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Special Report: Historic Helena Pt. 1, Old Liquor Warehouse

Posted at 3:36 PM, May 03, 2018

HELENA – Several years ago, D & M Development of Helena acquired two historic buildings downtown in a land swap with the state of Montana. The plan was to rehab and renovate the two – the armory and the old liquor warehouse – to serve a modern purpose.

Construction of the old liquor warehouse as it’s known got underway in 1933, shortly after the repeal of prohibition. It cost $110,000 to construct. After it’s time serving as a central point of liquor distribution for Montana, it most recently served as the home of the state’s printing and mail service.

“So our land swap, we built the state a new state of the art print and mail shop, and took these two old buildings with the intent to revitalize them and rehab the buildings and bring them back up to a higher use,” explains Mark Esponda with D & M Development.

It’s a sturdy concrete building that was constructed to hold heavy materials.

“It’s built to handle pallets and pallets of liquor bottles, of liquid, and very heavy storage building, forklifts. And it’s right next to a rail yard, so just the industrial qualities of it, lend itself to: this should sustain, this is a big part of Helena’s history,” says Tim Meldrum of SMA Architects. They’re one of the new tenants of the renovated warehouse. They’ve been on board with this project since early on, wanting to bring their business back to downtown Helena.

“All of the commerce downtown, and what we feel is important: live, work, play idea, we want to make sure we’re part of that and our access to markets, stores, even hotels,” says Meldrum.

That central location and access to downtown was also important to SoFi, the building’s other tenant. The new space let them bring all of their employees, previously housed at three different locations, under one roof.

“We could have built, we could have done lots of different things,” explains SoFi Vice President of Engineering David Thompson. “I like the Great Northern area, so it was a big thing for me to look what was central to Helena.”

The history of the building is displayed prominently as you walk through the doors at SoFi. And on the main level at SMA, too. As you walk through the space, you can see the markings on the cement pillars that once helped workers sort liquor as it came in, so it could be loaded up for its destination.

“It kind of gave a human scale that it was touched,” says Meldrum. “Everything else was almost untouched, it had history – but something like this, to me, was more of a human history, it was left behind by humans. It wasn’t just constructed, it was touched.”

Now with its new lease on life, the old liquor warehouse is bringing even more life to downtown.

“We take pride in Helena and we take pride in revitalizing the community, doing good projects in the community,” says Esponda. “So we looked at these two buildings right in the core of downtown and knew that these could be special buildings.”