LA GRANDE — A La Grande focal point has been given new life.
Jeanne and David Williamson purchased the historic building at the corner of Washington Avenue and Depot Street on Friday, Aug. 20. The La Grande couple plan on running their labeling business on the first floor of the former Elks Lodge and using the rest of the space for community events.
“We’re really excited about it,” Jeanne Williamson said. “For the last few years, I’ve been looking at that building and it’s just been driving me nuts.”
The Williamsons own Evermine, a Portland-based custom labeling company that ships across the country and overseas. The duo travel back and forth to Portland, but spend most of their time in La Grande since moving to the area three years ago.
The couple have big plans for the big building, most recently the home of the Maridell Center, but the projects may take a number of years. The initial plan is to move Evermine from Portland to La Grande, utilizing the first floor as production and office space. The Williamsons intend to renovate the ballroom on the top story of the building, as well as bring new life to the basement area.
The Williamsons have owned Evermine for 20 years, keeping residence in the Portland area for most of that time. After falling in love with La Grande, they are looking to fully move to the city and bring their company along with them.
There are several roadblocks currently in the way, such as gaining permission from the city, figuring out staffing and adjusting the company’s shipping. The business moving to La Grande could open up new job opportunities in the area, which David Williamson says is a major goal.
“We have roughly 20 employees and we could anticipate about a third of them would move over here, another third that would work remotely and the other third would likely be local hires,” he said.
With a total square footage of more than 21,000, the Maridell Center’s first floor would provide enough space for the entire company’s production.
According to Jeanne Williamson, the only other way they could move the business to La Grande would be to construct a new building in the business park.
“We’d really like to be able to bring some jobs here to La Grande,” she said. “Right now we’re inviting our staff and hosting them for a weekend out here to spend a couple of days and nights so they have an idea of what it’s like.”
Keeping the focus on the community
Avid dancers, the Williamsons are ecstatic about the opportunities presented by the upstairs ballroom. The large ballroom space needs a facelift, but the Williamsons have long-term plans to bring new life to the top floor. In addition, ADA accessibility upgrades would be part of the renovation process in the upstairs area.
“We would really like to bring that ballroom back,” Jeanne Williamson said. “We’d love to just have it be for the community for events, yoga, concerts, dancing and more.”
The ballroom space has historically been used for occasions such as proms, weddings and other high-capacity events.
“It would be a gift to the community,” Jeanne Williamson said. “We could rent it out, but the object of the upstairs would not be for profit. It would be to provide something to the community.”
As for the basement, the Williamsons are optimistic that the space can become a new community gathering spot. They have flirted with the idea of turning the downstairs into a brew pub or wine bar, but the renovations would take quite some time before that would be a possibility. The bottom floor served as a laser tag arena in the recreation center, but is believed to have been an indoor swimming pool when the building was constructed in 1914.
This is not the first time the Williamsons have worked on a renovation project in La Grande, as the couple previously purchased the spaces at 1113 Adams Ave. and 1115 Adams Ave.
The building currently hosts Rebel Woolworks and Eleven Fifteen Salon & Spa. Jeanne Williamson repainted the exterior of the building and the couple restored the interior after it had been used for Kneads Bakery for more than 20 years.
New beginning, new name
The Williamsons have a ways to go before their ambitions for the former Maridell Center will be achieved, starting from square one: They are looking to change the name to reflect the La Grande community.
“It’s a crucial building in the town, and we would like to give it a name that represents La Grande and the town’s history,” David Williamson said.
According to Jeanne Williamson, the new owners want the name to resonate with La Grande residents because the couple only moved to the area within the last few years.
“We’re looking for a name for the building that will help people realize what La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley is all about,” she said.
Readers can send name suggestions to the Williamsons at their email address, Jeannew@evermine.com.