Uptown building

Butte business owner Cari Coe toasts to people gathered under the neon lights on the sidewalk outside of her building on the corner of Broadway and North Wyoming streets Friday.

The intersection of Broadway and Wyoming streets in Uptown Butte just got a little bit brighter.

That’s because vintage neon lights that adorn the sides of 101-105 E. Broadway St. were recently restored by property owner and Butte business woman Cari Coe, who celebrated the restoration Friday night with champagne and cookies during the Butte Christmas Stroll.

Coe, a Butte native, purchased the building in 2016 after returning from a multi-year hiatus from the Mining City, during which time she pursued a career in academia until becoming a real estate agent.

“I’ve always loved Butte’s historic buildings, and I wanted to buy something,” said Coe. “This became available and I really loved it, so I took the jump.”

Coe put a lot of work into 101-105 E. Broadway, lifting a corner of the structure to reinforce the foundation and replacing the roof, among other projects. Eventually, she landed a tenant on the ground floor, Kinetic Fitness, and was even named 2017 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by the Butte Local Development Corporation for her efforts.

It was during the restoration that Coe discovered the neon lights, which wrap around the building under an awning on both Broadway and Wyoming streets.

Although the building is somewhat unassuming — nothing like its illustrious neighbors the Finlen Hotel and the Thornton Building — 101-105 W. Broadway has a history to tell.

Irene Scheidecker, senior archivist at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, says she believes the building was constructed sometime around 1895.

Butte Gas, Light & Fuel Co.

An 1908 advertisement in the Butte Miner shows the Butte Gas, Light & Fuel Co. at 101 E. Broadway St. 

One past tenant includes the Butte Gas, Light & Fuel Co., and, according to an 1896 article from The Anaconda Standard, the building also once housed a registration office for the city of Butte.

The lights, however, appear to be of more modern vintage. Coe believes they date back to a time when the building served as a bus depot for the Northern Greyhound and Washington Motor companies, which opened in 1935.

Union Bus Depot

An August 1935 advertisement in The Montana Standard advertises the opening of the then-new bus depot for Greyhound and Washington Motor companies.

To restore the lights, Coe enlisted the help of John Weitzel of Weitzel Signs.

Weitzel had his work cut out for him, as the transformers were outdated, possibly dating back to the 1930s or '20s, and the lights were painted over.

Weitzel said he took the paint off by placing the lights in a rain gutter with paint remover. Surprisingly, only five of the lights’ 36 units were nonfunctional.

Weitzel said that, when he was in high school, there were many neon lights on Broadway from bars and merchants, and it was a popular area for teenagers to cruise in their cars.

Weitzel added that restorations like Coe’s recapture “the old feelings of what used to be” and the warmth and inviting atmosphere of neon.

As for Coe, she says she aims to keep up the tradition of lighted signs on Broadway, joining her neighbors in neon the Acoma Lounge and Tait Hotel. There was a time, she said, when the whole town seemed aglow in the colors of neon, and by restoring the lights she hopes to bring a little bit of that glitter and glimmer back.

The Anaconda Standard, 1896

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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