July 20, 2003 11:00 pm

The Nathaniel K. (Kendrick) West building has a nice ring to it, especially when you consider that the new structure will be replacing a hole in the ground.

The infamous Bohnenkamp property, aka hole in the ground site in downtown La Grande, has been vacated for nine years now and the N.K. West building most likely won't be a reality for another year or two. The future of the building hinges on the Telos Corporation, a developer that is seeking tax credits from Oregon to complete the project.

But more to the man behind the name of this proposed multi-level structure that will be located between McGlasson's Stationery and the F.S. Mack and Sons buildings on Adams Avenue.

Nathaniel Kendrick West was born in Wisconsin one year after the Civil War. He moved west as a young man, ending up in Portland sometime in the 1880s where he worked alongside his father, N.K. West Sr., in the clothing business. Eventually the younger West joined forces with his brother Thaddeus, with the financial backing of their father, to open another clothing business. While he lived in Portland he was married to Mattie West, who died before he moved to Eastern Oregon.

Eventually West tired of the Portland market and moved to La Grande just before the turn of the century in 1899. Joining him in La Grande was a long-time company employee, J.D. Smith.

Once in town, West bought out the Jay Brooks clothing and dry goods company located on the site of the future Telos Corporation redevelopment project. West was considered one of La Grande's prominent business leaders and in fact expanded his business interests to include a dairy farm in the Summerville area. At one time, the Grande Ronde Valley boasted numerous dairy farms.

West eventually married Mae Robinson, a member of another prominent La Grande family.

Fellow business and community leaders viewed West as shrewd, but kindly, with a strong personality. In 1929, he sold his clothing and dry goods business to Falk's, but later decided to buy back the clothing side of the business. After being a cornerstone of La Grande's business community and an active dairyman for a number of years, West died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

Reading about the life of Nathaniel K. West Jr. tells the tale of a man who grew up in the retail business and after successful ventures with his father and brother in Portland set out to make his mark in another part of the state. That pioneer attitude is what helped make both West and the retail community of La Grande prosper during the early 1900s.

Perhaps no other name best fits the new building that will be erected downtown than N.K. West. His legacy is one of making La Grande and the region a top-notch retail hub. As downtown business leaders continue to work to that end, the town will do well.