316 N. Park AvenueNow The City-County Building
Built on the site of Payne's Hotel • West addition added in 1934
46°35'23.53"N 112° 2'25.08"W

A ca. 1895 illustration of the proposed Federal Building. Still standing strong, it serves today as the City-County Building. It's been a popular postcard subject over the past century, and was even pictured on souvenir china. The supervising architect was James Knox Taylor.

The U. S. Post Office occupied the first floor, with banks of mailboxes and several service windows in the lobby. Just prior to the completion of this building in 1904, the Post Office occupied the entire ground floor and the basement of the Power Block, at the corner of 6th and Main.

In 1976, the main post office moved to 2300 Harris St., just off Cedar St. on the city's northeast side. With the opening of an ugly new Federal Building in 1977 at the south end of Last Chance Gulch, offices of the City of Helena and Lewis & Clark County moved into the Park Avenue building.

 

Built on the Site of Payne's Hotel


COURTESY OF TOM MULVANEY • CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

Payne's Hotel occupied the site of the Federal Building from 1870 to 1900. Park Ave. was then known as Clore St. In 1872, proprieter Christopher L. Payne opened a large stable and corral across Clore St., where the Grandstreet Theatre is today.

For more about Payne's Hotel and Corral, please go here.

 

Two Views of the Federal Building When New


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD • CLICK ON IMAGE FOR A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

 

 

The North Side of the Federal Building, About 1909

Park Ave. and Lawrence St. were then dirt roads.


Circa 1910 View of the West Side
Showing an early Helena ambulance on North Benton Avenue


THE RAY & PHIL JEZICK COLLECTION



The New Federal Building on Souvenir China

A souvenir teacup, ca. 1910. Ware of this sort was usually made in Germany.

 

Looking South, ca. 1920


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

 


Mid-1930s • New Addition

The large addition to the rear (west side) of the building was completed in 1934 at a cost of $320,000 (about $5 million in 2006 dollars). It is faced with Columbus sandstone quarried in Stillwater County, the same stone used for the state capitol. In the fall of 1934, the grounds were plowed up in preparation for the extensive landscaping of 1935, performed by the State Nursery and Seed Co. of Helena. The fence was replaced by a hedge of Russian Olive.



1933 Suicide Leap
John Alanko

 

1935 Earthquake Damage Not Extensive
Repairs Underway, Nov. 11, 1935


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Damage to the Federal Building was limited to cracked plaster and shifting of the housing around the rooftop stack. The ornate doorway seen on the left is that of the Homer Block, which was razed during the 1970s Urban Renewal program.

 

Stack Under Repair, Nov. 14 1935


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California Seismograph Stays in Helena

A more modern and sensitive instrument was installed in Helena in September of 1936. The old seismograph from Califorrnia was subsequently exhibited for two days in the display window of Fligelman's department store on Main Street,

 

 

Main Entrance of the Federal Building, 1938


COLLECTION OF TED KIRKMEYER, COURTESY OF TOM MULVANEY

 

Morning on Park Avenue, About 1940


COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

In the background is the ornate Homer Block (1890-1971). This photo was taken in front of the Bonneville Apartments.

 

Federal Building from the SE, late 1930s
Photo by Les Jorud


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This late 1930s noontime view, taken from the Electric Block, shows the maturing 1935 landscaping. The Russian Olive hedge was permanently removed in 1953 as part of a street-widening project.

 

A Dedicated Gardener

Hugh Garden (1897-1965) was a native of Scotland, coming to Helena in 1917 via Atlanta, Georgia. He began work at the Federal Building in 1933 as a custodian, retiring as building superintendent in 1960. He was an avid bowler.

Uncle Sam to Kids: Get Off My Lawn!


In 1940, citizens complained in the Helena Independent that the hedge around the Federal Building had grown so high that only the tallest people could see the grounds; the hedge also created a traffic hazard, blocking drivers' vision at the streetcorners. There were also complaints that there was no sidewalk across the south lawn, requiring the public to walk an extra distance to the front entrance. Suggestions were made to create a kind of park on the south lawn, making the grounds a more hospitable place than the "island entirely surrounded by stop signs" it had become.

Today, the City-Country Building grounds are basically one big parking lot, with hardly any green remaining.

 

A hard line from Postmaster Joseph Raymond Wine


The hedge was never replaced.

 

Blind Man Operated Vending Stand
Aided by "Panda", Helena's First Seeing-Eye Dog

Many baby-boomers will recall the newsstand in the lobby of the Federal Building, operated by Richard Gaynor. It was one of ten such stands in Montana.

Richard Gaynor died in Helena on May 7, 1962, after a "lengthy illness" (presumably diabetes). He was only 26 years old. Gaynor is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Billings.

James Dodson subsequently took over operation of the newsstand.



U. S. Post Office in the Federal Building • 1904-1976

United States Mail Delivery Trucks in Helena, circa 1914


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This loading dock was located near the northwest corner of the building before the construction of the 1934 addition. The house in the background stood on the northwest corner of Park Ave. and Lawrence St., where the Federal Reserve Bank (now the Reserve Financial Center) was built in 1938.

 

Helena Postal Worker, Early 1900s


COURTESY OF THE KENNON BAIRD COLLECTION

 

Two Views of the Federal Building Lobby and Post Office, 1970s


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Small Mailbox


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD

Photo taken ca. 1985. There were banks of such boxes, in several sizes, lining the lobby walls. This is an example of the smallest size.

 

Two Views of the Post Office Sorting Area, 1970s


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Retired Helena postal employee Stephen Andre explains the unusual-looking machine seen against the pillar on the right:

"That machine is for strapping a bundle of mail together, usually like a bundle of magazines or newspapers.

On the bottom part of the machine is a big spool of strapping twine. If you had a bundle of magazines that you wanted to be held together, you lay them on the table above the spool of strapping twine, and a mechanical arm with the twine swings around the magazines and ties them into a tight little bundle. Then you'd rotate the bundle 90 degrees and wrap it one more time, so that it holds together securely.

The circular hood over the machine is a safety cage, in case anyone might be stupid enough to have their head over the bundle when the arm swings around."

Thanks, Steve!

 


COURTESY CITY OF HELENA / LEWIS & CLARK COUNTY • CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

View showing part of the sorting area, partitioned-off work area and the main service window.

Two Views of Moving Furniture and Equipment, 1976-77
Transitioning from Federal Building to City-County Building


COURTESY CITY OF HELENA / LEWIS & CLARK COUNTY • CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 


COURTESY CITY OF HELENA / LEWIS & CLARK COUNTY • CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN A BIG VERSION IN A NEW WINDOW

 

Miscellaneous Views


Federal (City-County) Building Foyer, 2009


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD


Marble Shelf, 2013


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD

There were originally several of these shelves in the Post Office lobby.



Stairs Inside the Federal Building, 1970


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD

 




View From the Blackstone Apts., Mid-1970s


PHOTO BY VIRGIE MILLEGAN BAIRD • COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Note the soon-to-be-demolished red brick Electric Block on 6th Avenue.

 


Drive-up Mailbox on Park Ave., ca. 1972


PHOTO BY KENNON BAIRD