Finlen Hotel & Butte’s Neon at Night

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There’s so much to see in Butte, Montana, I could spend an entire day wandering around the streets.  This historic mining town has been through booms and busts.  During the good times, beautiful old brick buildings and classic small-town storefronts arose, with gorgeous neon signs hanging overhead.  Walls are painted with ghost signs, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the wild west.  And all of that quirkiness is mixed-in with remnants of the mines that brought prosperity to the city.

Location

Butte is located at the crossroads of Interstate 15 and Interstate 90, in west-central Montana.  You can access uptown Butte via Interstate 115, then turn on Montana Street and head uphill into town.  If you’re looking for the Finlen Hotel, turn right on Broadway.

My Visit

After checking out the sunset from Alice Pit, and hiking up to the Big M on the side of Big Butte, I headed to my hotel – and I was really looking forward to it.  I had a reservation at the historic Finlen Hotel in uptown Butte, and I had paid a bit extra for a room in the Finlen’s historic 10-story tower — the tallest building in Butte.

Hotel Finlen

It’s easy to find the Finlen, thanks to the brilliant neon sign with huge letters on the rooftop.  I had noticed this sign during my visit to Butte, way back in 2006, and I knew I wanted to stay there someday.

The Finlen’s lobby is quite beautiful.  The desk clerk was nice enough to crank up the lights while I took some photos.  With or without the chandeliers ablaze, it’s a gorgeous space that has been well maintained.

You can take the stairs or the elevator up to the mezzanine for a better view.

Sadly, the telephones are gone from these phone booths, but I suppose you could still step inside to make calls on your cell phone.

The lobby was quite nice, but I was anxious to see my room.  I had asked for a room on the highest floor available, with the best view possible.

I ended up on the 3rd floor, with a view of Wyoming Street.

So, about that room.

This is it.  I must admit, given the grandeur of the lobby, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the room itself.  It felt cold and empty.  Not cold as in the temperature — it was actually quite warm.  The only way to cool the room was with that portable air conditioning unit, which was quite loud, and struggled all night long to bring the temperature down.  There were no curtains on the window, just flimsy blinds.  That sad little dining room chair sat in the corner.  The bed was not very comfortable.  The bathroom had been remodeled, making it clean and modern, but removing any historic charm.  It was all okay, but not special.

I made the best of my 3rd-floor view, placing a time-lapse camera in the window overnight so that it would capture the sunrise.

Not a bad shot, but a room on a higher floor would probably have been better.

Just for fun, I took the elevator up to the 10th floor.  It looked as if there were permanent residents living up there – so I’m guessing only the lower floors have hotel rooms.

Before turning in for the night, I decided to take a stroll around town.  I was very pleased to find the New Tait Hotel neon sign in working order.  During my visit a decade earlier, during the daytime, I had admired this old neon sign.

A story in the Montana Standard from 2009 says that the Butte-Silver Bow Urban Revitalization Agency had approved spending around $2,600 on the Tait Hotel sign – about 1/4 of the cost to overhaul it.  So, I’m guessing that the hotel no longer exists, but the sign was preserved for its historic value.  I don’t know if the “NEW” portion was also repaired, or if it just wasn’t working on the night of my visit.

A handful of other neon signs were on…

… but late on this Sunday night, most signs were switched off. The M&M Cigar Store has a fine old neon sign, that would have looked beautiful if it were on, but it wasn’t.

The next morning, I got a better look at my surroundings.  The side if the Finlen has a huge billboard overlooking the parking lot.  As I mentioned, the Finlen has historic hotel rooms in the tower, as well as a “motor inn”.  The less-historic option is about $10 dollars cheaper per night.  If I’m ever staying at the Finlen again, I’d save the $10 and try a night in the motor inn. Either way, you still get to see the lobby, which was the most impressive part of the experience.

A couple of blocks downhill from the Finlen, you’ll find Pleasant Alley – a seedy section of old Butte that was the heart of the town’s red light district.  Those cut-out silhouettes are a tribute to the women who worked in the shadows.

No brothel in Butte is more famous than the Dumas Brothel on Mercury Street.  It was the last to be shut down, and it stayed in operation until 1982.

I should have walked around to the front of the Dumas Brothel and taken a picture, but instead, I snapped a photo of the scary-looking rear entrance, that provided access to Pleasant Alley.  The Dumas is now operated as a brothel museum, and tours are available.

Once you’re down the hill a couple of blocks, you’ll get a nice view of the Hotel Finlen’s rooftop sign.

From there, I wandered the streets for a while…

… looking for interesting things to photograph, and finding them.

There are many old neon signs hanging around, just waiting for another moment to shine.  This one is from the old Lincoln Hotel, which now appears to be a laundromat on the first floor, and some low-rent apartments upstairs.

Ghost signs abound in Butte…

… like this one for Sweets Candies, made in Salt Lake City, sold from Alaska to Australia.

And of course, you can’t go very far around Butte without passing an old headframe.  Butte embraces these relics, and some are even wired with Christmas lights!

While I could have spent an entire day in Butte, I had about 300 miles to drive, to get to East Glacier Park Village by sunset.  But there’s still plenty more to see here, the next time I’m in town.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive into Butte at Sunset…

… and the drive out of Butte, towards Anaconda, the next morning:

The Bottom Line

If you love authentic old western towns, rusty neon, and fading ghost signs painted on brick walls, you’re going to enjoy a visit to Butte, Montana. Plan to spend some time here, doing nothing more than just wandering around the historic uptown buildings and businesses.

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