As Chinook School celebrates success, other neglected assets deserve our attention
A drive through small-town America can easily turn into a fantasy building-buying adventure, spotting boarded-up architectural prizes and wishing they could be cheaply transported someplace more lively and appreciative. Dotting the landscape are antiquated stores and surplus schoolhouses – neglected like elegant older men and women hoping for dance partners.
Though change can be slow to come and difficult to recognize, step back a little and it’s possible to discern a remarkable amount of renovation and repurposing of old structures that once seemed doomed.
Consider the Chinook (Wash.) School and Gymnasium. To borrow a British phrase, the building on U.S. Highway 101 was “made redundant” by school consolidation more than 40 years ago. An orphan without an educational purpose in Ocean Beach School District, for a time it housed the Chinook Indian Tribe’s office and the community food bank in a depressing setting of peeling paint and other deferred maintenance.
Thanks to a robust group of Chinook School alumni who were determined to not let the building irreversibly decay, the gym came back to life two years ago and is now a venue for everything from weddings and funerals to symphony concerts and Shakespearean actors. With a recent state grant added to an enormous amount of donated local money and labor, the classroom/administration building has a clear path to restoration in 2016.
Like other buildings run by nonprofit groups, the Chinook School will require regular fundraising for operations and maintenance. As every property owner knows all too well, there are no enduring victories when it comes to keeping up buildings in the coastal climate.
Many other redevelopment successes have happened in the past decade – from Seaside’s Gilbert District to Astoria’s Guy Boyington Building. Together with the Liberty Theater, dozens of other commercial/industrial buildings and too many houses to count, all this translates into a new lease on life. Bringing these structure back for the 21st century provides us with historical context and original materials that couldn’t be newly purchased for any price.
It’s also important to recognize that preservation is one of the most effective means of energy conservation.
One may also see in our region buildings that are in serious danger of rotting away. Some private owners are making commendable strides, but much of downtown Ilwaco, Wash., is a tragedy, with the landmark Doupe Building in desperate need of passionate defenders, while its companion Odd Fellows Building is perhaps to the point of needing to be put out of its misery. Near Chinook, Fort Columbia is an afterthought for Washington State Parks, but could be a magnificent school of performing arts or a corporate retreat center.
The big take-away lesson from Chinook School is that a historical building’s salvation requires teamwork, plus personal tenacity and passion. Our area can be most grateful to be so well endowed with such restoration leadership.
It’s still possible to spot a few unpolished gems, including some that are rotting away.