Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mid-century Billings ...

Here's an interesting postcard view of Billings, shot to advertise a downtown motel in the late 1960s or so. Both the motel and its adjoining restaurant are great examples of mid-twentieth century roadside architecture, and the classic advertising signs add to the period feel.

Lurking in the background, though, are two other major examples of mid-twentieth century design. The staid, tan-and-cream office tower is the Yellowstone County Courthouse, built in 1957 to replace a far smaller (and more imposing) building. The extraordinarily ugly building off to the right is the federal courthouse, which was completed in 1963.

Most of the buildings in this view still survive today, although a new federal courthouse was completed in Billings hast year. The motel and restaurant lost their classic looks in later remodeling projects ... and of course the Sambo's restaurant chain went bankrupt over 30 years ago, following a backlash against the perecived political incorrectness of the business's name.


  1. I remember eating in that Sambo's as a child. Thanks for posting.

    1. I remember the Sambo's in Bozeman, too ... they used to have great breakfasts! The one here is a Chinese restaurant now.

      Thanks for the note, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    2. you mention the (currently) Chinese restaurant, similar things have happened in many other areas, but two examples that come to my mind here in the San Gabriel Valley of California:

      -a Bob's Big Boy that is now a Noodle World. Pan-Asian restaurant, modest prices, owned by a Thai-American (who owns a chain of restaurants in this area). The current menu fits the heritage of Bob's--Vietnamese Pho', for one example.

      -an Alpha Beta supermarket that is now a Hawaiian Supermarket (pan-Asian products, fresh seafood (turtles!), it's across from a Ranch 99 Market, which is the larger chain of supermarkets in this Chinese/Vietnamese and bits of Thai/Japanese area.

      I never really _liked_ Sambo's menu, nor the surviving Denny's (hmmm, Big Boy survives in some areas, yes?). But these _are_ very much a part of 20th-century American culture. I'm glad you're reminding us of these moments, Mark.


    3. Here's a site you might enjoy looking at, Mark ... a portfolio of early Sambo's photos, many from your part of the world:

      I hadn't thought about the notion that Chinese restaurants tend to inhabit recycled buildings, but it may be true ... one of my favorite Chinese places in Butte was once a Hardee's. As for Sambo's, my only memories of it are the breakfasts -- lots of cheap pancakes!

      The Big Boy restaurant in Bozeman closed a few years ago, and I don't think there are any left in this part of the but I know they exist elsewhere. None of those are my favorite places to eat ... but they're great reflections of an era, all right!