Friday, December 31, 2010

Gold Ray - DONE

Earlier this week, in the snow, I went out to the Gold Ray Hydroelectric site to review the progress on the interpretative center that Jackson County, Oregon SHPO and NMFS installed as part of the mitigation for the removal of that historic property.  As I have written earlier, we elected to salvage an entire power generation system, from turbine to switch panel, that would explain how this very early power system in southern Oregon worked.  Interpretative panels, with historic photos as well as some of the HAER images taken prior to demolition, were installed on the former site of the Clubhouse, upslope from the river, and the mammoth generators, pulleys and other elements were moved there so that public could appreciate, and understand, what they are.

I was quite pleased with the way everything worked out (you never know, sitting in front of your computer, how something is going to play in 3D).  I think this one played out pretty well and everyone involved seems pleased.  The County has some minor security/vandalism protection to install, so the “public” doesn’t run off with any of the artifacts, but other than that, the project is complete.

If you live in southern Oregon, or are passing through, and want to see a very unusual example of an early power generation system, tour a spot on the Rogue River that hasn’t been generally accessible for more than a century, or just appreciate a great view of a river restoration project and the Table Rocks, you should check the Gold Ray site out.  Jackson County hopes to have something available for the public by mid-2011.

On a more personal note, 2011 is looking to be an interesting year.  January should have me at the Oregon Coast, documenting what is purported to be one of the largest swing bridges in the United States, among other things.  I’m sure I will find something to write about.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Prismatic Glass

In the late 19th and early 20th century, before reliable sources of electric light were available, commercial storefronts almost always included high ceilings and transom panels.  While this had positive aesthetic benefit it was, like most “traditional” design, firmly rooted in the practical.  Transoms allowed more light into the dark interiors of narrow, deep, storefronts.  Merchants could better display their wares, customers could better see them, and it made for a better shopping experience.

We tend to think that “high tech” is a new concept, and that it was the folks behind LEED who suddenly discovered passive energy improvements (We also tend to act as though Duany Plyter-Zyberk invented the front porch, but that’s a different rant).  Of course, early storefront designers, without electricity to save, still employed technology to improve building design.  One of my favorite examples of science in the support of better buildings is what is called “prismatic glass.”  Simply put, prismatic glass was designed with a series of angled ribs on one face that were cast based upon a strict calculation of latitude to increase their dispersal, broadcasting more light into the interior than would be the case through plate glass.  The illustration below, from a 1923 Pittsburgh Glass catalog depicts the “Scientific Explanation of the Prism” as used by that company’s 3-Way Luxfer Pressed Prism Tiles.

Nobody makes prismatic glass anymore and salvaged, often purpled, tiles (usually 6x6” or less) seem to mostly show up in antique stores where they are sold as trivets.  For restoration work I have had success having more typical ribbed glass cut into small squares, installed in zinc channel in alternating directions, and coming pretty close to replicating the traditional “Look” of prismatic glass if not its function. This is a small sample of the idea, prepared for a project in The Dalles.  The idea might get dusted off for a White Elephant in Medford, if the numbers are right.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

White Elephant No More?

In most cities of any size there are a few historic buildings that for whatever reason seem to defy the odds.  They are too cool, or interesting, or locally beloved to tear down, but nobody ever seems to be able to come up with a productive use for them either.  They sit, and everyone in the preservation field wonders when and if something good will happen to them.  I, and I am not alone, call such projects “White Elephants.”  Over the years I have had the good fortune to work on several, most notably what is now the Ashland Springs Hotel (formerly the Lithia Springs Hotel), and the Hot Lake Sanatorium, outside of LaGrande, Oregon.

Medford has several white elephants…the Holly Theater has been the subject of several blogs already and good things are in store for it.  Next week I will start work on what should a nifty rehab of another…the Sparta Building, at the corner of Main & Riverside, just as you enter downtown.  Designed by Frank Clark in 1910-11, the Sparta started out rough, with no use until C. E. “Pop” Gates opened Gates Ford on the first floor.  Eventually a series of auto dealers and parts suppliers were located here, right on the corner of Main Street, on the Pacific Highway, in the core of Medford’s famed “Auto Row.”

The upper floor became the home of Medford’s first successful radio station, KMED, with elaborate studios occupying much of the building, below twin, giant, wooden towers that helped broadcast the signal.  The “arts” theme was carried out by an entire host of musical renters, teaching everything from Hawaiian Guitar, to voice and piano.  During WWII the sounds of music gave way to business, as CMC, the contractors that built Medford’s US Army cantonment, Camp George A. White, had their offices there.  Downstairs, after the car dealers moved out, became more office space and a restaurant, the Cozy Nook.  Upstairs became apartments.  In the 1970s and 1980s there was a series of popular nightclubs on the ground floor and some point a fire destroyed the upper units.  Nobody even bothered to rebuild.

And there, with its fine (if much remodeled) glazed brick façade, the Sparta Building sat.  After a change in owners the building was listed on the National Register at some point, there were various plans to renovate the façade, to re-expose the graceful corner entry, rebuild the transom panels and generally clean it up but nothing much ever came of it.  One owner replaced all the windows (except the curved corner) and the next owner started to rebuild the apartments upstairs.

Now, another new owner has taken possession, with great plans to finally return the Sparta Building to its full glory.  Next week we’ll start to poke around a little and see how much of what was once there is still, buried under plaster, and paint, and at least two levels of dropped ceiling.  I will post pictures if I can.