Saturday, March 23, 2013

Medford's Greyhound Portal-Good News!

A while ago I wrote about our efforts to save the Greyhound Portal, a portion of the former Pacific Greyhound bus terminal in downtown Medford Portall.  It was to be restored as a feature in Park Block #2, of the Medford Commons project, surrounding the Lithia Motors HQ. MURA, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency had proposed saving the portal, and then last October changed its mind, setting in motion a long series of complicated public process that involved the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, the Arts Commission, MURA and the City Council.  Well, in the end, the MURA Board decided the best thing to do was just go ahead with their original plan.  Earlier this month they voted 7-1 to retract their request for demolition, saving the portal and assuring its restoration.  We are thrilled.

And we aren’t the only ones, apparently.  Last week an anonymous donor stepped forward.  He had secured the original “GREYHOUND” lettering when the depot was shuttered in 2008 and has kept the sign since.  Now that the City  agreed to keep the portal, he donated them back.  We picked the sign up yesterday.

The letters, about 19 feet long and 30” tall, are in excellent condition, considering they are 65 years old and have been sitting on the ground for four years.  No dings, the original mill-finish is in excellent shape under a few coats of easily removable paint.  The chase, at the bottom, originally held two tubes of neon, that would backlight the letters at night.  Even if we can’t find the budget to do that now, we’ll be sure and build the opportunity to get power back to the sign, and do so in the future! 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pass Creek Covered Bridge, Drain....Oregon's Oldest?

In the 1870s, if you took the stage coach from Scottsburg or the Willamette Valley to southern Oregon, the route went through an area north of Yoncalla, over Pass Creek.  To make that busy passage easier, somebody, probably the stage company built a bridge.  A wood truss, covered bridge.  A bit later, after Charles Drain purchased 340 acres from Jesse Applegate and set up what first became Drain’s Station and is now the city of Drain, the Oregon & California Railroad came through and followed the same route.  They too built a bridge over Pass Creek, another wood truss, covered, span.  The railroad replaced its wooden bridge with a new steel through truss bridge.  This much is certain.  Another thing that is certain is that the City of Drain, which owned the smaller covered span, relocated it for use as ped/bike bridge in 1987, where it remains, after replacing it at the original location with a mundane concrete slab.

But what isn’t clear, and is one of those gnawing little puzzles that drives me crazy, is what is the connection, if any, between the 1987 bridge and the 1870s bridge.  Most sources date the Pass Creek Covered Bridge, the only one of three similar bridges that stood in Drain, as having been built in 1925.  The problem is I haven’t found any primary sources to support that.  No ODOT drawings, no reports in the paper of “bridge construction.”  Nothing.  (Though I AM still looking!)  Several old-time locals report the current Pass Creek bridge (meaning the one that is now in the park) was built in 1906, or was “rebuilt” in 1925, using some portion of the earlier span.  There isn’t any documentation for either of those projects either, at least none that I’ve found.  Photos show that the design of the portal changed sometime after 1906, and the pitch of the roof was lowered.  Was that the “massive rebuild?”

 Here’s what we do know.  The existing bridge is just about the same size as the historic one and the trusses have hand-hewn top and bottom chords.  Now Drain, in northern Douglas County, was like so many cities in that region (especially ones on a railroad line), a mill town and it’s hard to believe that even in 1906, when there were multiple mills within a stone’s throw of the bridge site (Pass Creek provided water power) that anybody would take the trouble to HAND hew a chord.  And surely NOBODY would do that in 1925, so it seems logical that they reused the truss, and just changed the roof and modified the portal.  At least that's what I think.

At either 1906, or perhaps even the 1870s, the Pass Creek Covered Bridge may have a legitimate claim as the oldest covered bridge in Oregon  (the Drift Creek Bridge, in Lincoln County, was built in 1914).  Bill and Nick Cockrell, in their revised Roofs Over Rivers, the definitive guidebook to Oregon’s covered bridges, date Pass Creek as “1925 (1906).”  Fred Kildow, another covered bridge expert, in The BridgeTender, wrote “…this just might be the oldest continuously used covered bridge location in the state.”  And it just might.   If there is any of the 1870s bridge left, you might not need the “covered” limitation either.  I certainly can’t think of a standing bridge, any standing bridge, in Oregon built before 1880.  Can you?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Medford’s Summit-Fairmount Survey Update

Last Fall I reported on the beginning of this project, to survey an early residential neighborhood west of downtown Medford. Tama has been out taking photos, and in, entering data into the State’s MS-Access database.  Despite some minor glitches, she’s pretty much done, having documented more than 800 buildings built prior to 1964, some 65% of which are at this point considered potentially historically significant.

 It’s a great neighborhood, filled with all sorts of  hidden gems from Medford’s earlier days.  There are vernacular farmhouses, built before this was part of the city and before the land had been divided into blocks and lots (there are about ten additions plats in the survey area, including both Summit Addition to Medford and the Fairmount Addition, hence the name). 

After 1900, after the additions were platted, people started to build bungalows, and craftsmans, and what are termed “foursquares.”  And then, from after WWI, there is the occasional revival style, including some truly fine Spanish Colonial Revival…stucco buildings with red-tile detailing and arched windows.  And there are even a few rarities…. a “Prairie” style dwelling and the very rare (for the smaller-town PNW) Streamline Moderne residence.  Housing built after WWII includes dozens of small minimal-eave tracts, other buildings that were almost certainly relocated from Camp White, and finally the proverbial Ranch House.  It's a veritable treasure trove of nearly a century of American residential architecture, documenting Medford’s founding, boom, lulls and post-war explosion all in one easily walkable, nicely treed, gridded neighborhood.

We will be finishing up the data, drafting the summary report for the city, and moving this project forward over the next 30 days.  It will be interesting to see what happens next in Summit-Fairmount.  There are LOTS of possibilities.  It’s a great neighborhood, finally getting some recognition.