Harmon’s Histories: Blue Bear was THE 1960s hangout for Libby teens
By Jim Harmon
(Missoula Current) “A jolly little blue bear, illuminated at night, sits above the main entrance inviting all to enter and enjoy themselves,” reported the Western News in Libby on September 23, 1948, heralding the new restaurant downtown.
For generations of teens, the Blue Bear was the gathering spot for burgers, fries and cherry-cola drinks.
Kate and Dick Brinton designed the landmark building to be a “modern, up-to-date confectionery and entertainment parlor which will be an asset to the welfare of the community in every respect.”
The structure itself was rather plain, built from “interlocking pumice blocks, with a concrete floor and insulated walls and ceiling.” The interior was a combination of plaster walls and mahogany veneered wainscoting.
The booths were, as one would expect, blue in color, enhancing the theme. In addition to the booth space (accommodating about 20 people), there were a dozen or so stools at the counter.
The place, as I recall, also had lots of natural light streaming in through plate glass windows, as well as the ever-popular glass brick used in the 1950s and 1960s.
There were game machines everywhere. Pool tables, pinball machines and ping-pong tables extended from the fountain area into the large room on the west side of the building.
Outside, the lots on the south side of the building were leveled and a large, graveled parking area was created, serving as a drive-in area (you entered off Mineral Avenue and exited through the alley running behind the building).
Although it was meant to be a diner and fountain which appealed to people of all ages, the Blue Bear pretty much turned out to be a teen hangout with an occasional black-leather-jacketed biker dropping in.
Another open area next to the building was, at times, turned into an ice-skating rink in winter.
One of the Doxtater’s ... Charles, I believe ... bought the place in the early 1950s.
But what about that name: the Blue Bear?
The original owners never directly explained it, at least to newspaper reporters. The only reference to be found sidestepped the question.
A week or so before opening, the Brintons were quoted in the local newspaper as saying, “Many have been puzzled over the name of our establishment, remarking they have never seen a blue bear – and most of them have lived in Lincoln County all their lives.”
They concluded, “To satisfy their curiosity a six-foot, three-inch blue bear will be placed on the front of the building over the marquee.”
After the opening, the Brintons placed a newspaper ad thanking all their customers for their patronage, “We hope that all enjoyed our place, our food, and our drinks. Our services will improve as we gain experience.”
Today, the Dome Theater building is the only structure left on that side of the block in downtown Libby. The Blue Bear is long gone. But the memories (and the photos, thanks to my old high school friend Bill Hagerty) remain.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.