New owners plan to return Union Hotel to stately status

By By Mike Shearer Observer Corresppondent July 04, 2012 01:51 pm

UNION—Historic Union Hotel, a centerpiece in the city and closed since December, is slated to open again this week.

Its new owners, Charlie Morden and Ruth Rush, have readied 15 rooms for hotel guests. The hotel was built in 1920 and opened in 1921.

“We fell in love with the building,” said Rush Thursday. “We are slowly going through the building and the plan is evolving.”

Morden said they plan to spruce up the hotel and return it to its former grand status in the community. 

“The old girl is a little sad, and having been the center of the community for so many years, it should be again,” he said.

He said he envisions the hotel hosting, as it once did, wedding and birthday parties. “It cries out to be fully alive,” he said.

He said they are licensing its restaurant though they haven’t yet decided whether it will just serve guests or the public at large.

Morden owned and operated the Riverside Inn on the McKenzie River in Western Oregon for 25 years, where he was also the chef and specialized in Northwest cuisine, menu items such as salmon and prime rib.

“This was a big jump for us,” Morden said. But not as big a jump as it was for Rosie, their sheepdog used to a huge yard and now impatiently waiting to serve as greeter at the hotel front door. Sheepdogs, Morden noted, were bred and used to protect sheep, and “she is ever-vigilant to protect us and other lost lambs from the wolves.”

Rush has strong Union County ties. Although she has been teaching German in Elmira, she lived in this area from 1972 to 1974 and again from 1976 to 1990. Two of her three degrees are from Eastern Oregon University. One of her daughters is a Union resident. Another lives in Walla Walla.

Morden, a Stanford graduate, is a “fifth generation Oregonian,” whose great-grandmother had a fountain lunch and boarding house on the waterfront in Portland at about the same time the Union Hotel was built.” He added, “So the hotel business is in my blood.”

He said the hotel building is “all in all in very good condition, particularly the plumbing and electrical.”

The third floor, which hasn’t been used recently, “needs to be completely rebuilt,” Rush said, but that will come a little later. Since they also are living in the hotel, they are planning to renovate the owners’ living quarters.

Tentatively they are considering the possibility of creating a few apartments to rent and will consider renting space on the bottom floor to small businesses that are compatible with the hotel. The RV parking in back will continue as always.

The second floor rooms are ready for guests. Each room has been individually decorated and has a theme. The Clark Gable Room is where the famous actor once stayed when he came to fish in Catherine Creek. The Annie Oakley Room is actually where the actress who played Oakley stayed. The rooms have authentic antiques and fixtures, such as original claw-footed tubs.

Rush is doing research with the hope of eventually offering walking tours of the famous downtown buildings.

Morden emphasized he and Rush want to be a part of the Union community. He said he understands Union residents feel the hotel belongs to the whole community. “So we want it to be what the people want it to be,” he said.