Mason Frank Serean puts the finishing touches on the columns in front of the 1911 Frank Clark-designed Sparta Building on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue in Medford. Unexpected issues have delayed completion and upped the cost of renovating the building. - Bob Pennell

Restoring its glory

Workers have gone into overtime restoring the historic Sparta building in downtown Medford, after encountering unexpected problems with the columns, the roof, the metal cornice, as well as seismic upgrades.

Carl Coffman, a Portland developer who owns the building, said he'll probably sink some $700,000 into the project, rather than the $500,000 he originally planned to spend.

"Everything you touch you have to rebuild," he said. "I should have known that."

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, the 1911 building was designed by renowned local architect Frank Clark, who is credited with many of the area's more unique buildings.

Within decades after it opened, the classic revival structure fell into disrepair and a new facade obscured the iconic columns that were revealed only last year.

Coffman said recreating the original design has been a challenge, pushing the finish date from June to late fall or early next year.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency contributed $100,000 toward the facade restoration.

What attracts the most attention for passers-by is the work on the two fluted columns at the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue, once the busiest intersection in the valley.

Local mason Frank Serean said he's worked on columns before. "But not any like this," he said.

Over several months, Serean has performed a meticulous rebuild, refashioning the 11 flutes in the columns damaged by previous remodeling of the building. The new metal capital, a small ornate piece at the top of the columns, was 2 inches larger than expected, so Serean said he has had to rework the columns to match.

When the Sparta opened, it was an automobile showroom, and cars could fit between the columns and through the doors of the building.

Throughout the interior, workers have opened up walls, floors and ceilings. The roof was ripped off and a new, beefier roof will now support two new air-conditioning systems for the upstairs and downstairs.

To accommodate the elevator shaft, a shed-like structure was built above the roof line and includes a vent that can open in the event of a fire to let smoke out.

The brick parapet that rises above the roof is being reinforced with metal bracing as a safety precaution. "The number one killer in earthquakes is falling bricks," Coffman said.

Two old-fashioned skylights, which look like miniature greenhouses, will be refitted onto the roof.

The cornice, a decorative piece running along the roof line, had to be refabricated on the Main Street side. Coffman said he found a company in Tillamook that could undertake the metal fabrication.

Other unexpected work was found. Moisture trapped amid five or six layers of flooring caused rot, so workers had to tear out the floor.

The first floor of the building had the most changes. Transoms that resemble leaded glass have been installed above the new windows.

Black and red tile as well as ornate vents have been attached to the building below the windows.

Inside, steel bracing and other metal reinforcements have been attached to make the building more earthquake-resistant.

Coffman doesn't have any tenants for the 6,000-square-foot downstairs, though a few parties have expressed interest. The upstairs has 14 offices. Local property manager Scott Henselman is handling the leases, Coffman said.

The Sparta was originally built by Elmer Childers and developed by orchardist John Root, a former resident of Sparta, Wisc.

As the project progresses, Coffman said, he can see his restoration vision take shape.

"I'm proud of the work the guys are doing," he said.

Despite the unexpected difficulties, Coffman said, he is taking the setbacks in stride.

"It's all good," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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