The renovated Sparta Building will be open to the public Saturday for tours of the 100-year-old downtown icon. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Sparta restoration project ready to offer a sneak peek

After more than a year's worth of restoration work and just a few months before its 101st birthday, the Sparta Building in downtown Medford will celebrate its rebirth with a Saturday open house.

Saturday morning, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., residents will get their chance to go inside for an up-close look.

"It's just stunning how the building has been restored, inside and out," said Diane Raymond, interim executive director for the Heart of Medford Association. "It has an amazing atmosphere and you can almost feel the history. It truly has been returned to its former glory."

The unique, curved-front building on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue had undergone many interior and exterior modifications over the years and after a century was starting to show it.

That's when Carl Coffman, a Portland developer, came in.

A collector of sorts of old buildings who enjoys bringing structures back to life, Coffman bought the Sparta Building and in February of 2011 got approval for his renovation plan from Medford's Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission.

To help with the extensive repairs, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency provided $100,000 toward the project.

"After 100 years, there's so much deterred maintenance that everything is almost rotten and you almost can't find a place to stop," Coffman said.

As his crew started work they began discovering unanticipated problems and Coffman soon found his original renovation budget of $500,000 being pushed well over $700,000.

"Of course I'm over budget," Coffman said, almost with a laugh. "But it's all good. I like the building and I like what we've done to it.

"I'd tell you how much we've spent if I could, but at this point I really don't know. It wasn't my highest priority anyway. I was committed to just getting this building done."

One of the most visible problems Coffman faced was the rough condition of the ornate entrance columns that had been chipped and gouged while being hidden from view during a 1966 renovation.

"When we were having trouble finding someone to repair them," Coffman said, "Frank Serean, a retired stone mason who had the skills to do the job, just happened along. I hired him and he went to work — a good-hearted character who I really like a lot."

"We had the columns," Serean said, "but the flutes were messed up and some were completely missing and really, the original casting of the columns wasn't that perfect anyway."

Serean, 69, grabbed his hand trowel and began pushing concrete into a form surrounding the columns.

Once he got to the top he realized replacement capitals, the ornate scrolling pieces placed at the top of the columns, were too big. He had to do the job again.

"We had to fatten the columns up just a little bit to make them match," Coffman said.

To the average sidewalk superintendant the columns look perfect, but Serean said he isn't satisfied and has a little more work to do.

"I walked myself into a little bit of history," he said. "Maybe the last work I'll be ever be able to do in the valley. Mr. Coffman is a true gentleman and I want this to be right."

The second floor of the building, used only for storage since an early 1980s fire, now has 14 office spaces available. Coffman said a third of that space is already spoken for.

"I personally hope someone comes along who'd like to start a brew pub on the lower level," Coffman said. "It's got a little bar in there that's pretty cool. I might even have to start one myself."

Coffman has the experience. Two years ago he finished renovating a 103-year-old Portland building that also houses the Brasserie Montmartre restaurant. Coffman is part owner of the restaurant.

"I grew up in Myrtle Point," he said, "and I never went to Medford except when heading south on I-5. Now, every time I'm down there, I walk away saying what a great city Medford is."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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