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Gary Kiesecker closed on the old Eagles Lodge building last week. He hopes to transform the century-old building into a 12-lane bowling alley. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Businessman eager to bring bowling back to Grande Ronde Valley
A local entrepreneur is hoping to transform a dilapidated century-old building in downtown La Grande into a 12-lane bowling alley and event center.
Gary Kiesecker signed a check for the old Eagles Lodge building, situated at 1212 Jefferson Ave., last week with hopes of turning it into a new bowling alley to provide a place for kids — and adults — to get back to an American tradition and away from screens and modern-day distractions.
Kiesecker had just started mulling the idea when he was informed the Eagles Lodge building was up for sale.
“I thought it would be a good building for it,” he said.
At the time, the City of La Grande was considering making a purchase to relocate the La Grande Police Department. However, in November the city council voted against buying the building in order to allow the building to potentially get back on the tax rolls.
The more than 28,000-square-foot building has plenty of space for 12 lanes, but it has been neglected for some time.
“We’re just cleaning up the junk,” said Kiesecker, who also owns Island City Glass. “There’s a lot to do.”
First on the lengthy to-do list is a new roof. Buckets situated throughout the building catch rainwater.
“I wanted (the roof) done yesterday,” Kiesecker said. The proprietor had hoped renovations would take eight months, but it could take longer.
“This all has to come out,” he said of the current bar area in the building. “We’ll be putting in a bar, but it’ll probably be smaller.”
Lanes for a new bowling alley will run perpendicular to Jefferson Avenue, says Gary Kiesecker. The new owner is in the process of procuring permits to get started on the project.
Other amenities include some sort of restaurant area and kids areas in the basement.
“It wouldn’t hurt to have a babysitting area while parents are bowling,” he said. The basement will likely also house a space for birthday parties, he said.
A quick glance inside the building reveals the large amount of work to come.
“As soon as we get permits and know what we can do, we’ll get started,” Kiesecker said.
The Eagles Lodge building is believed to have been built in the early 1900s — around or just before 1910, according to La Grande historian and author Bob Bull. The Savoy Hotel was located on the second floor when the building had two stories. It is believed that the second floor was destroyed by fire. Bull said the Oregon Hardware and Implement Co. was on the first floor and other businesses were in the building in later years.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles purchased the building in 1950, Bull said.
La Grande Community and Economic Development Director Charlie Mitchell said he thinks it’s interesting that two old fraternal buildings — the Eagles Lodge building and Maridell Center, which once served as the Elks Lodge — would be used if the bowling alley project comes to fruition.
“Those buildings are potential white elephants,” he said. “The re-use of these large buildings is what’s really good in my mind.”
Mitchell said if the project is completed, it would be a wonderful amenity for downtown.
“I think it could do well,” he said, noting that La Grande has not had a bowling alley since The Rock Bowling Alley and Fun Center closed around 2009.
The community and economic development director said he would do all he could to support Kiesecker in his effort.
“It’s good anytime people want to be centrally located in the downtown,” Mitchell said.