Sunday, November 21, 2010

Talent, Oregon

The City of Talent, Oregon, located just north of Ashland, has a long tradition of working hard to retain its character while still supporting change.  Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working on several projects in Talent, starting with the city’s first comprehensive survey of historic resources, and continuing through helping with the development of the city’s landmark protection code.  Talent, with just 6,000 or so residents, has done a fine job of identifying what it values and then making sure it has the tools in place to to keep its history playing a role in its future.  One example is their complete reconstruction of the Talent Railroad Depot.  The original depot, actually built in Medford in the 1880s, was moved to Talent in 1900 and then was razed in the 1930s.  The city, using grant funding, rebuilt it with careful detail and it once again sits next to the tracks, right in the heart of town.

Talent's many volunteers, and staff, have made historic preservation and good design a recognized value in the city, a fact that means the actual designation of historic resources has lagged behind many other southern Oregon towns, even as Talent' s buildings are protected and often restored.  Some years ago I was honored to to be involved in the restoration of Hanscom Hall, the first, and still the only, building in Talent to actually be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Recently, with funding from the Robertson Collins Fund, the City has hired us to prepare a National Register nomination for the Talent Community Center, built at the Talent Elementary School in 1899.  Talent is finally going to have a second NR-listed building.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holly Theater Opposition-An Unfortunate Development

The public discussion in Medford over the possibility for the restoration of the Holly Theater by the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation has taken an odd and somewhat disappointing turn.  While most downtown advocates have for years worried about the future of this key landmark and hoped for the best, the actual possibility that it might now be restored seems to have struck fear in the heart of a small but vocal and well-connected segment of the population.  There are those who, apparently, are unable to see a restored Holly as anything other than a direct threat to the Craterian, Medford’s existing performing arts center.  You can read more here:

The Ginger Rogers Craterian Performing Arts Center, is housed in a structure that is loosely based on the historic Craterian Theater, a 1924-era building that was essentially demolished and then rebuilt in the mid-1990s.  Many of the Crate’s supporters  have decided, with little actual information, that the only way a restored Holly will succeed is by stealing its audience and most of its funding from the Craterian, a theater that has struggled financially in recent years.  The concept that restored Holly might draw a different audience (it would) and increase downtown activity or Medford's reputation as an arts center, is not even considered.  This despite the fact that nobody involved with the Holly expects to put on musical theater or the other fare that serve as Craterian staples, or that the Holly's sister-theater, the Cascade, is largely self-supporting on ticket and rental sales, avoiding the need for the major underwriting that backfills the bulk of the Craterian's expenses.  A not-so terribly subtle campaign, including all the nasty-web/reader response comments we can expect in the Internet age, has essentially accused JPR of interloping on the Crate’s turf and put reasonable people on either side of this issue, all of which complicates, and perhaps entirely undermines, the likelihood that the Holly Project will actually go forward.

It is truly unfortunate that an incredible opportunity to return a long-vacant landmark to glory may fail, not due to lack of will, or lack of vision, or even at the moment lack of funding, but instead from misinformation, fear, and what is hard to see as anything other than mild paranoia.  Many communities that are Medford’s size or smaller, boast more than one successful entertainment venue.  This is especially valid given the fact that downtown Medford’s market by all rights includes other communities throughout southern Oregon and northern California, rather coincidentally the very multi-county market that JPR serves with its radio network and its already restored Cascade Theatre, in Redding, California. 

In Medford the Craterian and a restored Holly could easily work together, even sharing some some functions like booking that would reduce expenses for each.  Two theaters could enhance Medford's entertainment reputation and build a new and larger audience for both.  Doing so would, of course, also bolster every other aspect of downtown Medford and could bring new people by the 100s into the city's restaurants and retail outlets.

That is if the Holly ever gets a chance.  Stay tuned.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Restored Holly in the Offing

Last week, after months of behind the scenes thought and negotiations, the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, JPR, announced its plans to purchase the Holly theater in downtown Medford and completely restore it for use as a performing arts venue.  JPR has prior experience in this process, having successfully transformed the long defunct Cascade Theater ( in Redding, California.  The Cascade is now the heart of surging downtown revitalization and a source of pride and vision for that community.  That's the restored facade and marquee of the Cascade in the sidebar to the right. (I have this thing about neon.)

The Holly, opened in 1930, was Medford’s first “talkie” theater and a huge boon to that city in the early days of the Great Depression.  By the late-1970s, like most single-screen theaters, the Holly fell on hard times.  After it was closed it suffered the typical indignities of such a building, most notably a poorly conceived effort to transform its 1200-seat auditorium into an office complex.  For the past 15 years the Holly was controlled by an entity with great vision, but few resources, and fell increasingly into disrepair, tilting toward condemnation.

There are hurdles for the Holly…most involving questions surrounding the City of Medford’s willingness to step up and make it happen in partnership with JPR.  The Foundation has until 1-March to complete the purchase of the building and has stated that if the City is willing to provide funding toward that goal, it will then raise the $3-4 million necessary to transform the Holly into a state-of-the-art venue.  And, of course, there are other issues, from building code, to restoration decisions, to feared competition for other performance spaces in downtown Medford.  None of those are insurmountable and the potential benefits of the Holly restored are so obvious that I am hopeful Medford’s leaders will rise to the occasion.  

As I wrote earlier, Medford has long chased the “big fix" in securing the revitalization of its downtown core.  Few portions of the city need attention as badly as does the area that surrounds the Holly, almost entirely vacant, or given over to government users that spark little pedestrian traffic or interest.  The draw of the Holly, like the draw of the Cascade in Redding, or any other successfully restored movie palace, is enough of a magnet to turn this part of downtown around.  With a vibrant Holly, and JPR’s track record of running centers such as this, success may well spread out toward Main Street and Medford may have finally found the fix it has been searching for.

(By way of full disclosure, I should state that I worked with JPR on the Cascade, expect to work with JPR on the Holly, and continue to work with the City of Medford on its various downtown revitalization efforts.  I can think of nothing that would please me more in Medford than to have these two entities successfully come together to create great things for both)