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No one has to tell Chris and Mike Nelson how to find the Northern Hotel, which they purchased Friday at a foreclosure sale.

Chris, a Senior High graduate, and Mike, who went to West High, knew exactly what they were buying when they handed over a Stockman Bank check for $2,475,089 for the historic hotel at the heart of old Billings.

And the brothers have plenty of shared family history with the hotel, where political fortunes were made and busted, ranches sold and lifelong loves started.

Their grandfather, Harvey Schutrop, installed the hotel's switchboard when he worked for the telephone company. When a 1941 fire destroyed the landmark, completed in 1904, he was called to action.

"When the first Northern burned, Harvey was sent in to pull out the switchboard," Mike Nelson said.

After Mike proposed to his wife, Judy, his parents took them to the Northern's Golden Belle restaurant to celebrate.

"And I landed my first job in Las Vegas during an interview at the Golden Belle," he said.

Mike and Chris' late parents were longtime Billings business owners and activists. And they played a role in this sale, too.

Last June, Tom Nelson died at age 73, and Bernice "Bernie" Nelson, also 73, died in October. He was a former Montana legislator, and she helped raise money to renovate the Moss Mansion and served on its board until her last days. The Moss family, which built the mansion, owned the Northern in its early days.

"Their passings really made me realize that it's important we be in Billings," Mike said.

So, he and his wife and their two daughters are moving back to Billings from Las Vegas, where he has been managing hotels.

Chris Nelson is making his fortune running a rapid-credit-approval business in Bozeman called Zoot Enterprises.

The hotel will keep its name, but the restaurant and bar may not be called the Golden Belle.

"As much as I'd like to pay respect to its history, some things just have to change," Mike Nelson said.

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