The Dalles City Council agreed Aug. 26 to delay issuing a request for bids to demolish the Waldron/Gitchell building for at least six months, allowing building supporters to plan for stabilizing, restoring and removing the building from its current location between the city’s sewer plant and Lewis and Clark Festival Park.
The Dalles Main Street Program and the new non-profit group Friends of the Waldron Brothers Drugstore had proposed stabilizing, restoring and using the Civil War-era building in its current location, putting a bike hub in the basement, an event space on the main floor, and offices for Main Street on the upper floor.
A city staff report noted the city’s wastewater treatment plant, immediately to the east of the Waldron Building, is projected to need expansion by 2039-49. That expansion would have to be to the west, said Steve Harris, director of the community development department. He also said that additional wastewater treatments are being considered at the state level, which could require new treatment facilities and additional space prior to overall expansion.
Although council members were not opposed to preservation of the building, they generally agreed the building needed to be moved rather than used in place.
“I am not going to leave a monument in the future’s way, I just won’t do it,” said councilor Russ Brown. He noted that even if the council did nothing, it would be a year or more before funds to tear down the building would allow the city to move forward with demolition. “There is a lot of time, if someone can move it.” He said he didn’t support the city paying to move the building, but added it would be appropriate for the city to help restore it.
Councilor Tim McGlothlin also agreed the building should be saved, but not in its current location. “We must do everything in our power to preserve the past—but it is in the wrong place,” he said. “In its current location, it will always be in jeopardy. A plan should be developed to move it.” He said he was in favor of working with Main Street to restore and move the building. “I’m not in favor of demolition,” he added.
Councilor Rod Runyon said he wanted to be absolutely certain the city had no liability in terms of the building being used, and Council Linda Miller said she would like to see the building saved, but it cannot remain in its current location.
Although testimony from the audience of 28 people was heavily weighted toward saving the building, opinions differed as to whether the building should be moved in the short term, used in place until the property was needed to expand the sewage treatment facility, or dismantled and rebuilt as a monument.
Local historian and former council member Dan Spatz said the building’s current location was untenable in the long term, and the building should be moved now. “Where? Right across First Street, where it could be reconstructed and pivoted so it faces north, creating a new but very old attraction, highly visible from the freeway, calling attention to Historic Downtown The Dalles,” he said. He said one or more privately-owned locations are available. “This would align with the beautification committee’s work and The Dalles Main Street,” he added.
Steve Lawrence, former city mayor, said the city had grappled with the building for six years, and had sought alternatives to demolition. He said the only proposal was from local historian Eric Gleason. “He had no experience in relocating a building, he had no money—and his was the only proposal,” he told the council. “No one stood up for six years.” He said he favored using the brick to create a memorial in another location. He also cautioned the council about working with a nonprofit to restore the building. “If you decide to work with a non profit, you need a firm deadline,” he said.
Gleason said he believed the building could be saved and used in its current location, but added, “whatever we put into the building is going to make it cheaper and easier to move if it has to be moved in the future. The stone masons say it’s completely doable. I think it’s well worth it.”
Don Warren, president of Main Street, said the project would be a good way to build community in The Dalles. “We’re trying to partner, to help each other, to get everybody to lend a hand. This [restoration in place] would be a great project to start with. We have a good plan, although it needs to be fleshed out, and this project would stabilize it before we need to move it.”
Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss said the city needed to work with everyone involved to confirm what could or could not be done with the building, and develop a plan. “We need to involve everyone with a stake in this,” she said, and get both sides to agree to the facts. “One report says this, the other says that. Nobody knows what’s right. We need to get the experts together, working on the same page.”
When asked by the council if Main Street would be willing to look at moving the building, rather than using it in place, Todd Carpenter, representing Main Street, said “the building is in a great spot right now,” adding that temporary usage would provide financial support while funds are raised to move the building in the future.
He added, however, that they were committed to preserving the building and could investigate moving it instead.
Mayor Rich Mays noted the council supported putting demolition plans on hold for at least six months, and asked Main Street to work with city staff to develop a more detailed proposal that addressed moving the building to another location.