History of the Theatre Building
From 1912 to 1921, Butte, Montana
was booming. World War I had created a worldwide hunger for the
strategic metal copper (every bullet and every bomb needed copper
sheathing), and when the war was over, the "Richest Hill
on Earth" produced even more copper to satisfy the national
demand for wires to carry electricity to every corner of the
country. The city's population approached 100,000 and money was
everywhere on the Butte Hill.
The six-story YMCA was built in 1915 with donated funds. W.A.
Clark had finished the beautiful Columbia Gardens as a playground
for Butte's children, the Catholic community had completed the
magnificent Knights of Columbus Hall, with a gymnasium and indoor
swimming pool. Not to be outdone by their Catholic friends, in
1923 the Masonic Bodies built their own six-story Masonic Temple
and an adjoining 1,200-seat ornate Temple Theatre in which to
conduct their ceremonial services. The building housed two other
ceremonial halls and spacious business offices.
All of these great additions to the quality of life in Butte
were funded by private donations. There were no government funds,
special levies or federal grants.
With the advent of the Great Depression
a decade later, the Masons found it necessary to develop income
from their buildings to aid in support and upkeep. The Temple
Theatre was converted into a movie house and leased to various
operators. Later, 20th Century Fox leased movie houses across
the country to assure the company a venue for product. Thus the
Temple Theatre became the Fox Theatre. However, it was still
used for occasional live performances.
Many years later, the decline of the movie industry and steadily
increasing taxation took their toll on funds available for the
Fox Theatre's upkeep. Necessary repairs were treated with bandaid
therapy. Butte's other theatres were abandoned, and the town's
reputation as a stop for top actors, singers and musicians was
In the late 1980s, the only other theatre remaining in Butte,
the Montana, was condemned and razed. This event brought the
focus of the citizenry to the Fox. Its restoration was chosen
as the number two "Project of the Nineties," second
only to the reconstruction of the Butte water system. A group
of citizens formed a non-profit corporation, The Butte Center
for the Performing Arts, whose purpose would be to fundraise
for the theatre's restoration and to supervise the work. The
Masons generously donated the building to the city, and the Butte
Center for the Performing Arts leases the building from the city
on a twenty-year lease with two automatic renewals.
Today, the Mother Lode is home to the Community Concert Association,
the Butte Symphony, Montana Repertory Theatre, Missoula Children's
Theatre, Western States Opera Company, San Diego Ballet Company,
the Montana Chorale and numerous charity events staged by local
organizations such as the Junior League, the YMCA, the Shriners
and other civic groups.
The non-profit corporation was successful in raising over $3
million for a new roof, exterior cleanup, seat reconstruction
and upholstery, lobby and restroom reconstruction, furnace systems,
plumbing and re-wiring, light and sound systems, grid work, stage
flooring, grand drape and legs, intercom systems, marquee and
all other work necessary to make the theatre viable as a first
class performance hall. The work was completed in 1996.
The reconstructed theatre was named The Mother Lode to reflect
Butte's mining heritage as the "Richest Hill on Earth."
In 1997, $500,000 from a bequest of the Busch sisters of Butte,
maiden ladies (a school teacher and a cleric), created sufficient
funding to build a lower level 106-seat children's theatre, The Orphan Girl Theatre, named for one of
Butte's early mines.
The programs of the Orphan Girl have been recognized nationally
the past three years by the President's Committee on the Arts
and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the
National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum
and Library Services.