In late May 2003, Butte CPR learned that the Butte-Silver Bow local government wished to obtain and likely demolish the O'Rourke. We immediately began a campaign to inform the public, involve the council of commissioners in the issue, and raise money to mothball the building. The city-county launched a two-prong effort in its own campaign. First, Butte-Silver Bow cited owners and lien holders under the [locally-adopted] Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings. The citation referenced supposed building violations and demanded a remedy in 30 days. Secondly, Butte-Silver Bow filed a legal notice that it would take the building if unpaid 2002 property taxes were not paid by mid-August 2003. It is very unusual for our local government to expedite the taking of a building before three years of back taxes are owed; this is the first case in recent memory. We can only infer that they wanted to control the property to hasten demolition.
This view shows the two buildings. The buildings completely cover the lot at 103 W. Quartz St, a 30' by 100' lot. Although attached and sharing a single boiler room, there are no passageways between the buildings. The small building on the right was constructed in 1892 by John O'Rourke, the owner of the Red Boot & Shoe Company, 36 No. Main St., Butte. The larger and more substantial front building was built in 1908 by Mary O'Rourke. The apartments were high-end residential units.
Many Butte residents remember the apartments for being well-kept into the 1980's when the building fell into various owners and began to deteriorate. A neighboring home had a fire and caused a small amount of damage to a west window and smoke damage; the building has been vacant since. John "Harp" Cote bought the building in the late 1980's during which time it was vacant. He sold the building to Susan Stockton in 2000, but she has defaulted on the loan.
On behalf of one of the lien holders, Montana Historical Properties, Rick Orizotti filed an appeal to the abatement notice. At about the same time, Butte CPR paid $1,555 to satisfy the 2002 back taxes, which in turn prevented Butte-Silver Bow from taking the O'Rourke and then demolishing it without the say of owners, lien holders, or the community in general.
Later in the fall, as the appointed meeting time of the appeal hearing approached, members and friends of Butte CPR and other community partners spent numerous weekend days and about $500-worth of donated materials to close all exterior doors and windows; remove pigeon droppings, fallen plaster, and trash; patch the roof; place a fence around the deteriorated portion of the vaulted sidewalk; and even clean and polish one internal wooden stairway. Thomas Roofing donated numerous buckets of roof patching material. During the appeal hearing, Butte CPR was gratified to see the public interest in preserving the O'Rourke, when probably 35 people attended the proceedings. Many people spoke passionately about the importance of the O'Rourke in our historic city.
The southern apartment complex has examples of fine masonry construction that reflected the strong economic conditions of the first two decades of the 1900's.
Unfortunately, the appeal board had neither the expertise nor the inclination to recognize the fact that the O'Rourke now poses no public danger or nuisance. It required two actions rather than voiding the abatement notice: (1) the publicly accessible portions of building were to be surrounded by a fence, and (2) a structural engineer must inspect the building and determine if it is structurally sound so as to not injure the public. The board gave one year to deliver the inspection report.
To March 2004, Butte CPR has purchased and installed temporary fencing at the O'Rourke and done minor maintenance work on the fall 2003 mothballing job. We have found a structural engineering firm to do the necessary study of the building. Butte CPR will submit a grant application to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help pay for the engineer's work.
As far as we know, Montana Historical Properties, the lien holder who appealed the abatement notice last fall, no longer has an interest in preservation efforts and wishes to sell the building. The ownership title continues to be clouded, though, and Butte CPR is unaware of any efforts Montana Historical Properties or others is taking to clear the title.
Cornices are capped by a rock that is unusual in Butte. It is a fine construction stone, a dolomite rock that is very resistant to decay; only one stone shows significant weathering. No other buildings in Butte appear to have used this stone type. Although still under investigation, it appears to be Tyndall Stone, a renowned, beautifully textured stone from the Garson Quarry, 37 km northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba. If this is true, construction with this stone in 1908 may have been a very early use of this Canadian stone in the USA.
We all still have a long way to go, but see community support continuing to grow with demonstrated movement toward building improvement. We have shown the building to a number of interested parties, but expect that finding investors will take some time. Our goals are to preserve the building so that it is safe and secure and does not deteriorate any further. We are confident that the building is an asset to the Uptown business district and remains a worthwhile investment opportunity.
A number of years ago, Walter H. Hinick and Associates made detailed architectural drawings of the structure for previous owners and graciously gave a copy to Butte CPR to show to prospective investors. South elevation, east elevation, and floor plan.
Please contact us if you are interested in various projects concerning the O'Rourke. We will be doing more hands-on work on the building during 2004. We will also be working towards clearing up the title to the building and marketing the structure. Please write to or call CPR members with your ideas.