The High Point

The Grange Co-op grain elevator looms 135 feet above the city of Central Point and prominently protrudes from the landscape along Interstate 5.Jamie Lusch

With majestic Mount McLoughlin, the Table Rocks' skyward thrust and the ramparts of two mountain ranges, the Rogue Valley has more than its share of awe-inspiring heights.

Man-made structures simply can't compete with nature's architecture. So it's no wonder the region's tallest building exists for function, not form.

But what about the Manor?

Perched some 300 feet above the valley floor, the Rogue Valley Manor and neighboring Skyline Plaza fall just short of Jackson County’s tallest building. But far and away, they command the best views.

Each 128 feet in height, the apartment complexes share the title of tallest building in Medford. They dominate the city’s southern skyline and the 668-acre retirement community of 1,000 residents on Barneburg Hill.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the 10-story, distinctively turquoise Manor is not only older but more than twice the size of its sister structure. Inside its 395,252 square feet are 229 apartments, dining facilities, a fitness center, swimming pool and numerous other amenities.

Completed in 1998, Skyline Plaza rises six stories and contains 170,795 square feet of 75 higher-end apartments and common areas. Although its decorative roofline matches the Manor in height, the Plaza’s livable space falls short of 100 feet from the ground below, says Sarah Prewitt-Smith, the Manor’s director of marketing and public relations.

But what about Ashland’s hotel?

Ashland boasted the tallest building between Portland and San Francisco when Lithia Springs Hotel’s “nine stories of safety and comfort” opened in 1925.

The 112-foot tower lost its status as Jackson County’s highest about two decades later. But it remained among the region’s most recognized landmarks, even as it weathered several reincarnations over 50 years.

In 1960, the hotel gained an English tudor theme and was renamed the Mark Antony in homage to the growing Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Refurbishing reduced the number of rooms but added a swimming pool and expanded the ballroom.

Yet tourists gradually turned to motels and, by the 1970s, “The Mark” was regarded as a flophouse of cheap lodging and apartments. Much-needed renovations bankrupted its owner by 1982. Fifteen years later, the hotel lay derelict, its original furniture auctioned off.

Its 1998 purchase by Doug and Becky Neuman ushered in a full remodel that restored the hotel to its original grandeur under the moniker Ashland Springs Hotel.

The Grange Co-op grain elevator looms 135 feet above the city of Central Point and prominently protrudes from the landscape along Interstate 5. No mere landmark, it's a monument to the Rogue Valley's longtime reliance on agriculture and, since 1947, a cornerstone of Grange operations.

"We take care of it, and thank goodness it lasts," says Grange general manager Barry Robino.

The original elevator burned in a massive 1961 fire but was rebuilt a year later on the same site, virtually to the same specifications. It remains the only feed plant in Southern Oregon and shows no signs of slowing down.

Containing 35 commodity bins that hold about 2,000 tons of corn, wheat, oats, barley, beet pulp and soybean meal, the elevator enables the Grange to make "almost an infinite number of different feeds" for livestock, says Robino. Many of the mixtures are distributed through the Grange's seven retail stores in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties.

Grange feed is mixed and shipped daily, traveling as far north as Canby and as far south as Ferndale, Calif.

As often as it can, the Grange purchases commodity grain — wheat, oats and barley — from farmers in the Rogue Valley and Klamath Basin. Shipments are unloaded from rail cars that run behind the elevator and from trucks arriving on Front and Pine streets.

Although a mechanized system of buckets fills the bins, elevator employees have to check their levels from the upper floors of the building.

That means several times daily, someone climbs into a counterweighted metal cage and manually hoists it up through the building's three stories, mainly consisting of metal tubes and machinery. Brian Wilkerson, manager of Grange feed operations, likens the exertion to doing pull-ups.

"Our production supervisor does it many, many, many times a day," he says.

The reward for such hard work is glimpsing through windows and service doors an unparalleled valley vista.

"It's a long way up there," says Wilkerson. "You can see, like, forever."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.


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