The burned shell of the Colver House, one of the oldest structures in Jackson County, faces demolition after it was sold during a foreclosure auction Wednesday. - Jim Craven

Colver House set for demolition

The burned-out shell of the historic Colver House appears set for demolition now that it belongs to a Medford man who had made a loan, secured by the historic property in downtown Phoenix, to Jerry and Jennifer Greer and was never repaid.

Thom Hamlin, whose individual retirement account had made a $240,000 loan that the Greers defaulted, was the only bidder in a foreclosure auction held Wednesday.

Hamlin bid $275,584 to discharge the original $240,000 loan amount and other interest and fees involved in the foreclosure. He will get the deed to the house, which was destroyed in a dramatic fire just days before the foreclosure sale first was set in September.

He and a related trust, the W.T. Hamlin Trust, have a demolition permit to clear hazards from the property at 150 S. Main St., according to records at Phoenix's building and planning department.

Hamlin and his attorney, Larry Hammack, said the first step will be to clean up the property to ensure it is safe, but details about what will happen at the location won't be available for a month or more.

"His intent is to get it cleared," Hammack said. "There's no benefit to leaving anything standing."

Hamlin and Hammack said they had been in touch with historical societies about salvaging items from the property.

Historic preservationists hope three remaining walls of the home, built in 1856, can be saved and cite tax advantages to restoring the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We have lots of vacant parcels for development," said George Kramer, of Kramer & Co. Historic Preservation Consultants in Ashland. "This is the only site with an 1856 structure on it. I think it would make sense to keep that option open, at least until it doesn't make sense anymore."

Unless a project calling for bare land is on the horizon, it makes sense to leave the walls standing, with the potential to restore the building and preserve history, he said. The gutted structure even could make it fairly easy to add modern amenities, such as restaurant equipment, he said.

"It would engender public support and marketing potential to reuse the building," Kramer said.

The walls, built with massive 4-by-16-inch timbers dovetailed together in a time when Indian attacks were still a concern in the Rogue Valley, likely are sturdy enough to withstand even severe fire damage, he said, citing a report filed with Phoenix officials by Belfor Property Restoration's Central Point office.

Belfor was hired by State Farm Insurance to assist in the company's investigation into the cause and origin of the Sept. 14 fire that destroyed the home and sent the Greers leaping from a second-story window to escape the flames. Jackson County Fire District No. 5 and the state fire marshal's office couldn't determine the cause of the fire, which started in the back of the 153-year-old home at about 11:30 p.m.

The Belfor plan, submitted with the permit for the private investigation, said the investigators wanted to keep the historic home intact while they probed the rubble. It said reinforcement of charred beams, some shoring of the upper walls, and the removal of brick chimneys could allay most safety concerns for investigators.

"The house has sustained significant fire damage, but has considerable structural integrity due to the method and large timbers used to build the exterior walls," the plan said.

Dick Croly, president of the Phoenix Historical Society, said his organization would like to have some of the massive beams to preserve at its museum if demolition goes forward. He said the society's board would discuss the property and the plans at its meeting Nov. 11.

"It's all about money and it's a bad time for that," he said, noting historical societies in Jackson County and private investors all are coming up short right now.

"Nobody has a unique and wondrous plan for saving it," he added.

Southern Oregon Historical Society curator Suzanne Warner said she had shared historical photos and other research about the Colver House, which had served as a stage stop and a lodge, with Hamlin and investigators from the Greers' insurance company.

"We wanted to make sure they knew about the history and the importance of the historic registry," she said. "It's part of our mission to make sure the story stays alive."

Hammack confirmed the Greers did have insurance on the historic home they had owned since 1989, but had failed to include Hamlin as a payee in case of loss, a violation of the trust deed. State Farm Insurance officials said all insurance details were confidential.

The Greers, who each suffered injuries in their escape from the fire, reportedly are staying with friends in Medford. They could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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