By using this site, you agree to its use of cookies as provided in our policy.

Lewis and Clark County Jail - Helena, MT
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member BK-Hunters
N 46° 35.155 W 112° 02.145
12T E 420650 N 5159670
Quick Description: Built beginning in 1891, the Lewis and Clark County Jail kept many ne'er-do-wells under lock and key for nearly a century.
Location: Montana, United States
Date Posted: 3/25/2019 4:08:35 PM
Waymark Code: WM109DG
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member ZenPanda
Views: 1

Long Description:
A request for bids for a new Lewis and Clark County Jail was issued by the county in February of 1891, with construction commencing later that year and completion taking place the next year. R. A. Bell and Company, agents for the Detroit Safe and Lock Company, tendered the winning bid of $43,495. As one would expect, the jail is a very substantial appearing building, built of locally quarried granite. Like the courthouse across Ewing Street, four years the jail's senior, the jail was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, but by different architects, this time the Helena architectural firm of Paulson and McConnell. Its appearance today is more or less exactly that which it presented upon completion.

The jail was closed in the early 1980s when a new detention was built nearby, standing empty for just a few short years before an enterprising group of artists and entertainers saw it as a potential new home. Beginning with a fundraiser in April of 1989, the jail ultimately became the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts, which it remains today. The newspaper article further below supplies further detail on that transformation.

Oddly, the jail is not described in any of the four narratives which appear at the NPS website.


Masterful stonework of local granite in Romanesque style creates a somber effect in this 1890 institution. The corner tower (which lost its battlements in the 1935 earthquake), thick stone lintels and heavy arches recall the romantic nineteenth century notion that a structure's appearance should match its function. This unusual and evocative building with its powerful medieval quality was designed by the Helena firm of Paulson and McConnell under contract with the Detroit Safe and Lock Company. It continued to serve as the county jail until the early 1980s.
From the NRHP plaque at the building
Nuggets From Helena: From the Lewis and Clark County Jail to the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts
MIKE SHIELDS | May 7, 2018
On a Saturday evening in April of 1989, Helenans gathered at the Montana Club for a gala event kicking off a fundraising drive which would convert the then vacant 1891 Lewis and Clark County jail into the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts. Over the next two years, more than $1.5 million would be raised to repurpose the historic jail into a state-of-the-art venue for cinema and the performing arts which honors one of Helena's most famous citizens – Myrna Loy.

The saga of the Myrna Loy Center is unique. The successful conversion of the historic jail into the arts center would become a sterling example of historic preservation and building repurposing.

Over the decades, fire and earthquake destroyed a number of lavish and unusual historic buildings in Helena's central business district and within the city's Westside “mansion district”. More than 240 structures in the downtown area were lost to Urban Renewal in the 1970s alone. Saving the jail was the brainchild of two unlikely characters: Arnie Malina and Steve Browning. Both were transplanted Montanans – one from New York and the other a Hoosier from Indiana. Arnie Malina arrived in Helena in 1973 and within two years had founded the Helena Film Society, the Second Story Cinema, and eventually planted the seeds for converting the century old jail into an arts center. Malina would become the Myrna Loy Center's first managing director.

History of the Jail
In September 1890, the Helena Daily Herald announced at the November election that Lewis and Clark County voters would be asked whether the County should build a new $60,000 jail. The results of the election were, as recorded by the Board of Canvassers, 2,715 for the new jail to 631 against construction of the new facility. Five bids for construction of the new jail were opened on April 23, 1891 with R. A. Bell and Company, agents for the Detroit Safe and Lock Company, winning the contract with the lowest bid of $43,495. Both the recently completed County Courthouse and the jail were constructed of “Ten Mile” granite from a local quarry and were impressive additions to the capital city landscape. The jail proved to be a good investment, serving as the county jail for nearly a century.

Naming and Construction of the Myrna Loy Center
Naming the historic jail the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts was an integral facet of the fundraising effort. One of the first issues which confronted the Board of Directors of the Helena Film Society was: what to call the new performing arts center? One couldn't continue to refer to it as the “Old Jail;” this was not a name which would encourage prospective donors to contribute to the cause. Following a number of naming sessions, the Board came up with the idea of naming the new arts center for Myrna Loy, a world renowned movie actress who had grown up in the Helena area and had kept an association with Helena after leaving for Hollywood in the 1920s...
From the Helena Independent Record

Photo goes Here

Describe the area and history:
See above

Visit Instructions:
Please describe your visit- The good, the bad & the ugly. :)
Search for... Google Map
Google Maps
Bing Maps Maps
Nearest Waymarks
Nearest Montana Historical Markers
Nearest Geocaches
Nearest Benchmarks
Nearest Hotels
Create a scavenger hunt using this waymark as the center point
Recent Visits/Logs:
There are no logs for this waymark yet.