Vacant many times since it was built in 1910, the Medford Grocery Co. warehouse has been home to a disco, a tavern, a hardware company and, perhaps soon, a radio station.

In the walls of the old brick warehouse

What can you say about a 100-year-old, vacant, brick building that most of us remember as just an empty shell?

With its entrance blocked by a cyclone fence and a hand-painted address on its wall, that old brick building on 10th Street in Medford has seen a lot of down time. But there were a few years of flashy brilliance.

Anybody remember pulling on some John Travolta pants or slipping into some Donna Summer glitter and boogying on down to Fat City?

It was the disco era of the late 1970s and early '80s when the mortar between the bricks in that old warehouse risked being blown away by the booming rhythmic beat of the Bee Gees, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the occasional Disco Duck.

For most of its life it had been nothing more than a warehouse, but for those 20 or so years, either as a discotheque or tavern, it was having a lot of fun. People were dancing, listening to music and sometimes downing a few drinks.

It all started in late 1909, when Bartholomaeus Paul Theiss announced he was going to build a two-story building along the railroad tracks to house his wholesale grocery business, the Medford Grocery Co..

With the help of his partner, Edward Welch, a recently elected Medford city councilman, Theiss got approval to build a railroad siding on 10 feet of city land next to his proposed building.

Theiss had come to Medford from Illinois in 1890 with a business associate, Fred Medynski. With Theiss providing the money and Medynski the expertise, the partners set up a whiskey and vinegar distillery, selling their products throughout Oregon and California.

By 1903, Theiss was the sole owner of the Co., and because whiskey sales had declined he was moving into the wholesale grocery business.

For seven years, as his inventory grew, his warehouse moved from just a couple of rooms in a Main Street store to a bunch of old wooden buildings on South Front Street.

In the fall of 1910, when the brick warehouse was ready, the Medford Grocery Co. could legitimately claim to be "Oregon's largest grocery wholesaler, outside of Portland." But that wouldn't last.

Early in the "Roaring '20s," Portland-based Mason-Ehrman Co., the state's largest grocery wholesaler, brought serious competition to Medford when it moved into the town's largest warehouse, just two blocks south of Theiss' Co..

In 1928, Mason-Ehrman purchased the Medford Grocery Co.'s stock and moved it out of the brick building.

For most of the next 30 years, the old brick building became a hardware and mill-supply warehouse, then it went vacant for nearly 15 years before finding new life as a tavern and disco, then it went vacant again, for at least the past 15 years.

A few weeks ago the old brick warehouse got another chance when it was donated to the JPR Foundation, which hopes to find enough funding to renovate the building and turn it into a museum and headquarters for its radio stations.

Who knows? As the old brick enters its second century, maybe there's some flashy brilliance still left.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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