Historic hall dusts itself off

BUTTE FALLS — Add just a few more dabs of paint to a $20,000 rehabilitation project and the town's 55-year old Community Hall will soon look like a youngster again.

Hand-built in 1952 with the hard work of local citizens as a combination meeting hall, roller rink and emergency shelter, the hall was beginning to look tired and frail.

Window sills were chipped and glass was cracked. Water and cold winter air leaked inside. The dark brown shake siding, a symbol of the surrounding forest, crumbled and fell at the slightest touch.

"The structure was still sound," said Butte Falls Mayor, Ron Ormond, "but the outside of the building hadn't been worked on in a very long time."

The town had already replaced the roof and spent $11,000 building a hand-tooled, wood-railed handicapped entrance with a protective roof.

"We only had $5,000 on hand," Ormond said. "It wasn't enough to fix everything."

The town applied for a grant to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, and to their surprise, they got it.

"Ron told me he wanted to hold City Council meetings in the hall and rent it out to make money for the town," said the department's Roseburg representative, Darcy Strahan. "It was obvious they needed help."

Strahan took the application last spring and in August called Ormond and told him to get started. The department had approved a $20,000 grant.

Ormond got help from students and the town's unemployed.

"They were quick," said Ormond. "By December, all the shakes were pulled off, the building was papered and sealed and we were buying materials."

Shakes were replaced with cement-fiber siding and the shuttered windows gave way to modern double-paned insulated glass with sills that will never need painting.

The lack of outside paint hasn't held up the hall's rebirth. It hosted its first wedding just a few weeks ago.

"We literally had just finished," said City Recorder, Lori Paxton. "Ron was waxing the black and white tile floor we installed on the lower level, when the bride came in to set up for her wedding."

Charleen Brown, a local historian, has more than a few pleasant memories of the Community Hall.

"We used to have dances over there," she said. "You had to open the windows and then the shutters. It just got so hot in there when you were dancing."

Brown and her husband Warren, were in high school when the hall was first built and although they never skated on the wooden floor upstairs, their children did.

"The town financed the hall by buying up some federal timber," she said. "They would cut it down in their spare time and then sell the logs to a lumber company."

She said most of the men in town worked in the woods and were members of the Lions Club and the Community Club.

"When they wanted to build something, it was a community effort," she said. "They built the hall all by themselves."

Her father helped with construction and even her husband Warren, who was barely out of high school, pitched in with his father and brothers.

"For a long time there was a little old shack sitting where they built the hall," Brown said with a chuckle. "That was the old City Hall, and at one time there was a jail nearby."

After being dedicated as the "W. J. Thomas Community Hall," the building finally has a name. William Thomas lived in Butte Falls and was woods superintendent for Medford Corp. (Medco), the largest timber company in the area. Although she isn't sure, Brown suspects Thomas was in charge of the hall building project.

"I went to school with his daughter," she said, "and Warren worked for him."

When Thomas died in 1955 at age 56, Mail Tribune Managing Editor Eric W. Allen wrote a special editorial.

—¦ He was an up-to-date logger, who mixed the skill for cutting 'em down and dragging 'em out with the long-range view of the dedicated conservationist," he wrote. "And he was one of the nicest guys in the world."

"He was a good boss and well-liked," said Brown. "I think he'd be glad to see that the community center is coming back to life."

Ormond said painting of the hall should be finished in a couple of weeks.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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