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PINE GROVE — The former Club Chateau restaurant off Highway 200 East in Pine Grove between East Missoula and Bonner burned to the ground Wednesday morning.

Late Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said the blaze was “suspicious,” but did not identify a cause.

Firefighters from Missoula Rural, Missoula city, Clinton and East Missoula responded to the 6:20 a.m. blaze.

“Smoke was coming out of there pretty big from the second story when the first engine got there,” said Brent Christopherson, assistant chief of the Missoula Rural Fire Department. “They did an initial check to make sure there was no one in the building, but then they moved to a pretty defensive posture because of some houses back behind there.”

Although the building had a long history as a commercial center, recently it fell into disrepair and was occasionally occupied by transients. Christopherson said part of the building was being renovated as an apartment, but that the tenants had been evicted about two weeks ago. Since then, both a construction crew and Missoula County sheriff’s deputies struggled to keep transients out of the building.

The building served for years as a supper club known as the Club Chateau, then turned into the Roadhouse, a bar that featured live music. After some time as a casino, the building was also home to Blue Star Tipis in the 1990s.

The building was once called the Ring Club, and had been opened by the family of professional fighter Richie Fontaine in 1942. The Fontaines ran the business until 1947, when it was bought and became the Club Chateau.

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