Spirit people are pleased with the renovated building!
Attitudes expressed in actions are varied.
The Rex was “Party City”, mob-style!
Some joker of rough character was killed for bad behavior.
The 3 story Rex building is made of buff-colored brick and red sandstone, done in the Italianate, Beaux Arts style. The Rex Restaurant and its lovely bar are located on the first floor. Offices now occupy the second and third floors, bringing in much needed funds to keep this piece of Billings history in good shape!
The aura of the inside space gives the patron a relaxed, casual, and non-pretentious place to enjoy a variety of fine meals. Inside, the visitor finds that the “old-world brick interiors, the tin ceiling, tile floors, and oak, brass, and stained and beveled glass furnishings” give the interior a turn-of-the-century look that “draws the eye and imagination” to that old-time western era. The men’s bathrooms even has authentic western ordinal urinals, dating back to the late 1800s; older than the building itself.
There is a place for every kind of patron in The Rex Restaurant. The bar is described as “loud and busy”, with large TV’s to watch sports. The lounge is the place to enjoy live music and an indoor fireplace. There is also a more quiet dining room, that is away from the noise and excitement of the bar and lounge area. The new addition in the front, that was built in 2006, offers a lovely, award winning outside patio eating area, perfect to have a drink with friends; complete with an outdoor fireplace.
Chef Alfred Heimer had a long career working for Buffalo Bill Cody, cooking for the Wild West Show. The day came when Heimer retired to Billings, Montana, with a dream of opening up his own hotel and little restaurant, with Bill Cody’s financial help. With its convenient location; just across the the railroad station, and the fantastic meals and upscale lodgings, it did a thriving business. In fact, a third floor was added to accommodate the prolific demand from its guests, as it offered rooms for the average man of means, to more well-endowed wealthy people, such as successful businessmen, ranchers, and celebrity western icons of the day: Will James, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill.
By 1919, The Rex Hotel, and The Rex Corral Cafe Restaurant and Bar were high class, popular establishments that fulfilled Alfred Heimer’s dream. The Rex Hotel was considered one of the best places to stay, and The Rex Corral Cafe offered a fine German meal with a satisfying beer. Advertising claimed, “Cold beer and good German lunches.”
“The Rex Corral Cafe’s name was eventually changed to the “Buffalo Bill Bar”, and then it simply became part of The Rex Hotel, just known as The Rex Hotel restaurant, probably during Prohibition. However, Prohibition didn’t slow down business, for “a floating bar,” Billings’ form of a speakeasy, was simply set up in one of the rooms, and moved every day to a new location. It is said that The Rex Hotel was connected to the underground tunnels, that once existed under Billings, where the illegal alcohol was moved and delivered to its customers. These underground tunnels existed in many cities and were used for this purpose: Butte, Portland, Prescott, Los Angeles. etc.
During this time, prostitution and gambling probably also took place in The Rex on the second and third floors, as these two money-making activities usually were attached to a speakeasy. The basement also was used as a gambling den. A gambler’s book was found in one of the walls during the first major renovation done by owners A & E Architects P.C., in 1976-77, that is discussed below.
The popularity of The Rex Hotel and its restaurant and bar continued on through the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In the 1960s, the railroad business started its decline, because cheaper and faster ways to travel took off with the American people. Clientele for The Rex Hotel dried up as the trains lost business to these other forms of transportation, causing economic strains, leaving little extra money to fix an aging building. The upper floors eventually became unusable as hotel rooms, and the basement and boiler room was full of asbestos, and couldn’t be used for anything until it was removed; not a cheap project.
Eventually the only floor that could be used was the main floor, and so the bar and restaurant continued to be in business. At some point, it became a real fixer-upper opportunity, and what income that was being raised by the restaurant and bar could no longer carry all the financial weight. The building was vacated, and put up for sale.
By 1975, it was decided that the best course of action was to just to tear it down, as the private owners or the bank couldn’t find a buyer willing to pay for the expensive renovation and repair projects that the building badly needed. However, The Rex Hotel got a last minute reprieve when a Billings merchant, Senia Hart, stepped up to the plate and bought it J.I.T.; just one day before the wrecking ball was scheduled to knock it down. Sounds like the people in charge really didn’t want to tear it down.
Senia Hart then got busy and found a buyer willing to put a boat-load of money into this woebegone building. In 1976, A & E Architects P.C., located in Billings, bought The Rex Hotel building. The firm got to work, starting major renovations in two areas of the structure that really needed heavy investment: The basement & the boiler room, and the second and third floors. To make this property a viable financial success, the whole building needed to be put to work, to make money.
The basement and boiler room were renewed and given a new “business life,” with a “major cleanup” and most importantly, the asbestos was removed safely. Probably some non-weight bearing walls in the basement were taken down, to open up the space. The hotel guest rooms on the second and third floor were gutted to the studs, sheer walls were installed, and the second and third floors were totally transformed into office spaces. A new roof was probably put on as well.
For the most part, the main floor just needed “a cosmetic interior renovation”; getting a fresh, more updated look, as this space was previously used as a restaurant and bar. After completion of all the renovations, A & E Architects P.C., moved an existing restaurant business that they owned into the main floor and newly renovated basement area. They made good use of some of the office space as well, moving their offices into the upper floors of the building, as well as renting out the other spaces.
After 10 years of using the building, in 1986, A & E Architects P.C., sold this property to The Rex Hotel Partnership, owned by an entrepreneur, Gene Burgadwith, who had a lot of vision and energy, with a new plan for The Rex Hotel building. Gene Burgadwith hired A & E Architects P.C., to do another major face lift to renovate the restaurant and bar space into a first class steak joint, that offers a blend of its western history with a contemporary feel. For example, Pictographs from local caves have been copied onto a 7,300 pound concrete island bar, and several tables as well.
In the late 1990s, Gene Burgadwith succeeded in his quest to have the adjacent street next to the building closed! Burgadwith again went to his favorite architects, and commissioned A & E P.C., to design a major addition to his restaurant in this space. The addition was designed to be “a lively and casual eating facility with a large outdoor patio.”
In 2006, A & E Architects P.C., were honored with the Montana Preservation Alliance “Excellence in Historic Preservation Award” for their designs and renovations done in this Rex Hotel addition, and for another building they designed and renovated in Billings; the Billings Depot.
Today, in 2013, A & E Architects P.C., have done projects all over Montana. They are doing wonderful job reinventing old buildings, remodeling and preserving structures to meet the needs of commercial use, while preserving the building, keeping the best of the arts and crafts, etc.
The Rex Restaurant is known for its steaks and sea food, and enjoys a large clientele base. It seems that spirits also love and appreciate the new look and care that has been put into giving the building a new lease on it’s existence.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Major building renovation and restoration can act like a huge environmental trigger, and draw spirits connected to the building, out and active.
Billings, Montana was a rough western town, where a lot of killings, muggings and opium smoking happened in it’s history. People that lost their life because of being murdered, sometimes continue to look for their killer, or want some kind of justice.
People who enjoyed themselves at a certain place; parties, good times that they experienced, continue to visit or stay there in their after life, still enjoying their memories, and even have their own events/parties that the living can hear.
Illegal booze delivery/speak-easy/gambling and prostitution usually meant that gangsters were present. Gangsters tried to behave, but sometimes had to “take care of business” in public and private establishments, dealing with people who committed some displeasing offense. Prostitutes often got in trouble, gamblers who try to cheat or won’t pay their debt, or bartenders who are skimming off the drink sales could’ve been some of the folks killed by gangsters; never known for having a forgiving nature. They sometimes were also killed because they knew too much.
There is always some joker who thinks that they can cheat the mob, and they are of course found out and killed.
A former Prohibition Era bartender, Buck, was killed, probably by a gangster, or someone else with anger issues.
A female entity seen in the Rex building may be a former Prohibition party girl/prostitute.
A grumpy male entity that roams the basement may be a gambler or boot-legger, haunting the area where he died.
There are the usual tale-tell signs of spirits:
The feeling of not being alone.
Objects are moved.
After the closing bartender has closed the building, with all the outside lights turned off, the lights have a mind of their own, and pop on all by themselves.
Christmas lights are a favorite with the spirits here, and they love to turn them on after closing!
Some entity likes to turn on coffee pot and equipment in the office for chuckles.
An unknown number of Male Entities – Because of information acquired from a psychic investigation, staff has named one of them “Buck”.
A book about Rex Harrison that sits in a shelf above the bar, sometimes jumps over the lip of the shelf, and falls down on people sitting on the stools, talking about the ghosts, perhaps stating their unbelief.
While in the basement, alone in the building, staff have heard the stools being moved along the floor, and men’s disembodied voices talking when the restaurant and bar are closed.
Bartender was pushed down, by an unsatisfied entity customer or entity bartender? Or perhaps by the grumpy entity in the basement.
A male Entity, described as wearing a white shirt, who doesn’t like to be spotted by the living.
Besides attacking the closing bartender, a story mentioned above, he likes to watch the women in the basement bathroom.
Many instances of women, feeling that they are being watched have been reported.
A few women have come out of their stalls, to see this see-through male apparition, wearing a white shirt, staring at them.
One woman reported hearing someone enter the stall next to hers, and slam the door so hard that her door was vibrating. No one living was in the stall.
This male entity also likes to get his chuckles with the men who visit the bathroom… Men have heard someone come in while washing their hands, but find out that no one living in there with them.
Basement After Hours
Entities still like to have wild parties late at night, that last into early morning in the bar.
While in the basement after hours, staff have heard men’s voices and the sounds of stools being dragged.
One or more Female Entities
Female Voices are heard around women’s bathrooms.
What has been described as a ghostly figure, some say a female, has appeared on the stairs leading up to the second and third floors.
There have been reports of an unknown presence who has been experienced on the 2nd and 3rd floor business offices. In some of the business offices, odd sounds are heard, and objects are moved around and put in different places than the workers had left them.
Female figure has been seen walking around the 2nd and 3rd floors, perhaps a roaring twenties party girl, or prostitute employed for some of the 1920s Prohibition drinking parties that took place in the rooms there. Prostitution has long been a dangerous profession.
The building’s maintenance man once heard the sounds of high heels coming toward him in the hallway, hear them pass him by and continue on down the hallway.
Current manager of The Rex Restaurant, Reid Pyburn, has some ghost experiences to tell. (To hear all of his stories, buy the video.)
Two of Pyburn’s stories:
One rowdy, annoyed entity became aggressive in the basement, with the closing bartender; a tall, buff man; Jason. Perhaps Jason reminded the entity of the person who killed him. This angry entity jumped on Jason from behind, knocking him to the floor and scratching him, scaring him to death. Jason ran out of the bar, terrified, not finishing his rounds and duties.
On one occasion, a patron asked to be moved to another table, because a male entity was standing by her table, making it hard for her to enjoy her food!
Most Probably so! Though no hard evidence that I can find has been made public, there are lots of personal experiences reported by staff and guests. These reports lead one to strongly suspect that The Rex Hotel building also is the home of several entities, who have a variety of attitudes toward the living.
A psychic medium met a former bartender in spirit form in the bar, that had been killed during the Prohibition era, who said his name was “Buck.”
Not much hard evidence has been caught and shared with the public, probably because it is a business trying to make a profit, but I have no doubt that private investigations have occurred here. Author Karen Stevens who is a member of a paranormal investigation group, and leads ghost tours believes that the Rex Restaurant has spirit entities residing there.
2401 Montana Avenue
Billings, MT 59101
Can be found in the heart of the Billings Townsite Historic District, right across from the railroad station.
- More Haunted Montana
By Karen Stevens
- Mina Morse
Business Manager for A & E Architects P.C.
- The Ghosts of the Rex in Billings, Montana on YouTube
- Angela’s Adventures: Haunted Billings Tour on YouTube
- “Readers treated to more hauntings,” by Chris Rubich, at Billings Gazette.com
- “Western Fare Fit For A King,” by Kay Reuser for Cowboys & Country Magazine, on The Rex Restaurant online
- Eex Restaurant page on Trip Advisor.com