Under new ownership, the Recreation Building in downtown The Dalles is heading for major renovations, inside and out.

Todd Carpenter and his wife Carla McQuade, who transformed the former Vault into the Last Stop Saloon, bought the building from the city of The Dalles urban renewal agency for $50,000 and have big plans for their latest acquisition.

They include a space for home-based artists and vendors to sell their products — they’ve dubbed it Merchants Landing, a name their neighbor Don Warren came up with — plus possibly some sort of space that will provide fun indoor activities for the family, and retail space.

They hope to have the merchant space open by September. It is the easiest space to rehab, Carpenter said.

Eventually, they hope to restore the historic storefronts behind the current façade, which went up in the late 1950s, McQuade said. The building is located at 213 E. 2nd St.

They recently applied for a $200,000 state grant to help with the estimated $320,000 cost to restore the front façade. If they get the grant, the façade work could be done in 12-18 months.

Behind the 100-foot long Recreation sign are three separate previous storefronts, each with varying heights, that were obscured by the Recreation sign. It’s 30,000 square feet altogether.

 “The plan is to basically remove the façade and see if there’s any historic elements and preserve them. That’s our first goal,” Carpenter said. “This plan that we have is probably the most expensive plan.”

The westernmost storefront was once Prinz & Nitschke, established in 1895. Their business, as etched into the stone above the storefront, covered undertaking, carpet and furniture. Next was the In the Horn Saloon, established in 1889. It was home to over 700 taxidermy items, lost in a 1942 fire. The easternmost storefront housed the Grand Theater, established in 1911 and also known as the Empress Theater.

“There’s a lot of history so preserving some of this history is important to Carla and I,” Carpenter said. “But we also know what it takes to draw people downtown. It can’t be the same. It has to move a little bit.”

Carpenter has some ideas for what to do with the Recreation sign itself. One is putting it on the back side of the building and relighting it so it is a draw to freeway traffic.

Another is potentially displaying it in the space that now houses the bowling alley.

Big plans for the Recreation building

Brick is visible under the building's facade.

“We want to tell the story of this era,” he said. They already have a good start on some objects to display. “We’ve come across a lot of things in there, actually,” including old trophies, pictures, balls, and “tons of shoes,” all still in their cubbies behind the counter.

The bowling alley has 12 lanes upstairs and six downstairs.

“Our heart is in this community,” Carpenter said. “We’ve fallen in love with this town. We want to give back. So we decided to take the risk” and rehabilitate the Recreation Building.

They moved from the Portland metro area, where they still own and operate several restaurants. Carpenter is also head of IT for Rebound Orthopedic & Neurosurgery.

They’re considering taking donations for pieces of the Recreation façade, including the grey and red tiled front. “Own a piece of the Rec,” Carpenter said was their vision of that possible endeavor.

In the last iteration of the Recreation building, before it was shut down, there was the bowling alley at the westernmost area, an event area in the middle and the Dam Sports Bar on the right. In the basement was an archery range and more bowling lanes.

As he stood in the building recently, he said, “So, obviously, the place has lots of holes in the roof,” and it needs tons of interior work. But a hole in one wall exposed the brick beneath. That’s what Carpenter is after. In the Vault, which is immediately west of the Recreation Building, he’s exposed brick and raised ceilings in a complete remodel of the interior.

Carpenter asked for suggestions on Facebook for what people would like to see in the space. A bowling alley made the list, but “setting up a bowling alley is expensive. We don’t know anything about it. It’s a tough one.” He said, “We’re gonna wait and see on that.”

Other suggestions included an arcade.

McQuade said, “It’d be nice to have a place for kids to go after school.”

As for the Merchants Landing, the space they have in mind would house a number of 10x10 spaces.

They’re 95 percent certain on the Merchants Landing concept, and everything else is still up in the air, Carpenter said.

The middle space, which will likely be maybe three individual retail shops, each 800 to 1,500 square feet with their own entrance, would be finished next, and then the bowling alley area last.

The middle part of the building is two stories. In there now is a boiler, which takes up the entire floor. The idea is to have the top floor be either retail or living space.

As for downstairs, Carpenter is kicking around the idea of a maker’s space or craft area for families. “We want to give back to the community,” he said.

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