Billings West Side School

With schools “crowded to suffocation,” the Billings School District decided to construct a new four-room school on the city’s West Side in 1909 for an estimated $28,000. For the building’s design, Billings architect Curtis Oehme chose a practical version of Renaissance Revival style. The style, made popular for public buildings by the Columbian Exposition of 1893, is reflected in the school’s arched and pedimented doors and windows, rusticated masonry at the basement level, strong horizontal lines emphasized by a limestone belt and stringcourses, and the flat roof and detailed cornice. Billings’ rapid growth during the homestead boom led to a 1917 addition, also designed by Oehme, which effectively doubled the school’s size. A third addition in 1922, designed by architects McIver and Cohagen, testified to the neighborhood’s continuing growth. Over the years, the West Side School helped create strong community ties, hosting union meetings and church services as well as school events such as concerts and theatrical performances. In the 1930s, seventy-five children played in the school orchestra, and at one point the school boasted the largest Parent Teacher Association membership in the state. The ninth school building constructed in Billings, it is one of the city’s oldest elementary schools. Both the exterior and interior retain a remarkable degree of historical integrity; classrooms and corridors still have original trim work, wood flooring, and chalkboards. Now called Broadwater School, the building continues to serve as an elementary school while remaining a strong visual focal point for this historic neighborhood.

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415 Broadwater Avenue, Billings, Montana ~ Public