Memories and ads are about all we have to go on in the Missoulian archives to trace the rise and fall of the Casa Loma.
Dubbed Missoula’s last roadhouse, the Casa Loma was a dance hall for big and small band orchestras, and much more, from the time its doors opened in 1937, through a destructive fire in 1946 to its dying throes in 1956.
For decades the white building that sits on the northeast corner of South Avenue and Stephens has been used for storage by Missoula County Public Schools. Now it’s part of the Homevale properties that the MCPS board is poised to sell to a development group on Tuesday.
Over the years Missoulian columnists waxed nostalgic over the Casa Loma.
"Jocko's Gym (Park Hotel) … Northern Hotel. Murrills. Casa Loma. Ahhhh! Those were the days," Evelyn King wrote in a 1978 rumination on the university social scenes of the past.
“For dancing and dining, the university people went beyond downtown, or to the Old Country Club, the Avalon and Casa Loma,” John T. Campbell related in his Instant Recall column in 1979. “The Country Club, where the UM golf course is now, featured the big band headed by Les Smith. … The Avalon, later a roller skating emporium, was out ‘in the flats’ on South Higgins, while the Casa Loma stood near the Hale Field airport, or where the Sentinel and Vo-Tech buildings are now.”
On Aug. 17, 1937, as gates opened on the Western Montana Fair across the street, county commissioners approved a license "for a dance hall located at South avenue and Parkway to Frank W. Anderson,” the Missoulian reported. “It is to be known as the Casa Loma.”
According to his obituary in 1987, Anderson, born in 1900, and brothers John and Henry took over Anderson Transfer and Storage from their father. They were also involved in the Casa Loma and Missoula Country Club night clubs.
They made sure the Casa Loma made a big initial splash.
“Dance tonight. Casa Loma,” one ad that August read. “Andy’s Casa Loma Orchestra. Cocktail Room, Ravioli and Chicken Dinners.”
By September the advertisements were touting Andy Anderson’s Orchestra along with the ravioli and fried chicken, with admission 35 cents for ladies and 40 cents for gents.
Over the years the Casa Loma hosted orchestras of Jack Mills, Don Ricardo and Hal Hunt, and many others. The Missoulian carried reports of weddings, meetings, dinner parties and banquets for the likes of Western Montana Retriever Club and the Missoula Sheriff’s Posse. In 1948, the grand scratch of Montana Cooties, the honor degree of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, held a stag banquet during their state convention there. The Cooties invited ladies in for dancing later that evening.
On the morning of Aug. 3, 1946, fire leveled the Casa Loma Night Club. The Missoulian’s one story on the fire said proprietor John Anderson called the building a total loss “in the amount of $25,000.” It had been moved, presumably by Anderson Transport, from Hilda Avenue, near the old country club (the current UM golf course), in 1937.
The Casa Loma was closed for two years during World War II and reopened a couple of years before the fire, the article said. “Mr. Anderson said that the building, owned jointly by himself and a brother, Henry, will not be rebuilt.”
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Shortly after an ad appeared in the classified section: “Business opportunity: As I have other interests, will sell the remainder of Casa Loma including beer and liquor license; best location in western Montana. Anderson Transfer Co.”
Then, in September: “Business opportunity: Casa Loma good basement, foundation, plumbing, floor, shrubbery, beer and liquor license, plenty parking space, fine opportunity, J. Anderson, Ph. 5462.”
But in late December 1946, with no explanation, a 1-inch ad: “Dancing — Meet Your Friends at the Casa Loma New Year’s Eve.”
The Casa Loma lived on.
The “newly rebuilt” Casa Loma Sportsman’s Club held a grand opening in August 1947. It was incorporated as a “nonprofit social organization,” by Arthur Lalime, Louise Vittorie and, yes, Frank Anderson.
An ad in July 1948 announced another reopening, this one of the Casa Loma Ranch Club under Richard White, Virginia White and Darlene Gehring. “It’s the last word in food, fun and Hollywood entertainment.”
A year later it became the Roundup Steak House under the management of Mr. Walter Jensen, whose newspaper ad touted “just good steak, with French Fries and Toasted French Bread, and all for only one buck. Yep, just a dollar.”
Jensen’s ads lasted until January 1950. There was no further mention in the paper of the Casa Loma until May of 1954, when the Bartenders Benefit Dance was to be held at the Casa Loma Steak House. Seven months later came the announcement of yet another reopening, this time by Mr. and Mrs. George Thomas, formerly of the Fort Owen Inn near Stevensville.
The final Missoulian ad for the Casa Loma was a tiny one on March 12, 1956. It said simply: “Meet your friends at the Casa Loma.”
On Dec. 15, 1957, the Missoulian ran its first feature article on the Casa Loma, accompanied by two photos.
“It'll be stacks instead of steaks at the former Casa Loma Steak House, which is being converted into the new headquarters of the State Library Extension Commission,” the story began. “The agency is moving from the State University campus to the site near the new high school.”
In the 1970s, the high school district used the Casa Loma building for Project 100, a program that eventually became Willard Alternative High School.
From swinging big bands and ravioli, to Cootie banquets and steaks, to hushed library offices, classrooms for teens and a silent storage house ... the Casa Loma will live on in Missoula’s bank of memories no matter what happens next.