Monday, February 20, 2012

Placer Hotel

Artist C. M. Russell illustrated the program for the formal ball, held April 12, 1913, inaugurating the largest hotel between the Twin Cities and the Coast. Built almost entirely with donations as a public enterprise, Helena felt real pride of ownership, and the Placer Hotel quickly became the center of civic activity. Its name derives from the placer gold washed from the gravel during the excavation of its foundation. As the foundation was being dug, an oldtimer prospector was called in to demonstrate the art of panning. Soon he had a crowd fascinated with the lesson. Legend has it that in digging the basement, workers found enough gold to pay for the building and then some.  Architect George H. Carsley designed the grand hotel in consultation with Cass Gilbert, architect of New York’s famed Woolworth Building. The Placer’s wrought iron balconies, overhanging eaves, and wide cornice are reminiscent of the nearby Montana Club, designed by Gilbert in 1905. The seven-story hotel was constructed of reinforced concrete and brick from the Western Clay Manufacturing Company which is now the Archie Bray Foundation. Each of its 172 guest rooms, arranged around a U-shape, opened onto the outside. Custom-made china, cutlery, and bed linens—supplied by Helena’s New York Store—all bore the hotel’s prospector insignia. The hotel featured a carriage entrance, a lobby fireplace built to burn seven-foot logs, and a state-of-the-art kitchen with an automatic dishwasher and central refrigeration system. In June of 1960, a campaigning John F. Kennedy visited Helena during the Montana State Democratic Convention and stayed at the Placer as a guest. The former hotel is now divided into condominiums.

Kennedy mingled and spoke at the Marlow Theatre. Images from Helena As She Was


  1. The Placer is a beautiful building, and I'm glad it's being used. Are there any remaining pieces of china or linen, or photos of them, anywhere?
    Thanks for your interesting tidbits, Ellen.

  2. I have a platter from the Placer. It is white in color with green writing and logo.

  3. Next year, 2013 is the 100 year anniversary of the Placer. We would welcome anyone who has items or stories from an earlier period they would like to offer to the Placer as we prepare to celebrate this event. Contact Jane in the Placer office 422-5521

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  5. Nice blog describing Placer. Its good to know that historical places are taken care of through our generation. Montana adventures, Historical Montana keeps me thrilling, I search for different Museums,Hotels in Billings MT,Amusement Places,etc to make my visit more pleasurable. Happy to know about ancient and remarkable hotel.