Cipolato’s Broadway Market

Alfredo Cipolato, who came to the area as an Italian POW at Fort Missoula during WWII, decided to stay when the war was over.  Stopping by his marvelous little old store at the NE corner of Madison & Broadway to get a cold bottled Coke on the way home from Greenough Park on days so hot your sneakers would stick to the pavement was an unforgettable experience.  Creeky floorboards, strange objects on the walls and sitting about, freaky products like canned Tiger Meat, superb salamis and other meats and cheeses, not to mention Mr. Cipolato and his strong Italian accent made the place oh so special to visit.

The store closed in 2004 when Mr Cipolato was 93.  The place, a house that had been given a store-front, is still there though, although the old Bonton-Bread-sponsored “Broadway Market” sign that was above the storefront portico is gone.


Bruce Lee

Originator of Montana Gold and Evening in Missoula teas, Bruce was the original owner of Butterfly Herbs (est. 1972), located in the basement of the building on S. Higgins that also housed Rishashay and the Crystal Theater, on the same block as the Joint Effort and Hansen’s Ice Cream Factory.  There, Bruce began his passion for blending unique teas. When downtown downturned in the early ’80s owing to the advent of Southgate Mall, he moved the store to its present location, selling it to Scott Laisy and Virginia in 1984.  He continued the blending and wholesaling of teas as Montana Tea and Spice company until 2004, when Missoula lost a quiet, kind man to death.

Jay Rummel (1939-1998)

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 5.09.28 PMJay Rummel was a legendary painter and printmaker who lived in Missoula almost all of his life. Born near Helena in 1939, Jay was influenced by most of the movements that have touched artists in Montana, including depression-era prints, Native American storytelling, pioneer storytelling, the paintings of C.M. Russell, the psychedelic poster art of the 1960’s, and, to a lesser degree, modern movements such as abstract expressionism. There are elements of nostalgia, folk art and psychedelia in almost all of Jay’s work.

Homegrown local Montanan, J.R. Rummel is remembered as an accomplished artist, folk musician and western mythological folklorist. This gritty original folk single, of the same title as the print shown below, is a prime example of his contribution and legacy: lady-from-missoula-county

Lady from Missoula County


















Before college, Rummel worked at the Montana Historical Museum with K. Ross Toole and at the Archie Bray Foundation with Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.  He then studied ceramics at the University of Montana, again under Autio, before spending nine years as a production potter in the Los Angeles area and a mold-maker in Sausalito.

Prior to returning to Montana in 1976, Rummel exhibited his artwork at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York; Scripps College in Claremont, California; and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Rummel’s work significantly extended the focus and mannerism of the art of the American West.  To the traditions of western artists such as Remington, Russell, Paxson and Sharp, Rummel added a personal psychic and spiritual involvement with history, myth and folklore. The result is a mature, contemporary vision of Montana accompanied by a strong narrative of allegory and parable.  Rummel’s art is in part influenced by his love for and practice of folk music. In the same way that abstract expressionists were influenced by jazz, he wrote, ‘I feel a direct relationship between folk/country music and the narrative direction of my visual art.’ Rummel describes his work as “flowing narrative of [the] history and legends of a people, their relationship to a locale, in effect, a visual folk song.”  Rummel lived and worked in Missoula, Montana and was the subject of a retrospective that was being planned by the Missoula Art Museum just prior to his death in 1998.


Alexis Carmel Alexander

Alexis in Monte Dolack’s 1977 Aber Day Poster














On almost any given night during the 1970s, Alexis could be seen holding court at the Top Hat or the Flamingo Lounge at the Park Hotel.  Her regal bearing, ample figure and original style of dress were unmistakable and unique.  We understand she left the Missoula area some years ago, but hope she is still alive and kicking.


“Uncle Charlie” Harnois (1856-1941)

Emma and Charles Harnois circa 1890 (above) and circa 1930 (below)

“Uncle Charlie” Harnois was a well-known and beloved figure in and around Missoula as the 19th century turned into the 20th.   At that time, he’d already established a long and colorful history in Montana.

In 1875, Missouri resident Charles Albert Harnois (b. October 31, 1856) joined the great westward migration by getting a job as cabin boy on the Josephine, a steamboat that traveled the Missouri River from Yankton, South Dakota to Fort Benton, Montana (the main pre-railroad route from the east to the Montana gold fields). During this period he married wife Emma and the 1880 census show the couple and their two boys claiming residence in North Dakota.

Charlie moved the family to Montana shortly after the 1880 census was taken, first to the gold camp Maiden where he ran a very successful restaurant, and later to Helena, where a third son was added to the family. When the Northern Pacific railroad arrived in 1883, he got a job as an on-board news agent.  He moved the family to Missoula in 1888 when the Bitterroot Branch of the line was nearing completion.

A small slight man, who had to buy his clothing in the boy’s department of the Missoula Mercantile, Charlie started a local business hawking newspapers and posting advertising bills.  Seen whipping around town on a horse-drawn, paper-laden logging sled, Uncle Charlie was instantly recognizable on the streets of Missoula.  He was so popular and successful, he soon expanded his advertising endeavors to Helena, Butte and Anaconda.

The Harnois home (circa 1930)

The Harnois home (circa 1930)

In 1889 the Harnois family bought land in the newly platted Knowles subdivision and, by 1890, they’d built one of the first houses located on the south side of the Missoula River.  (Owing to Charlie’s later success in the theater business, the small one and a half story folk Victorian with a stable in back was substantially enlarged around 1907 by adding an east wing, octagonal tower and front veranda.  The home still stands at 519 South 3rd Street West.)

Throughout the 1890s, Charlie traveled the western part of the state doing his advertising gig, which seems to have eventually landed him jobs in the theater business in Helena and Butte.  Indeed, the family must have moved to Butte for a time, for the census of 1900 show them living there.

Perhaps tired of his peripatetic lifestyle, Charlie finally settled his family down in Missoula just after the turn of the century, taking over management of the Bennett theater.  Later he invested in and managed the Union theater.  Flat broke after the latter burned, local friends and investors in 1909 built him his own grand new playhouse, the Harnois Theater, named for their beloved Uncle Charlie. All three sons also worked at the Harnois in various capacities.

Charlie ran the Harnois until 1914 when, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall for light opera and vaudeville acts as feature length movies made their debut, he sold the theater and moved his whole family to the warm climes of Santa Ana, California.  For many years, he owned and operated a book and curio store there, but remained ever nostalgic for Missoula and his days on the Montana frontier. Uncle Charlie passed away in 1941.

Missoulian June 5, 1941

Tommy the Leprechaun (1949-2003)







Tommy the Leprechaun, f/k/a Terry Beard, one of a host of characters enlivening Missoula over the years, was a regular fixture on downtown streets during the last decade of the 20th Century.   Wearing a green “leprechaun” hat and colorful clothes, he’d pose riddles, twist balloon animals, perform occasional magic tricks, and play folk songs on a beat-up guitar, strumming with his thumbless right hand.  His signature greeting to passersby was to offer to grant a wish if they knew the magic word:  ‘‘Phantasmagorical”.

Thank you to B. T. Bolenbaugh for suggesting this article.

Edna Wilma Simons Sharp (1895-1954)

This portrait was painted in 1919.

Edna Wilma was born in Collinsville, Kentucky in 1895. She began her career as a light opera singer in Kentucky. Around 1910, she and her sister Edith (Sid) started touring together. The Wilma Sisters were a hit, earning top billing on the Vaudeville circuit. They were a common act at the Tavern Cafe in Missoula, performing a variety of light operas, musical comedies and folklore. Later, Wilma started a solo career, starring in Wild West shows across the northwestern United States. She met her first husband, William A. (Wild Billy) Simons, while performing in one of his shows in Idaho. The couple married in 1921, just after Simons had completed construction of his newest Montana theater. Formerly called the Snead-Simons building, he re-named it The Wilma after his bride.

Following the wedding, the Simons traveled the Northwest, putting on Wild West shows as a way to bring a rugged Montana culture to the cities of Idaho and Oregon. They built a home in Wallace, Idaho. However after Billy suffered a stroke they maintained two residences in Montana, a large apartment in the Wilma Building in Missoula and a cabin at Lolo Hot Springs. They would travel to the latter from Missoula by horse and wagon. This voyage required them to cross Lolo Creek some 27 times. Edna took Billy there for the warm sulpher springs water that was believed to help with stroke related injuries.

After Billy’s death in 1937, Edna Wilma Simons became president and treasurer of the William A. Simons Amusement Co. At the time, the company included a chain of thirty one theaters across Montana, Idaho and Alaska. For the sum of $150,000, Edna Wilma Simons constructed a large theater in Wallace, Idaho that she dedicated to William A. Simons’ memory. She persevered and thrived through the depression and war years, building a total of nine new theaters. A shrewd businesswoman, she also purchased a small interest in the Daily Meat Co., as well as several ranches where she raised livestock.

On November 3, 1950, Edna was re-married, to handsome navy veteran, Edward Sharp, 21 years her junior, in New York City’s historic Little Church Around The Corner. Together they maintained the W.A. Simons Amusement Company until her death in 1954. While managing her business ventures, she continued singing and performing, holding large parties and events in the spacious dining room of the Wilma. Eddie and Edna shared a love of music, as he was a pianist and vocalist. They made several recordings together (preserved by David B. Keith). The couple traveled around New York to gather decoration ideas for remodeling the Wilma Theatre. The Chapel of the Dove, created by Eddie in 1982 in the basement of the Wilma, was a mirror image of the chapel where their wedding had taken place.

Near the end of her life, Edna Wilma Simons Sharp still was an active member of the community, volunteering for Red Cross, staying an avid member of the Episcopal Church and serving on numerous bond and relief drives. She died in her bed in the arms of Edward on July 25, 1954, leaving the business to Sharp and hefty contributions to the Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena, Montana.

Edna’s Memorial

Edna's Marker

For many years, Eddie Sharp, Edna Wilma’s second husband, maintained a heated glass case atop her headstone in the Missoula Cemetery.   Fresh flowers were placed inside year round.    The marker, without flowers since his death, is clearly in need of attention.   We hope to have it cleaned this spring.

In Honour of Edward and Edna Wilma Simons Sharp

Strange to begin this blog on the Ides of March!  But that is the way it happened to work out and perhaps appropriately, for there are many stories about Missoula and her denizens that do truly surprise.  These stories today remain largely obscure, and so we hope this space may provide a more permanent, ongoing record of the fascinating people and tales Missoula history has to offer.  Which brings me to the people we honor today.

Edna Wilma head oval crop

Edna WIlma Simons Sharp

Eddie Sharp head oval crop

Edward Sharp










Edna WIlma, for whom vaudeville entrepreneur husband Billy Simons built the Wilma Theater, and her second husband Edward “Eddie” Sharp, who some may recall as the affable man with a pigeon on his shoulder taking tickets at the WIlma Theater of the Dove, are perhaps two of the most interesting figures of Missoula’s not-so-distant past.  Seldom mentioned in celebrations of Missoula’s history, even bypassed in Missoula’s annual graveyard walk, they seem to have slipped into obscurity.  Such an egregious ellipsis must be rectified, and so we hereby pay tribute to these erstwhile proprietors of Missoula’s premier theater today, with the creation and naming of this website.

We welcome any comments, stories and other submissions relevant to the purposes of this site.