Park Avenue Apartments
440 North Park Avenue

A 1920s View


Built in 1923-24, the Park Avenue Apartments still stand on the southwest corner of North Park and Placer. Designed and marketed as an upscale residence, the building featured some unusual amenities. The building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Decoration Above the Park Avenue Entrance, 2012


December 1923 Promotional Article from the Helena Daily Independent


Historic Narrative for the Park Avenue Apartments
Thanks to Historian and Author Jon Axline

Park Avenue Apartments

Henry Thompson obtained the patent to a placer claim encompassing property in June 1871. A native of Pennsylvania, Thompson arrived in Montana Territory about 1864 and had relocated to Helena by 1866. He filed a 35 acre placer claim in the NW SW of Section 10, T10N, R3W in January 1871. In addition to the mineral claim, Thompson owned other lots around Helena, selling them throughout the 1870s. In October 1871, Thompson sold this property to Anton M. Holter, whose "merchandise warehouse" was located a few yards to the south of the apartment building. Holter arrived in Helena in 1865 and established the A. M. Holter Hardware Company in 1867. By 1890, a substantial two-story house was located at the rear of the lot facing west onto Benton Avenue. The residence was still on the lot in the 1890 and 1892 Sanborn maps (Montana Land Tract Books; US Census Records 1870, 1880; Deed Records Book S: 225; Helena Independent 9 December 1923; Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1884, 1890, 1892; Reymer 2, 1930: 277; Helena City Directory 1890).

In October 1923, the Holter Realty Company sold the property to the Park Avenue Building Company, which intended to construct an upscale apartment building on the site. A syndicate of Helena businessmen had incorporated the company in May 1923. Helena architect Charles S. Haire was president of the organization and designed the building. Local contractor Robert C. James served as vice president of the firm. Other officers in the company included real estate agent and rancher Charles B. Witter, rancher Harry Pigott, Norman B. Holter, and plumbing contractor Robert P. Crago. The company was headquartered in the Penwell Block on Sixth Avenue and its properties were managed by the Lewis Penwell Company, of which Witter served as vice president. The architectural firm of Link and Haire designed the building. Construction of the apartment building began in mid-1923 with James functioning as the general contractor on the project; Crago installed the building's plumbing and heating system (Deed Book 94: 562-63; Montana Secretary of State's Office; Helena Independent, 9 December 1932; Detailed Specifications; Raymer II, 1930: 300-01; Sanders III, 1913: 1699).

The building was constructed of reinforced concrete and hollow tiles. The Sanborn map lists the building as "fire proof." The Mission-style building exhibited a stucco exterior with wood trim on the exterior oriels. It contained 29 two to four room apartments with kitchenettes. Each apartment included a Murphy bed "in combination with an extra clothes closet and a dressing room with an electric light." Each kitchenette came with a gas range and built-in Pullman seats and central refrigeration system in the basement that blew cold air into the refrigerators, negating the need, according to the owners, of having a man deliver ice to the apartments. The refrigeration system was installed by the York-Midwest Company of Denver. The Park Avenue Apartments was "the only building for dwelling purposes in Helena or elsewhere in Montana equipped this way, so far as known." Other amenities included light and airy hallways and no "inside" apartments, "all of the baths and kitchen sites have outside windows." The Park Avenue Apartment Building Company employed a full-time janitor on-site. Each tenant had a store room in the basement adjacent to the laundry room. Grocery deliveries were made to an entrance on the north side of the building off Placer Avenue. Deliveries were deposited in a central room on the main floor and the janitor distributed them to each apartment. Rental units in the building ranged from $55 to $77.50 per month. The building cost an estimated $100,000 to construct (Sanborn map; Helena Independent, 9 December 1923; Ibid, 3 April 1924; Detailed specifications).

Construction of the apartment building was completed in February 1924. The Lewis Penwell Company acted as the agents of the Park Avenue Building Company in obtaining tenants for the complex. The Helena Independent promoted it as "the most modern apartment building in the northwest, and only the highest class tenants will be catered to." The owners, moreover, believed that the apartment building would fill a need in Helena by providing a place to live for Helena's better class of citizens. It claimed that it was a "known fact that desirable new population has gone elsewhere for the reason that they were unable to obtain suitable living quarters here, either dwelling homes or apartment buildings." The newspaper concluded on behalf of the owners that the apartment building was a "quiet dignified and comfortable place for desirable tenants to live in, at a reasonable cost." Company secretary-treasurer and vice president, Charles Witter was the live-in manager of the building until 1942, when he passed away. The Park Avenue Apartment Building Company owned and managed the building until the early 1960s when the directors sold it to investor Lawrence Johnson and Internal Revenue Service employee Nelson Seeley in September 1962. The Park Avenue building's current owners, the Seeley Family Partners, acquired sole ownership of it in 2005 (Helena Independent, 9 December 1923; Ibid, 3 April 1924; Helena City Directories, 1930-1944; Deed Book 227: 176-77; Montana Cadastral Survey).