The Red Light District

The Gleim Building today

The Gleim Building, built in 1893 to house one of Mary Gleim’s bordellos, as it looks today.

Before it was “cleaned up” in the 1920s, West Front was a wild and wooly Western street with an infamous reputation. In the 100 block bars, saloons, eateries and theaters were ubiquitous, but the serious entertainment was to be found in the 200 and 300 blocks where numerous “Female Boarding Houses” stood.  The most famous of these were run by the notorious Mary Gleim.  The area was avoided if possible by the “good” people of the city, who either lived on East Front, or other areas east of Higgins. (Around 1890, the Knowles addition was plotted on the south side of the river and many fled downtown entirely to reside in the new upscale part of town.)



Below are photos of the north side of West Front, probably taken around 1890. The two story building with balcony at the left sat at the triangular corner where West Front intersects with Main (now the little park across from KECI).  Most all the houses in this photo are identified on the Sanborn Fire Maps as “Female Boarding Houses.”

Courtesy Bob Oaks

Courtesy Bob Oaks


W. Front 1902

Enlargement of portion of Sanborn Fire Map 1902

The “New” Victorian-Style Northern Pacific Depot (1895-1896)

The Northern Pacific passenger depot was originally located between Woody and Harris (Orange), a couple blocks west of where it is today.  In 1895 the City Council voted to vacate a railroad crossing at Higgins Avenue so that the railroad could build a grand new depot at the head of the street that was by now Missoula’s main drag. North-siders were vehemently opposed to the crossing closure because that meant they had to travel several blocks out of their way to get downtown.  Although the workers were harassed by opponents, construction was nearly complete when the glorious new depot mysteriously burned down in July 1896 while the members of the fire department were playing ball across the river.  Undaunted, the railroad rebuilt using a more modern design.  That building, completed in 1899, stands today.

Courtesy Bob Oaks

Courtesy Bob Oaks


Passenger station never used

Victorian depot nearing completion. Courtesy Bob Oaks.