Monday, June 05, 2017


Now the Grand Street Theatre

October 20, 1901  Montana Sunday Record

The cornerstone of the Unitarian church, one of the most religious imposing religious edifices in Helena, will be laid with full Masonic ceremony at 2 o’clock this afternoon, and it is hoped that, with favorable weather, it will be ready for the holding services before next year.  The ceremony today will afford an opportunity to see the partially constructed wall to advantage.

The cornerstone will be laid by Chief Justice Theodore Brantly, of the Supreme Court, acting as Grand Master of the Free and Accepted Masons, assisted by other members of the grand lodge.  Short addresses will be delivered by Colonel Wilbur F. Sanders and the Rev. Leslie W. Sprague, pastor of the church.  Governor Toole was invited to deliver an address, but was prevented by absence from the city.  The music will be under the direction of Professor Lyon Ferrand as follows:  “Blessed Are They That Dwell in Thy House.” (Sours) by the church choir; “Nearer, My God, to Thee” (J.R. Sweeney) by the Choral IV;  “Given Unto the Lord,” (Buck) by the church choir.

The builders have arranged temporary seatings for several hundred people and it is expected the service, which will take about an hour, will be witnessed not only by the Unitarian congregation and the members of the Masonic Order, but by many citizens who will be interested in the enterprise.


This new church will be a distinct addition to the architecture of Helena and of Montana.  It will be one of the most beautiful churches in the whole Northwest.  The cost of the building, complete and furnished, will not be far from $17,000.  The lot, opposite the Federal Building site on Park Avenue, cost $3,350.  The Unitarians will then have a property costing about $20,000.  The cost would have been much more but for the fact that the porphyry of which the body of the church is constructed was given by Messrs Power and Shafer.


The building is 90 feet long, and 60 feet wide at the rear, 40 feet in the center and 48 feet across the front, including the tower-like corners.  An excellent lower story — nearly all of which is entirely above ground — occupies the full space of the building.  In the rear, where the lot is lowest, there is a room 30 X 45 and 11 feet in the clear, which will make a delightful hall or lecture room.  In the main part of the building is the auditorium, 40 X 40 feet, with a gallery over the vestibule, cloak room and minister’s room, which occupy the front.  The seating capacity will be about 400.  In addition to this there will be in the rear of the auditorium a large double parlor, which can be used on occasion to seat some 200 people more.  These parlors will be cut off from the auditorium by a rolling partition, which on occasion may be raised and so constitute a large and convenient state, with appropriate drawing rooms and all conveniences for concerts and other entertainments.


It is the idea of the Unitarians of Helena to build a church for the largest utility.  The Reverend Willis Sprague, whose ideas have been largely incorporated in this plan, said yesterday:

It is not our purpose to so consecrate this building that it cannot be used for any worthy purpose.  We hope our auditorium will be used for all sorts of conventions, meetings, entertainments, lectures; in fact, for anything that tends to build up the better life, and we expect to have social rooms which will be in demand for various sorts of gatherings, for clubs, classes, social evenings and all the rest.  There is need in this city of some convenient place of meeting for small companies, and this it is our hope to supply.  Not only will the Unitarian church be able to thus to supply a community want, but perhaps those who find our building useful may contribute rentals and other wise to its maintenance.”

“I for one,” continued Mr. Sprague, “Do not believe in putting $20,000 into a building and then using it but a few hours each week.  Nor do I believe God wants churches that are too holy for usefulness in any cause, even for the entertainment and pastime of his children.  I hope some day our church will so arrange its lower story as to provide for the social life of young people, the many of whom now find their pastimes amid less enobling surroundings.”


The Unitarian Society is encouraged by the financial outlook.   Of the amount needed, over $10,000 has already been raised.  The society has resolved to build without debt, and with the generous assistance of the citizens of Helena and of Montana, together with promised aid from other Unitarian churches, there is little question of their being able to achieve this end.  It is understood that about $4,000 more will be needed to complete the present contract, and get the building in shape for the furnishings.  This amount the trustees and minister hope to raise in the next weeks, and so be able to meet their contract with the builders.

Note:  This post is one of several that will pop up in the coming months as I clear my archives.  If any congregation or individual out there wants to download the material and compile it into a history "book" printed and for sale or distribution, be my guest.  This material is at least historically interesting to the state as well as the UU movement and some of it is full of scandal.  The building described here has a ghost, a Tiffany window, and shady connections to the Butte copper kings.  It's where I was ordained.  More to come.

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