Last Chance Gulch was the name of the actual gulch in which gold was discovered in 1864. The thoroughfare which was built down the Gulch was originally named Main Street; it remained that way for some 85 years, until July 20 1953, when acting Helena Mayor Dr. Amos R. Little, Jr. signed an ordinance officially changing the name of Main Street to Last Chance Gulch. Both names are still used locally for what was once the grand thoroughfare of Helena's business district.

Last Chance Gulch meanders as it does because it was originally routed between mining claims; it was not designed that way to lower fatalities from stray bullets, as some promotional literature has claimed.

The images in this section are arranged so that the viewer will start near the southern end of Last Chance Gulch, and will move north. The images of each stretch of the street -- like "Broadway to Sixth" -- will be arranged in chronological order, as nearly as possible.

Last Chance Gulch, 1890s, looking south from Broadway. Advertised on the side of the Novelty Block (now demolished) is Sapolio Soap. Sapolio, started in 1868 in New York City by Enoch Morgan & Sons, was a pioneering company in the use of mass-marketing, hence this sign. The brand is still in existence today -- in Peru. The Sapolio sign was eventually replaced by one for Coca-Cola, which remained on the building until it was demolished in the 1970s.


1937 Vigilante Parade on South Main. This photo is courtesy of Carol Lynch Synness, whose family operated the New Cash Market at 58 South Main. She is being held here by her uncle, John Lynch. Photo by Ruth Lynch. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION



The New Cash Market, 58 S. Main, 1937. The New Cash was located next door to the Helena Independent newspaper. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

New Cash Market, 1937 - detailed view. The lady holding the balloon is Gwendolyn Lynch. The little girl with her is her daughter Kay Lynch. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION



A parade going south on Main St., 1939. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

A detail from the above image, showing gasoline pumps and rooming houses on the east side of South Main.



Sisters Carol and Kay Lynch watching the parade, 1939. Across the street is the New Cash Market, which the Lynch family operated. The man wearing the apron is Leonard Franks, a partner in the business. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION




This ca. 1910 postcard shows one of two similar posed 1870 photographs of Main near the foot of Grand St. It's reasonable to assume that the version below was taken shortly after this one, because a larger crowd has gathered.



A frequently-photgraphed corner for over a century -- Last Chance Gulch looking north from Broadway, ca. 1890.

On the corner is the Gans (sometimes "Ganz") and Klein clothing store...

Ganz & Klein trunk label, before 1889.


A ca.1900 view from the same corner. The next few views will show the evolution of this corner up to the 1960s, after which we'll resume the chronological progression.


Ca. 1915, showing the new seven-story Placer Hotel.



Looking north from Broadway, 1950s.


Last Chance Gulch, 1950s, looking north from Broadway. The gray granite building on the right is the 1888 Atlas Block,



Looking north from Broadway, 1960s.



This view taken about 1960 by Lee Goodspeed (1950-2004) THE COLLECTION OF NANCY GOODSPEED



Last Chance Gulch, about 1900, looking north from Grand St. Nearly all the buildings on the left were destroyed in the fire of July 16, 1928. On the right is the doorway of Samuel T. Hauser's 1886 First National Bank, long known as the Securities Building.


Hauser's bank in the 1890s, and as it appears today...



A fancifully-tinted ca. 1900 view of Last Chance Gulch, looking south from Grand St. Prominent on the right is the (white) 1889 Merchants National Bank building, and the (yellow) 1883 Montana National Bank building.

1890 illustration of the Merchant's National Bank building.



Fourth of July Parade on Last Chance Gulch, looking north frrom Grand St., ca. 1890



Last Chance Gulch, 1890s, looking south from 6th Ave.



Built to last in 1889 by magnate Thomas C. Power, The Power Block still presides over the intersection of "Sixth and Main" in downtown Helena.


1890 illustration of the Power Block. in 1884, a feed stable occupied the site.


Interior of the Power Block, 1970.



Last Chance Gulch, ca 1915, looking south across 6th Avenue.



A WWI-era parade on Last Chance Gulch, looking south from Sixth Ave. If anyone can date this image more precisely, please send me an e-mail.



Last Chance Gulch, 1920s, looking south from 6th Avenue.



Last Chance Gulch, 1930s, looking north from Edwards St. THE DAVID HULL COLLECTION



Last Chance Gulch, looking south from near Grand St., 1922.



Last Chance Gulch, looking north across 6th Ave., 1920s. Prominent on the right is the 1880s Beveredge Block. Many will recall Jacoby's Store for Men and the Thistlewaite Shoe Co. in this location. THE WES AND CAROL SYNNESS COLLECTION

Many Helena Baby-Boomers will remember, as I do, placing their young feet in Thistlewaite's shoe-fitting fluoroscope, a hazardous sales gimmick which was banned from the market by the 1960s.


In the early-morning hours of July 16 1928, flames erupted from 28 N. Main St., the building which housed the Curtis Cafe and the Maverick Pool Hall. The rapidly-spreading fire was discovered and reported at 2:00am by Johnny Bukowitz, a printer at the Helena Independent newspaper, who happened to be passing the cafe.

No sooner had the Helena Fire Department responded to the blaze than a torrential hour-long rainstorm began, hampering firefighting efforts but wetting nearby roofs, preventing an even greater catastrophe. Roomers in the adjacent buildings fled into the streets, where they were soon soaked to the skin by the downpour. The storm brought with it shifting winds, which threatened to carry embers in every direction. Frequent lightening bolts illuminated the surreal scene.

In two hours time, the fire was completely out of control, and had spread north destroying numerous businesses. It also crossed over to the east side of Main St., damaging several buildings. Firefighters began concentrating their efforts on saving buildings on Sixth Avenue and the east side of Main. Shop owners and other businessmen hurriedly carried goods, equipment and records from threatened buildings. Explosions were heard when the blaze touched off chemicals stored at the Budd-Fisher Drug Co. The Western Union lines were severed by the fire.

By 6:00am the fire was brought under control, but had destroyed several large commercial buildings housing dozens of businesses. The Granite, Bailey, Gold, and New York Store blocks were reduced to rubble; the Power Block, the A. P. Curtin Block, the Pittsburgh Block, and several other buildings were damaged.

The blaze was far beyond the power of the Helena Fire Department to cope with; water pressure was adequate, but too few hoses and too few men could be brought to bear.






Last Chance Gulch, 1942, looking south across Edwards St. (right) and Broadway (left).



Two views of the January 11, 1944 fire that destroyed the Montana National Bank building.



Looking north, 1942. This view shows the post-fire buildings.



Last Chance Gulch, 1940s, looking north from Edwards St.



Last Chance Gulch, looking south, early 1950s.



West side of Last Chance Gulch, looking south, about 1954. COLLECTION OF ED MCKNIGHT



N. Last Chance Gulch, looking north, mid-1950s. Just look at all that beautiful two-way traffic and the abundance of stores. Notice that Woolworth's had replaced their striped canvas awning and classic red and gold sign with a charmless aluminum and plastic overhang. On the right is the Cabin Cafe (formerly the Eddy Cafe). Although the Cabin Cafe advertised "Chicken Dinners" on their matchbooks, what yours truly remembers most are their breaded veal cutlets -- with cream gravy, of course.



Looking north from Edwards Street, 1958. This extensive asphalt repaving and sewer repair project also removed the streetcar rails and 1905 brick paving.

Main Street was first paved in 1892, with hot coal tar over a macadam base. In 1905, the stretch between Cutler Street north to Helena Avenue was paved with bricks.

In the above photo, the man in khaki, with hands hips, is James Nelson. The cement truck on the right is still in operation today. COURTESY OF SCOTT NELSON - THE BRIDGEWORKS CONSERVANCY



Looking north, ca. 1960. Many of the business on the left - the Martha Hotel, Higgins Cigar Store, Matt's Club, etc. - were destroyed by fire in the 1960s.

Community Cab newspaper ad, 1960.


Last Chance Gulch, ca. 1960, looking north toward 6th Avenue. The Cabin Cafe was then Bryant's, and a prominent "Kuppenheimer" had been added to the Anderson Clothing sign.



Last Chance Gulch, early 1970s, looking north toward 6th Avenue. The aluminum-sheathed strorefront on the right was the C. R. Anthony Co., an Oklahoma-based retail chain.



An eary 1970s view, looking north across 6th Avenue. All but one of the buildings on the right (the tall Goodkind Building) were soon to be demolished by the Urban Renewal Project. Does anyone else remember getting hot nuts from Saveway Drug?




A summer morning in the 300 block of Main St., circa 1900, looking south across Sixth Avenue.


6th Ave. at Main, looking west, 1909.



The second Montana Club building, Sixth and Fuller, about 1915. Built in 1905 to replace the original 1893 building which was destroyed by arson, the new Club was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert. On the left can be seen the sign for the A. P. Curitn Music and Art store.


1925 Ad for the A. P. Curtin Music & Art store.



6th Avenue, 1920s, looking west from Last Chance Gulch. The building on the right was demolished in the 1930s, making way for the First National Bank building. Note the multi-globe streetlights; they would soon be replaced by lights of a newer but less attractive design, as seen in the next image...



6th Avenue, 1930s, looking west from Last Chance Gulch.



6th Avenue, 1950s, looking west from Last Chance Gulch.


Vigilante Parade float ("Old-Fashioned Living Room") 300 block of N. Main, 1937.



Last Chance Gulch, late 1940s, looking south across 6th Avenue. The Safeway market would soon move to the NE corner of Placer and Fuller, and the Ben Franklin variety store would occupy the building pictured here.

Also seen on the left are Gamble's, Singer Sewing Machines, and Parchen Drug. On the right are the First National Bank, the J. C. Penney Co., and - in the Power Block - Goldberg's Furriers.



300 block of N. Last Chance Gulch, 1950s, looking south. On the left are the Mecca Cafe and Scott's Toys. On the right we see Helena Hardware, the Elks Lodge (upstairs), Jorud Photo Shop, Palace Clothing, and the Silver Spur Lounge (which later became O'Toole's).





300 block of N. Last Chance Gulch looking north, Last Chance Stampede Parade, 1963.



Enlarged detail of previous image, 300 block of N. Last Chance Gulch, 1963.

At top center is the Union Bank "Weatherball" sign, a white translucent sphere which gave the latest weather forecast at night via colored-coded lights inside. The bank's often-played radio jingle gave the code, and permanently emplanted itself in the brains of all Helenans:

"Union Weatherball red as fire, the temperature is going higher.
Union Weatherball white as snow, down the temperature will go.
When the Weatherball is green, no change in temperature is foreseen.
Weatherball flashing night or day, rain or snow is on the way."

Union Bank newspaper ad featuring the Weatherball, 1960.



Postcard view of Last Chance Gulch, 1970s, looking north. There may be an uglier postcard of Helena, but I've never seen it.

The ca. 1963 J. C. Penny Co. store, the featureless box on the left, was designed by Portland architects Edmondson & Kockendoerfer.



Budweiser Clydesdales, Last Chance Stampede Parade, 1964. Note the rough pine-bark façades on The Globe Clothing Co. and Barnes Jewelry. Many Helena businesses sported these during the Centennial year of 1964. This had previously been done in 1949, during "Golden Canyon Days", a celebration of the 60th year of Montana statehood. COURTESY OF TOM KILMER



Beer wagon, Last Chance Stampede Parade, 1964. On the right is the former Rio/Vigilante Theater building, still standing today.



View from W. Lawrence and Fuller, looking east across Main, 1964.


Lawrence at Fuller, 1970s; site of the old YMCA.

1914 view of the same corner.




400 block of N. Main, 1950s, looking south. Prominent in this rare view is George's OK Cafe.



Main News & Confectionery, 407 N. Main, 1980. COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

For many years, Main News was operated by Mr. Harry Stone (1893 - 1972). He stocked a wide variety of magazines, newspapers, comic books, penny candy, pop, cigars, pipes, fishing reels, knives... You could also get your fishing and hunting licenses there. It was a wonderful place to go; indeed, it was a window to the outside world, and also to the world of fantasy.


Shops in the 1888 Iron Front Building, 1970's. The iron façade was cast at the Stedman Foundry, near the Kessler Brewery, west of Helena. COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD



N. Main at Neill Ave., looking north, late 1950s. The Conoco station was owned by Al Rose, who still has a garage in Helena. At far right center is the "Just Good Food" sign for the Peter Pan Drive Inn. Dominating the scene is the Steamboat Block, built in the 1870s by shipping magnate and politician Thomas C. Power. As evidenced by the period illustration below, the building has been significantly altered. PHOTO COURTESY OF DARCY O'DELL



800 block of N. Main, looking north, early 1950s. On the left is the Walt Holland used car lot. On the right (east side) of Main, is Rock Hand & Co., dealers in farm equipment and hardware.

Reber Plumbing & Heating Co., 805 N. Main, 1951.



The 1942 Montana National Guard Armory, 1100 N. Last Chance Gulch at Lyndale. Built to replace the Warren St. Armory which was destroyed in the 1935 earthquakes, this building is now occupied by State of Montana offices.


The Armory under construction, 1942.

For many years, traveling shows, such as the Siebrand Bros. Circus and Carnival, would set up on the large open area behind the Armory. In September of 1953, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailry Circus set up their big top.