Cass Gilbert in Big Sky Country: His Designs for the Montana Club
By Patty Dean
In 1903, after a devastating fire destroyed its original building, the Montana Club of Helena, Montana, commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to design a new home for the club.
Eventually becoming one of the nation’s most famous and prolific architects, Gilbert is frequently credited as the “Father of the Skyscraper” for his design of the fifty-five-story Gothic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan, the world’s tallest building until eclipsed by the Chrysler Building in 1929.
Cass Gilbert was no stranger to Montana. In 1883, McKim, Mead and White of New York had hired him to execute their Minnesota, Dakota, and Montana Northern Pacific Railroad projects. Eager to begin his own practice, Gilbert left New York City and started his own firm in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
By the summer of 1883, McKim, Mead and White began directing their Northern Pacific Railroad work between St. Paul and Helena to Gilbert’s fledgling office.
Among the designs Gilbert executed was the railroad’s depot in Helena and a railroad hospital in Missoula. Gilbert’s Montana Club was certainly his most important project in Big Sky Country.
Upon its completion, the Helena Daily Record headlined it as “[a] Dream in Architecture . . . [the] handsomest building in Montana . . . . [a] magnificent structure complete in every detail of furnishing and equipment from Rathskeller to ‘sky floor.’”
In her superbly researched and heavily illustrated essay, historian Patty Dean tells the story of the design of Gilbert’s Montana Club, places it in the context of gentlemen’s clubs internationally, and offers fascinating detail on the evolving design of the elegant club, with its five stories, custom furnishings, and soaring spaces.
Published on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the Montana Club, Helena, Montana 1885–2015.