Why Montana Avenue Is Like Rome, Italy
Okay I might be exaggerating a little but there are some minor similarities between Rome and Montana Avenue. I visited Rome in 2000 and quickly found it was a city of layers that made it a living museum. To simplify you have the ruins of the Roman Empire with the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Arch of Constantine built around the time of Christ. A few hundred years later the first St. Peter’s Basilica was built and then rebuilt again in the 15th century as was the Sisten Chapel. Finally many of the city’s famous Piazza’s and Palazzo’s, made famous is such movies as La Dolce Vita, were built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
So what does this have to do with Montana Ave? Billings came to be known as the “Magic City” because it seemed to appear overnight. Billings started as a western railhead for further westward expansion and at first just had a few buildings along Montana Avenue. But by 1900 there were almost 2000 buildings mostly in what is now our downtown core. In 1909 the famous Billings Depot was built and in 1911 the dirt road was paved in brick which you can see in the picture above. The “southern line” was abandoned for passenger rail travel in 1978 which left the turn of the century buildings vulnerable. Thankfully, with the help of Montana Avenue’s designation as a historic district in 1979 we have a thriving foodie, arts and cultural area that Billings can be proud of. See Montana Avenue was built in layers… kind of like Rome… sort of. I imagine in another hundred years Montana Avenue will still be an area with bustling nightlife, great food and arts that future generations will enjoy when the current non-descript buildings on 24th street on the West End and Main Street in the Heights have all been torn up and rebuilt again and again.
All this because the road repairs on Montana Avenue revealed brick after a heavy scraping.