Belt Theater, Cascade County Courthouse among historic preservation honorees

Breaking with tradition, the annual historic preservation award ceremony was held in Belt this year to show off the recently restored Belt Theater.

The theater project was one of this year’s award winners in the program organized by the city-county Historic Preservation Advisory Commission.

Historic preservation award winners to be honored next week

“This building was coming apart,” Gary Gray said of the theater. Gray is board president for the Belt Theater Company.

The project has been two decades in the making and the success was largely thanks to a small group of dedicated community members.

But there was also “nothing but sheer, stupid dumb luck” when a letter about the project landed on the desk of a family that liked the project and supported it financially, Gray said.

Now, the group is launching a new fundraising effort to purchase a 1917 Steinway grand piano that they’ve located. Based on an internet search, those pianos range from $40,000 to $100,000.

When Gray mentioned that they have the opportunity to purchase such an instrument, there was a collective gasp in the room of 130 attendees.

“What other small venue in this part of the world can say come play our Steinway,” Gray said.

The Cascade County Courthouse roof replacement was another project honored this year.

The 100-year-old roof was replaced with Revere Copper, that included recycled copper, according to the award citation.

Copper railings installed in courthouse roof replacement project

Lon Gorsch, the project manager for Renaissance Roofing, said the original roof highlighted the work of the Great Falls craftsmen and that their work had been quite good.

Gorsch and others from Renaissance as well as Paul Filicetti of Missoula, the historic preservation architect on the project, came back to Great Falls to attend the award ceremony on May 24.

The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and the new roof, a $4 million project, should last another 80-100 years.

Gorsch said Great Falls had been one of the more welcoming communities they’d lived in.

“It’s kind of a rare gem,” he said of the courthouse. “We work in beautiful buildings all the time. This was one of the top buildings.”

Commissioner Jim Larson accepted the award on behalf of Cascade County. He said that he had recently been elected and learned about the buckets catching water in the attic of the courthouse.

As a farmer/rancher in the Belt area, initially he suggested putting copper-colored tin on the roof, but came to understand the historic preservation aspect of the project.

“We are now part of history,” he said.

The courthouse project is being submitted for national and state level awards, according to county officials and the contractors.

The courthouse roof was also featured on the cover of Preservation Montana: The Montana Historic Preservation Plan 2018-2022.

The document is published by the State Historic Preservation Office and was approved by the National Park Service earlier this year. NPS approval of the plan qualifies Montana for continued participation in the national preservation program as well as federal funding.