December 09, 2003 11:00 pm

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

The old Foley Station restaurant in the Foley Building on Adams Avenue closed on Sept. 2. The new one opens Dec. 17.

And John Ecklund, one of three partners in the new version of the upscale eatery at 1114 Adams, says that is nothing short of amazing.

"It seemed like it took forever, but in reality we did it in just four months," a beaming Ecklund said as he gave a pre-grand opening tour of the new premises on Thursday.

If Ecklund and partners Merlyn Baker and John Barth seem proud of the new establishment, perhaps they should be.

Using local contractors almost exclusively, they gutted a building constructed in 1892 and built within its walls a restaurant to rival the fanciest in Portland, San Francisco or even New York City.

"It's a contemporary historical restaurant," Ecklund said, pointing out how modern accents of dark wood and chrome have been blended with some of the building's original features, including a skylight, a tin ceiling, and brick and stone walls.

"We gutted it. We took it right down to its shell, and then we put it back together," Ecklund said. Most features from the previous operation have been retained, and some new ones have been added, Ecklund said.

For faster customer service, a double kitchen has been installed, one for daily use, the other for banquets and catered functions.

Near the kitchen — which is open so that customers can see food being prepared — is a full-service, non-smoking bar, and downstairs there are banquet facilities that will accommodate more than 50 people.

In the old digs, the selection of alcoholic beverages was limited, and a small banquet room could accommodate 25 persons at most.

"This is huge for La Grande," Ecklund said. "If you've got 50 people you need to feed at one time, where else can you go?"

A wine grotto adjacent to the banquet room can be reserved for smaller, more intimate gatherings, Ecklund said.

Ecklund said the local art community will make contributions to the decor in rotating art shows. Work by individuals and groups will be hung on the walls and replaced by others about every three months.

Art done by local children is featured as the restaurant opens.

Final cost of the Foley Station project hasn't been tabulated, at more than $250,000.

At least seven local contractors had a hand in the project, Ecklund noted.

"We were very committed to keeping it local," he said. ‘There were times when we had 20 people working in here at once." Ecklund said

Jeff Weaver of La Grande was general contractor for the project. Other local contractors were hired to do drywall, painting, tile and carpet work, plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.

The building has four separate heating and air conditioning systems, Ecklund said, so that temperature can be regulated room-by-room.

Foley Station will provide 35 full-time and part-time jobs. Ecklund said.

The restaurant will be open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 17, the establishment will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.