August 19, 2003 11:00 pm
NEW LOOK FOR HISTORIC BUILDING: Drawing shows concept for renovation of the Palmer Building, which will house the new Foley Station. (The Observer/NAME OF PHOTOG).
NEW LOOK FOR HISTORIC BUILDING: Drawing shows concept for renovation of the Palmer Building, which will house the new Foley Station. (The Observer/NAME OF PHOTOG).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

Foley Station, an upscale eating establishment on Adams Avenue in La Grande, has found a new home.

The restaurant, a smash with customers since its opening in November 1997, is moving from the historic Foley Building down the street to the equally historic Palmer Building, 1114 Adams Ave. And, yes, the name will remain Foley Station.

That the restaurant remains an Adams Avenue enterprise is important to owners John Ecklund, Merlyn Baker and John Barth.

Keeping it there shows a commitment to the downtown business district, they feel.

"We're not a strip restaurant We're real excited to be staying downtown," said Ecklund, spokesman for the group. "We hope to inspire others to restore and take care of the downtown business area."

The restaurant will remain open in the Foley Building until Aug. 31. The partners have until Sept. 2 to completely vacate the premises. They're shooting for an early-October opening in the new building.

The Palmer Building was built in 1892 for the Newland family, local business leaders of the era.

Originally the one-story building with its full basement was home to Newland Stationery. But the Newlands were versatile. Around the turn of the century, they were the first to sell phonographs in the La Grande area, Ecklund noted.

Since the days when the Newlands owned it, the building has housed a variety of businesses, including Coast-to-Coast Hardware in the 1960s and '70s, and, most recently, a snowboard shop called One Track Mind.

Foley Station, faced with a move from the Foley Building because of increased rent, purchased the building this summer from Jack Earnest.

Ecklund said the restaurant will be a bigger, better eatery than before.

Seating capacity, 66 in the Foley Building, increases to nearly 80 in the new place, not counting seats at the dining counter and bar.

To accommodate the influx of diners, there will be a double line of cooks working in the open kitchen, Ecklund said.

"We're very interested in cutting what we call ‘turn time,' " Ecklund said. "It shouldn't take an hour or an hour and a half for a person to get his meal."

The partners plan to make full use of the basement. In addition to an in-house bakery producing breads, homemade pastries and other delights, the lower level will feature a banquet room and a wine grotto.

"The grotto will be the first of its kind in Northeast Oregon," said Ecklund.

He said high quality wines will be stored in the grotto, and there will be some seating. Wine tastings will be held there periodically.

Contractors are hard at work preparing the building for an early October opening. They've been instructed to create a modern restaurant while preserving the building's historical elements.

Much of the original facade will remain intact, though a double entry will be added. The brick walls and ornate ceiling inside will be renovated.

At the same time, said Ecklund, granite, chrome and nickel accents will be added to give the place a modern look.

"Now that we've got our own building, we can create our own kind of space," Ecklund said.