Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Yea, It Looks Like a Mosque

This building has been so much a part of my entire life from the time I can remember that I do not even think about it anymore. But visitors to Helena must be completely confused about why such a structure exists in this small old mining town.

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Helena Civic Center

This is not a mosque but is in fact the Helena Civic Center. It houses the police station, the fire station, and its ballroom and stage are the venues for concerts and dances. This is what it was when I was a kid and this is what it is today. I had never really questioned this building until my kids wondered about it during visits to Gramma's house. Gold certainly had something to do with it but its orginal purpose was an Algerian Shrine Masonic temple. I have found conflicting information on the date it was built but the 1935 earthquake damaged it. The city then purchased it and restored it for use as a town hall.

Both my husband and his brother had visits to the police station for various rowdy teenager things. His brother, now a respected physician in Spokane, thought it would be fun to use fire extinguishers on drunks in the street outside of Helena's numerous bars. Dave, on the other hand, had to call his parents from the mosque in 1968 after being in a skirmish with an African American kid. The teen dances are held in the back so it is convenient for the police--they just haul the kids around to the front where the police station is. 1968--the police overreacted. Though I wasn't dating Dave at the time, I knew all of those involved. The police were afraid of a race riot. The truth of the matter was that it was over a girl. Both Dave and this other kid liked the same girl and Dave thought the other kid was being very rude to her during a rather public break up at the dance. Knowing my husband as I do, he would have punched anyone in these circumstances without regard to race, religion, or creed.

Ah, but most importantly, the Helena Civic Center is the site of my first date with my husband. I was 16 and he was 17. He invited me to a Grassroots concert in November of 1969 and well, that was it.

Helena's Third Landmark

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State Capitol

St. Helena Cathedral, the Helena Civic Center, the Capitol building are the three visible structures that define Helena. I am not exactly sure what keeps Helena going economically. The downtown area is basically empty and destroyed thanks to the big box businesses that moved in. (Yes, and I mean Wal-Mart) To be honest, the trend away from downtown began with the completion of the first mall when I was in the sixth grade. Downtown at Christmas time was very special when I was a little girl. Main street, known as Last Chance Gulch, shared a couple of nice department stores, smaller clothing stores, shoe stores, a Woolworth's, a hardware store, and a really fancy nice super duper exceptional jewelry store known as Eaton-Turner. All is now gone with one exception. The Parrot Soda Shop, remarkably, is still going strong with the best chocolate sodas in the nation. The same family owns it; they have changed nothing including the teenager names carved in the booths. http://www.is.helena.k12.mt.us/Pbl/Tusler/helbldgs/bldgs.htm#Parrot

State and Federal government, small businesses, and Carroll College, a private Catholic school, keep things going along with a sprinkling of tourists.