The Sparta Building originally was home to car dealerships before Western Auto Supply Co. moved in. - Southern Oregon Historical Society

The Sparta Building: A Classic Revival

In 1911, the distinctive curved-front Sparta Building opened on the corner of Main Street and Riverside Avenue in Medford, becoming an instant landmark at the busiest intersection in the valley in its day.

Over the years, the classic revival structure with ionic columns fell into disrepair, and a new facade marred renowned architect Frank Clark's design.

Nearly 100 years after the building opened, a new owner has begun restoring the Sparta Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

"If you are doing this kind of work, you might as well get it as close to the original as you possibly can," said owner Carl Coffman, a Portland developer and excavation contractor. "We will have it pretty much looking like it did when it was originally built."

Workers already have exposed the Ionic columns, buried under a newer concrete facade, that graced the corner entrance. Most of the renovations on the first floor will be removed to restore the original design.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency agreed to provide $100,000 toward the project on Thursday because of the extensive repairs to the exterior. The urban renewal money is coming out of a popular facade improvement program.

Coffman said he bought the building a month ago, trading other properties he had around the state in a complicated transaction to close the deal. "It was like a big NBA trade," he said.

The property is owned under Coffman's company, Tater Rental LLC of Oregon City.

He's now budgeting almost $500,000 for seismic repairs and installation of an elevator as well as restoration of the facade.

"That's my budget," he said. But Coffman acknowledges the project easily could cost more.

He's got his own crew working on the building and living in a four-bedroom rental while in Medford during the week.

Coffman said he's handled this kind of restoration work before. He worked on a $6 million project in downtown Portland that now houses Brasserie Montmarte.

He's trying to line up a restaurant to occupy the first floor of the Sparta, hoping that someone will move in after the six-month project is completed. The second floor will be available for offices.

George Kramer, a local preservation expert who is a consultant for the Sparta project, said he thinks Medford residents will be surprised at the look of the building once completed.

"It's clearly one of Medford's more architecturally significant buildings," he said.

Built by Elmer Childers, the Sparta was developed by orchardist John Root, a former resident of Sparta, Wisc. (Corrected: This story has been updated to provide the correct hometown of John Root.)

The original opening in the front of the building was big enough so that cars could drive in and out for Gates Ford, followed by Rogue River Chevrolet and then Western Auto Supply.

Before the freeway, the intersection was the gateway to the Crater Lake Highway, and Pacific Highway was the main road through the valley.

After World War II, various restaurants and taverns occupied the downstairs of the Sparta Building.

In the 1920s, the upper floor housed a radio station that would eventually become KMED, as well as rooms that offered dance and music lessons.

In the 1940s, the building housed the headquarters during the construction of Camp White.

The upper floor hasn't been occupied for four decades after a fire, though various owners have tackled some work. Thick curved windows are still in the building and will remain. A previous owner put energy-efficient windows in the top floor.

Kramer said the owner will recreate the leaded-glass transoms above the first-floor windows.

Like many buildings in downtown Medford, Kramer said there is no parking for the Sparta. A parking garage is located nearby and there is parking on the street.

Kramer and Coffman are relying on vintage photos to help them restore the building, as well as details they uncover during demolition work.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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