NewsGreat Falls News


Coming up: Preservation and Legacy Awards in Great Falls

'Retrovation" - O'Haire Motor Inn is embracing its retro roots
Posted at 12:43 PM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 14:44:47-04

The Great Falls-Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission (HPAC) and The History Museum will host an award ceremony for the 2024 Preservation and Legacy Awards.

The 2024 award reception will be at the Celtic Cowboy Dark Horse Hall (116 First Avenue South) on Saturday, May 11, at 1:00 PM.

The Preservation Awards will celebrate the Civic Center Façade Restoration and the O'Haire Motor Inn "Retrovation."

The event is free and open to all, and will feature refreshments and presentations.

For more information, contact Samantha Long at 406-455-8550,; or Kristi Scott at 406-452-3462,

A news release provides the following background:

The Great Falls Civic Center, opened in 1940, was partially funded by the Public Works Administration as part of FDR's New Deal. It has held city offices, cultural events, conventions, and public meetings for 84 years. In 2011, a façade analysis by Hessler Architects revealed severe deterioration and recommended repairs. In 2016, the report was updated, and in 2017, CTA Architects were hired to plan the restoration. In June 2020, the City Commission directed staff to pursue a funding strategy, and Talisman Construction was awarded the $5.7 million contract in 2021. The project took extensive measures to ensure repairs matched historic materials and maintained the building's character. The restoration was finished early this year, and an official ribbon cutting was held on April 19, the anniversary of the original dedication of the building.

The 1961 O'Haire Inn was built to be the premier lodging destination in Downtown Great Falls, with clean Mid-Century Modern lines and bright neon signs out front. The Sip n' Dip Lounge opened soon after construction as a tiki bar, and has kept the theme ever since. The famous mermaids were introduced in 1995, and a 2003 GQ article launched the lounge into national fame. A 1990s renovation changed the character of the Inn to suit more "modern" tastes, but in 2022, owner Sandra Johnson-Thares began a rehabilitation project that restored the Inn's groovy Mid-Century character. While the façade work is complete, Johnson-Thares continues to add interior furnishings and finishes, including some of the original fixtures that were kept in storage.