Atlas Block

Helena Historic District

The fanciful façade of this nineteenth-century showcase was intended to convey a powerful message. Completed in 1889 for the insurance company of Samuel J. Jones at a cost of $40,000, the vivid imagery is an advertisement, showing how insurance offered protection against the ever-present danger of fire. Stylized flames on a metal cornice lap at the top of the building while salamanders, mythical creatures believed to be immune to fire, cavort above the flames. The central figure of Atlas holds the weight of the building on his shoulders. Originally there were two storefronts on the west ground floor and two that opened at the second-floor level onto Jackson Street. The New York Store (one of Helena’s early department stores) and a saloon were among the tenants during the 1890s. This exceptional building, with its grand off-center arched entry and rough granite detailing, is an excellent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture, inspired by H. H. Richardson. Designed by Helena architects Shaffer and Stranahan, the Atlas Block bears a striking resemblance to Richardson’s Crane Library, built in 1883 at Quincy, Massachusetts.

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7 North Last Chance Gulch, Helena, Montana ~ Private