Putting the history back in historic Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE — Mayor Paul Becker wants to reinvigorate historic preservation efforts in a town that is designated as a national historic landmark.

"There needs to be a community awareness and a committed persistence in the preservation of historic architecture," said Becker. "It takes a little bit of shining a light on it ... that's what part of my task is here."

Becker wants to rouse the City Council and Historic Architectural Review Commission to institute programs to protect what already exists.

Financial climate has a lot to do with the level of enthusiasm for preservation, said Linda Graham, owner of Scheffel's Toys, located in a historic building she owns. She's lived in town since 1966 and remembers when preservation was not prominent in people's minds.

"I think the ebb and flow is that it costs so much to maintain and fix historical buildings," said Graham. "It's not exactly a necessity. You have to make hard choices."

A resurgence in interest will occur when the economy improves, Graham predicts.

Three situations in town caught Becker's attention: moving a historic building, a brick that fell from an old structure downtown and nearly hit a woman, and a visit to another historic Oregon town that may lose a building.

HARC and the Planning Commission approved movement of a historic Fourth Street structure on the same lot to make room for the construction of another building. Codes governing the historic district allow such moves. Becker said the codes need to be reviewed for possible revision.

"I let everyone know in the city this is terrible. Nobody is at fault for this, but it never should have happened," said Becker. "When we say a building is historic, we also mean by that its setting. The entire site is set down historically, not just the bricks and mortar."

The concept of spacial relationships was never covered in the codes, said Becker. He said other actions have considered spacial relationships, such as a ruling to preserve the historic roofscape by not allowing new, taller buildings to be constructed.

Becker and City Administrator Jeff Alvis visited Oakland, a town of 900 with a historic structures.

"One of them may crumble within a year, the neglect has been so bad," said Becker.

A historic preservation grant program run by the city since 2008 provides 50/50 matches for owners who want to do repairs. This year, $35,000 was available from a city-held endowment of approximately $650,000 created largely from the Vern Beebe estate.

A commercial building at 110 S. Oregon St. received a large amount of this year's funding for brick repointing — a process to replace the mortar, said Amy Stevenson, city planning director.

Residences and another business also received funds. Applications for the next round of grants will be available in December or January.

"There's a number of buildings in town that could use some work," said Stevenson. "Some are owned by the county, some privately, some by the city."

Last year, a state preservation grant paid for repointing and other work on the city-owned 1855 Brunner Building at Main and Oregon streets.

Oregon's Historic Preservation Office also recently sent down a person to update a list of all historic structures in the landmark district. The new list, available in November, will let the city know which buildings need attention, said Stevenson.

Becker said he and Alvis are searching for additional grants that could provide money and brainstorming other possibilities for preservation work.

"This all takes time and money," said Becker.

Becker penned a column on historic preservation for the monthly Jacksonville Review in September.

"I'm talking it up where I go, on the phone, in writing or in the office," said Becker.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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