In the past 60-plus years, oil barons and cattlemen have gathered at the Billings Petroleum Club to hash out land deals or enjoy a formal night out, jacket and tie required.
The culture has shifted to more casual attire and the oil business changed, so the members-only club has completed its own overhaul. Its goal: to boost its rolls and attract new business atop the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in downtown Billings.
Last week, the Billings Petroleum Club completed a six-month, $513,000 renovation of its lounge and dining space on the 22nd floor of the former Crowne Plaza hotel at the corner of North 27th Street and Montana Avenue.
The remodel has been in the works for two years but was just finished this month, said Art Geiger, a Petroleum Club board member and retired CEO of the Avitus Group, a Billings-based human resources company.
The idea is to create a more welcoming space for the club to attract new blood and boost business from hosting events such as weddings, he said.
The Petroleum Club now has a 15-year lease with the hotel that expires in 2031. Under the previous year-to-year arrangement, planning events far in advance was a challenge, Geiger said.
The Petroleum Club also hired a new marketing director, Jennifer McCalla, in January and can host gatherings of up to 300 people.
“Our younger members want to belong to a club that gives back to the community … Certainly, the future of the club is Generation X and the millennials,” Geiger said.
Once the elevator opens at the 22nd floor, visitors can see a mural of oil workers in hard hats among the derricks — an artistic replacement for the wall of sponsors from before.
The front lobby opens up into the library, a casual setting with two leather couches and chairs surrounding a bookshelf. The new black palate color underscores the panoramic view from the tall windows, highlighting one of the city’s best indoor views.
“People are wowed at what you can see here,” said Jeremiah Young of Kibler and Kirch, which designed the remodel.
The bar was moved to the north side of the room, and a 1926 Steinway piano is next to it. Guests can stare at planes taking off from Billings Logan International Airport while enjoying a cocktail, instead of the industrial parts of the city’s South Side.
A wide view of the Conoco-Philips refinery remains on the south side of the club, though it’s not the centerpiece of the space. Nevertheless, it’s still important to highlight the Billings landmark, said Mike Mace, president of Petroleum Club board of directors.
“We want to recognize the heritage of the oil industry. It’s part of the heritage of the community,” said Mace, a retired president of Rocky Mountain College.
The Billings Petroleum Club started in 1954 on the second floor of the former Billings Gazette building at the corner of North 27th Street and First Avenue North. The club later moved into the old Stockman Café building on Montana Avenue before settling into the Northern Hotel in 1960.
In 1980, the Petroleum Club was in its heyday, and membership reached more than 1,000, Geiger said. The club signed on with developers of what was then the Sheraton Hotel, the state’s tallest building, and moved into the 22nd floor after it opened.
Since then, the Petroleum Club has had its struggles, particularly as society began trending away from the button-down, formal atmosphere of the private club.
In 2002, the club changed its name to the Billings Professional Club and launched an aggressive membership drive to expand beyond the oil and gas industry.
It didn’t work, and the club actually shut down in early 2004 because it was losing money. It reopened a few months later under the original name, Billings Petroleum Club, after receiving private donations from members.
During this most recent renovation, Geiger said the club considered tweaking the name, perhaps adding “community” before club, but the board wanted “petroleum” to stay.
“As the years have passed, and the oil industry has diminished, there’s definitely been a lot of members from other businesses,” Geiger said.
The club now has 250 paid members, and McCalla said about a dozen have signed up in the past two weeks now that the remodel is complete.
“Nobody is interested in dropping out anymore,” she said.