La Grande’s Rally to Save a Downtown Anchor
Editor’s Note — To celebrate National Historic Preservation Month we’ve asked several individuals and organizations from around the state to tell us what preservation means to their community. We hope you find inspiration for your next preservation project from these stories.
Beginning in the late 1980s, residents of La Grande have worked to revitalize their downtown. In the last decade, City-assisted rehabilitation of historic buildings has made the downtown an attractive destination. One such example is the IOOF Building (1892) and the State Theatre (1910), conjoined commercial buildings in La Grande’s Historic District. By 2011, due to years of neglect, failed roofs and broken windows, the buildings were in such an advanced state of deterioration that some — including members of the City Council — were considering the best thing for the community might be to have them demolished.
The buildings suffered extensive water damage and infestation from pigeons. The upper floors were a toxic mix of live and dead pigeons, pigeon droppings and mold, rendering them unsafe to enter and unmarketable. Desiring to turn the properties into viable commercial real estate opportunities and to preserve the iconic historic buildings, the City Council and City Staff convinced the current owners to deed the properties over to the City’s Urban Renewal Agency.
An extensive, two-phased project sought to clean up the buildings and do minimal restoration. A complex environmental rehabilitation took place in summer 2012. The costs associated with this phase were largely offset with Brownfield Clean-up Fund grants from Business Oregon. The clean-up phase was immediately followed by a repair phase that installed new roofs, repaired and/or replaced windows, repaired structural masonry and spruced up the buildings’ facades.
The buildings are now on the market seeking an investor to return these century-old buildings to their former commercial glory. At the very least, prominent historical structures have been saved from further deterioration and potential demolition. At best, they may be brought back to life in a commercial role, revitalizing La Grande’s downtown.
Charlie Mitchell is the Community & Economic Development Director for the City of La Grande. Learn more about La Grande’s efforts and the work of the City’s Main Street program.