The Turf

The Turf was a bar located on the north side of the 100 block of W. Main during the 1960s and ’70s.  The building once housed Frockenbrock’s Funeral Home and later Costner Hardware.  The Turf featured a massive ornate wooden Victorian bar and back bar.  In the late ’70s, it housed the first location of Zimorino’s Red Pies Over Montana.  The building burned in the early morning hours of October 29, 1979, soon after the end of a Halloween party sponsored by the Zimorino Brothers, the Poor Monroe band and Bitterroot Music.

the turfTurf Bar & CafeTurf Card Room 1960s


turf destroyed Turf destroyed by fire

Old West Main

North Side 100 block W. Main 1980

The Turf Bar is the olive green building, one from the far end.   All but the far building on the block were raised to make way for a parking garage in the late ’80s.

Main 1980

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.

Vi Thompson

vi thomsonVi Thompson began her broadcasting career in sales at KGVO-TV (now KECI), Missoula in 1954 and spent the next 45 years at the station. It was a career that nearly didn’t happen. One day she ran into the station’s owner who asked if she’d like to “sell television.” She laughed and said, “Sure.” The next morning he called to ask why she wasn’t at work. She thought he had been kidding.

At a time when women were a rarity in the fledgling TV industry, Vi became a fixture. She was Montana’s first TV Account Executive and hosted numerous live daily and weekly programs. Vi’s career began in the days when doing a local TV commercial often meant riding the snow cat up to the studio and transmitter site atop TV Mountain. “Brickbats and Bouquets” was her afternoon TV show after KGVO-TV first went on the air.

In addition to her many contributions to local broadcasting, Vi Thomson served on dozens of local charitable and non-profit boards including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Chamber of Commerce, RSVP, Governor’s Advisory Board, and she was a founding member of the Missoula Soroptimists.

— Montana Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame

W.A. “Billy” Simons (1860? – 1937)

billy-simonsjpgWilliam A. Simons got his start in the entertainment business when he sold a lunch stand he’d started in Cherryvale, Kansas with money borrowed on his deceased father’s gold watch.  With the proceeds he bought a drugstore that had an empty hall upstairs where he opened a roller skating rink.  In 1886, he sold that business for $5000 and left for Montana. There he established a traveling wild west tent show that visited the many small mining towns that were springing up everywhere.

In the late 1890s, the Klondike Gold Rush drew him to Alaska where he built theaters in Nome and Dawson.  During the same period he bought Lolo Hot Springs Ranch and became the proprietor of the Lolo Hot Springs Hotel until it burned in 1900. Eventually he established headquarters in Wallace, Idaho, a wild and woolly mining town, where he ran a hotel, brothel and a vaudeville house.

Billy grew to be very successful, investing and expanding, and acquiring interests in various enterprises. The W.A. Simons Amusement Company eventually owned scores of theaters across the northwest from Miles City, Montana to Spokane, Washington and in Alaska, a number of ranches including Lolo Hot Springs, and an 8% interest in Daly’s Meats of Missoula.

In 1919, Billy was visiting MIssoula when he saw Edna Wilma perform.  A lovely 24-year-old light opera singer who rode the circuit with sister Edith, Edna captured Billy’s heart and the couple was soon married in Portland, Oregon. They settled for a time in Simons’ Grand Hotel in Wallace where they ran the Masonic Opera House and Simons Amusement Company.

In 1920, Billy entered a partnership with one Colonel Smead and together they financed, drew up the plans for and began construction on the Smead-Simons Building, next to the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula.  At some point during the construction, Edna Wilma Simons got into a quarrel with Smead (it is said he made a pass at her) and told Billy either Smead had to go or she would.  So, Billy bought Smead out and the structure was renamed The Wilma Building.  Upon its completion in January of 1921, Billy and Edna established residence in Missoula, occupying rooms on the 5th floor of the Wilma Building, and operating the Wilma Theater and other enterprises from offices there.

In the 1930s, Billy suffered a stroke.  It was believed that the sulphurous waters of Lolo Hot Springs would help heal him, so Edna frequently drove him over rough road by horse and wagon to their cabin where he could soak in the warm water that was piped directly from the springs.  The trip required 27 crossings of Lolo Creek.

Billy Simons died in 1937, leaving all his property and the W.A. Simons Amusement Company to Edna Wilma Simons.

— Special thanks to David Keith for providing information on this important figure in Missoula history about whom very little has been written.

Mansion Row

Gerald Avenue between S 6th E and Evans was know as Mansion Row in the early 20th Century.  The premier and largest mansion, occupying an entire block, was the Bonner Mansion.  However, there were numerous others, owned by prominent Missoulians like the Toole and Peterson families.

At the north end of Mansion Row, there were the Peterson and Wilkenson residences, both located on the west side of Gerald between S 6th E and Eddy, and shown in the first two photos below.  The Peterson mansion, in the middle of the block, was built by the owner of Peterson Drugs (which was located downtown where Butterfly Herbs is now until it closed in the late ’70s).  The Wilkenson house sat on the NE corner of the intersection of Gerald and Eddy.  By the mid-1970s, both houses were gone; the Wilkenson place having been razed for the new Hellgate High annex, and the Peterson home moved to 39th street to make room for a parking lot.  It would later become a bed & breakfast, which is in operation today.

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Proceeding south, the block between Eddy and Connell was occupied by Hellgate High on the west side and the Bonner mansion on the east side.  The next block between Connell and Daly began with the magnificent Toole home on the SW corner of the intersection.  Shown in the lower left corner of the photo above, it now the Kappa Kappa G Gamma sorority house.

Toole mansion today

Toole mansion today

(To be continued…)



The Missoula Peace Sign

Missoula Peace signMysteriously repainted every time the phone company would paint over it, the Missoula Peace Sign was located on the US West microwave reflector screen high on Waterworks Hill directly north of downtown from 1983 until sometime around the turn of the millenium when the screen was finally removed.  Now there is a peace sign made of rocks some several hundred yards to the east of the original location.