RESTORATION DREAM: Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Co. Building

May 08, 2002 11:00 pm
Building tour: Discussions are under way on how to preserve the Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Co. Building.  (Submitted photo).
Building tour: Discussions are under way on how to preserve the Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Co. Building. (Submitted photo).

ENTERPRISE — A diverse group of people came together last week to discuss how to preserve one of the oldest buildings in town.

The Enterprise Hometown Improvement Group and the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department brought in 25 experts from across the state to brainstorm some options for funding and restoration of the historic Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Co. building.

The local group hopes to raise the money to buy the building and restore it, including a performing arts center. The group already has entered into a legal option to buy the building.

The building — taking up almost the full length of a city block — was built in 1916 and is across the street from the Wallowa County Courthouse.

"We are thrilled at the interest and enthusiasm for this project," said Wendy Hansen, director of the hometown improvement group.

"People came from hundreds of miles away and spent an entire day working with us," she said. "There was a lot of commitment shown toward making this restoration dream a reality."

The three-story building has 40,000 square feet of space, with businesses occupying the Main Street level and housing on the upper level.

The exterior is of locally mined Bowlby stone, a unique material used in several other buildings around town.

When it was one business at the turn of the 20th century, the Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Co. was touted as the largest mercantile structure of its kind between Portland and Boise.

It was designed and operated as a full-service mercantile store, selling commodities ranging from hardware and seed, dry goods and clothing to home furnishings and groceries.

After a number of successful years, it became a victim of the Great Depression. After the business folded, the structure was remodeled at various times and has been used for a variety of commercial and residential purposes since then.

Local residents have spent more than a year discussing the restoration and have devised a "conceptual vision for the project," Hansen said.

The plan includes space for retail, educational, office and housing components, all surrounding a performing arts center at the core of the building, Hansen said.

"It was clear during the gathering last week that entities from all over Oregon would like to help the Wallowa County community make this vision a reality," Hansen said.

Steve Poyser, planner for the state Historic Preservation Office in Salem and one of those who toured the building and joined in a roundtable discussion afterwards, was impressed with the project.

"We will do everything we can to help you make this project successful," he said.

Hansen said the group presented many ideas of grants, agency contacts and design options.

Hansen said the brainstorming resulted in a conclusion that there should be a comprehensive assessment of the building's structural integrity, its mechanical and electrical systems. The meeting concluded that fire and safety codes and hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint are among items that must be addressed.

Hansen said the Enterprise Hometown Improvement Group is now compiling the vast amount of information gathered and is following up on contacts and grant opportunities.

The next step includes coming up with a conceptual architectural plan and a detailed economic feasibility study before proceeding with the purchase and restoration of the building, Hansen said.

Those attending the tour and discussions included representatives from the federal Rural Development and Housing, U.S. Forest Service, the Economic Development Administration, the Governor's Community Solutions Team, Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state Historic Preservation Office, various other economic development organizations, bankers, educational institutions, architects and developers.