Monday, June 10, 2024

A Sentimental Journey

 My first road trip since the COVID era allowed me to retrace neighborhoods in Helena, MT., that introduced me to old buildings in my childhood and became the inspiration for my interest in historic preservation. 

 There is no reason for anyone to care, perhaps.  Regardless, join me herewith:

  R.C. Wallace Residence, 1890

My mother inherited this house from Wallace’s daughter in 1955.  Wallace fought in the Civil War with Custer and Reno; at one point Custer ordered him to leave the regiment to do a security check on Custer’s wife.  After the war, Wallace made his way to Helena where he became a successful merchant and served as city treasurer. 

 Wallace’s daughter never married.  She rented rooms after her father’s death.  One tenant was my mother, who lived there for about five years before marrying my father during World War II. Mom owned this house for about eight years.  Its sale funded my undergraduate education at Stanford University.

 Cathedral of St. Helena, 1914


Patterned on the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, the cathedral with twin 230-foot spires is visible from almost anywhere in Helena.  As a kid, I could ride my bike all over town, paying no attention to directions.  When it was time to go home, I looked for the spires that were located one block from the Wallace house.

 The story I heard as a kid was that one of the wealthy donors was asked to pay for the second spire.  “I’d rather go to hell with the Baptists,” he supposedly said, but later gave in.  Construction occurred from 1908 to 1914.  The fact that the city population was about 11,000 at the time shows the extent of Helena’s great wealth stemming from its 19th Century gold-mining era.

Helena Civic Center (Algeria Shrine Temple) 1920

You don’t see much Moorish Revival architecture like this in Helena or elsewhere.  It was built for the Algeria Shrine, featuring a large amphitheater and ballroom.  It was badly damaged by the 1935 earthquake and was sold to the city government.  It served as City Hall until 1979 and is now the main Fire Station in addition to being an event venue. 

 Historic Sign


Starting in 1919, Helena resident J.E. “Eddy’ O’Connell began building a bakery chain in several northwest states that he eventually sold to General Baking Inc. in the 1960s.  O’Connell, known as the “velvet hammer” for his management style, eventually became General Baking’s board chair.  He hired my mother, a trained dietician, in 1938 to formulate recipes, provide sales training to delivery drivers and to supervise clean-up of the bakeries he bought.  They remained lifetime friends until his death in 1972.  

Recent repainting of the sign suggests that it likely bears historic status in Helena. Given the workings of the business world, there is no longer an Eddy Bakery in Helena.

To readers who made it this far, thanks for your patience.  Henceforth, Building on History will return to focusing on preservation issues in Portland, Oregon.

---Fred Leeson

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