Dr. Pierce Barn still in jeopardy
My apologies to Meredith Wilson who belted out the above tune (albeit a different version) as he portrayed a con man convincing a small town to deal with a problem they didn’t have.
Cottage Grove on the other hand, has a real problem. Because our beloved Dr. Pierce Barn is going to go away — torn down, sold to a collector or otherwise disposed of — because the current property owner no longer wishes to bear the responsibility of caring for it and no one else has stepped up to the plate to purchase it.
Needless to say, everyone involved is in an uproar. When I say ‘everyone,’ I mean EVERYONE! The owner, the Historical Society, business owners, the city and thousands of us residents who cherish Cottage Grove’s rich historical past.
History loving visitors who come to Cottage Grove will be appalled if Dr. Pierce’s Barn isn’t here to welcome them. Fast Food Row is a poor substitute for a painted Pierce Barn. It is an iconic piece of advertising art and it will certainly be missed.
A few weeks ago I received an email from some folks in Salem (strangers to me) who wanted to know what was happening to the Chambers Railroad Bridge. The couple comes to town periodically to admire our murals, our covered bridges, do a little shopping and eat at Big Stuff Barbecue. They are particularly partial to Dr. Pierce’s Barn. I assured them the bridge was coming back but I wasn’t sure about the barn.
The 1912 Dr. Pierce Barn is the most prominent of Cottage Grove’s advertising murals. The weathered old barn welcomes residents and visitors as they drop down over the bridge to hwy 99N into town. It is a fitting vintage entrance to our historical city.
Dr. Pierce’s Barn was the first barn in the country to be nominated for, accepted by and listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The acceptance of Dr. Pierce’s advertising signage set a precedent for the future. That makes Cottage Grove a trendsetting, All-American city and we need to keep up our reputation — not tear it down.
The current situation has been played out in the news and talked about all over not just locally but the county and the state. Last month the owner of the barn appeared before the Cottage Grove Historic Landmarks Commission and applied for a permit to demolish it. A stay of 90 days was recommended and another 210 days are available if other criteria are not met.
It’s an all-around sad situation. The owner doesn’t want the barn on his property; he wants to sell it. The Historical Society wants the barn but they don’t have the money to purchase it. The city of Cottage Grove doesn’t want to buy it because “they have no need for it” (according to the Register Guard newspaper).
So, we’re at an impasse. The owner has thrown down the gauntlet. The problem can no longer be ignored. Something must be done to bring all parties together and stop the demolition of this famous structure. We need a solution but the solution is going to cost money. And make no mistake; money is at the root of the barn’s problems.
So let’s look at a few options for raising money to preserve a legacy.
One possible source of funds is the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. The Historical Society approached them and they are considering whether to add the barn to its inaugural list of endangered sites and delve into solutions for the problems it has at its current location. That decision will be made this month.
Another option would be for the Historical Society to write a grant to purchase the property. I don’t know how feasible that process would be but it could be investigated.
Twenty years ago the barn was restored through a community fundraising effort. Perhaps that needs to be looked at. But a financial campaign to either dismantle and move the barn or purchase it and the property would be very expensive:
1. First, to move the barn to another location, an affordable and suitable property would have to be found. Then, $30,000 paid to the owner plus a similar amount for property and moving fees.
2. To purchase the land where it is currently located, the barn and the property in front of it would cost $90,000, an amount that the owner says is the assessed value. Property access would have to be negotiated and unless it is purchased by a non-profit the property taxes would be in the area of $1500 a year.
So, what do you think? Do you have any ideas on how to save the barn? Or, do you care? Let’s get a dialog going. Send me your thoughts in an email; give me a call, or write a letter to the editor.
By the way, the Cottage Grove Historical Society is hoping for a good turnout tonight, Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. The City’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Historic Demolition Permit (HA 9-10) concerning the Dr. Pierce Barn.
Both oral and written statements may be submitted whether you are opposed to or in favor of the demolition. Written statements submitted by mail must arrive prior to 5:00 p.m. on May 18 at: Community Development Department, City Hall, 400 Main Street.
One final thought: I wonder if it would help inspire cooperation and chase trouble out of town if Meredith Wilson’s 76 trombones paraded down the street during the meeting …