Mike Gooderham of La Grande cooks sausages Sunday at the restored Riverside Park pavilion. DICK MASON / The Observer
The Riverside Park pavilion, like the Phoenix mythical bird of ancient Egypt, has risen from its ashes.
A grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the rebuilt pavilion, which burned to the ground in the early morning of Feb. 11, 2011, was conducted late Sunday morning.
“Welcome to the rebirth of a landmark and the continuation of a legend,” said La Grande Mayor Dan Pokorney at the start of ceremony.
The mayor said the pavilion restoration project is a credit to a number of civic-minded people who stepped forward before the ashes at the pavilion site had cooled.
“Literally, before the embers were out on the day of the fire ... heroes in our community were stepping forward,” Pokorney said.
Of the many people who did, none did so in a bigger way than Allen Rieke of La Grande, a retired engineer with Anderson-Perry & Associates, who volunteered countless hours to assist with the project.
Rieke received a plaque from the City of La Grande, honoring him for his efforts, which were invaluable, said Mark Touhey, the city of La Grade’s parks director.
Touhey praised Rieke’s creativity and his conscientiousness.
“He was here more than I was,” Touhey said. “ … Even when he was out of town he would call me to talk about ideas.”
Building the pavilion was an uncommon challenge because the objective was to construct a facility that was a near replica of the original one.
Touhey said this was very hard because there were no blueprints of the original building. Plans thus had to be made based upon things like old photos.
“We had to be creative,” Touhey said.
The pavilion was restored at a cost of about $500,000. About $300,000 was covered by insurance and the other $200,000 was provided by donations and grants.
The Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department contributed $133,000. This contribution was made possible by two measures voters approved earlier that allowed some state lottery funds to go the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, said Jim Hutton, the northeast district manager for the eastern region of the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department at the ceremony.
Soroptimist International of La Grande also played a key role in providing contributions for the pavilion project.
The Soroptimists contributed $25,000, money that came from the Maxine Cook endowment the club received earlier. This endowment money was invested with the Oregon Community Foundation. The Soroptimists were also a partner with the Friends of the Riverside Pavilion Restoration project, helping it raise $30,000.
Rebecca Loman, president of the Soroptimist International of La Grande, pointed out that her organization’s efforts reflect a commitment to the pavilion that dates back to at least 60 years. Loman noted that major donations made by the Soroptimists helped get a new kitchen built in 1953 and a new fireplace constructed in 1974.
The pavilion restoration project also received a big boost from the Wildhorse Foundation, which contributed $10,000.
The hundreds of people who attended the ceremony walked into a structure that looks quite similar to the pavilion constructed in 1913 and 1914, only brighter and more vibrant.
Its features include about 10 skylights, which, when combined with new lights, add remarkably more illumination to the inside of the pavilion.
Features also include new and expanded kitchen facilities, a donor board honoring those who made contributions and an interpretive sign reviewing the pavilion’s history.
The pavilion’s new fireplace and chimney is also a major highlight. It is made of rounded river rock, just as the original one was. The first fireplace and chimney was replaced in 1974 with one made of lava rock.
Sunday’s ceremony coincided with a breakfast served at the pavilion by Soroptimist International of La Grande from 7 a.m. to noon.
Presentations made at the ceremony included a flag flown from Sen. Ron Wyden’s office that had flown over Washington, D.C. The flag was presented by Kathleen Cathey, field representative for Wyden’s La Grande office.
Pokorney described the restored pavilion as an “important link to our collective past.”
He noted that the reopening of the pavilion means that it will again be a popular site for weddings, anniversary and birthday parties, picnics and much more.
“All of us know of events at the Riverside Park pavilion that have created fond and lasting memories,” Pokorney said.
The La Grande mayor said that countless people deserved credit for “ … making this day a reality.” He said it demonstrate’s La Grande’s exceptional ability to come together when there is a need.
“In every community there is work to do and wounds to heal, and in our community we have proven that there is the heart to do this and much more.”