JACKSONVILLE — Restoration of the balcony on the 1880 U.S. Hotel on California Street has started.

The dilapidated-looking structure will be replaced with steel framework covered by wood and be open for use again.

“Essentially, it’s going to look like it did when it was new,” said Justin Caprari, whose Ashland renovation firm submitted the low bid for $222,376 for the project. He expects to finish work by the end of June.

Jackson County owns the building and leases space on the ground floor to U.S. Bank and Trolley Stop Antiques. Those businesses will remain open during the renovation. After repairs, the county will focus on leasing out the upstairs space.

Jackson County had attempted to sell the property beginning in 2010 and planned to share proceeds with the Southern Oregon Historical Society under a formula. The society took a cash payout last year.

While deemed structurally sound in 2010, the balcony was placed off-limits by the city because of signs of dry rot. The condition of the balcony was one of the things that continually came up during sales talks, said Harvey Bragg, senior deputy county administrator.

“We have people worried with the balcony the way it was,” said Bragg. “We need to take care of our facility.”

Maintaining access for pedestrians and businesses in the building during the work is the biggest challenge, said Caprari. Scaffolding is already in place, and he will construct an enclosed tent around the work area to contain dust and old paint. Lead paint was discovered when testing was done on the building

The work arrangement will include an enclosed tunnel with lights underneath the scaffolding to allow 24-hour use of the sidewalk on California in front of the building. The balcony runs along the entire front on California and around the southwest corner.

Recreation of balusters, rounded supports, for the second-floor balcony railing will be another major challenge, said Caprari. To bring the balcony up to current codes, the railing must be taller, requiring longer balusters.

Caprari worked on historic structures in New Jersey before moving to Southern Oregon several years ago. Oak Street Tank and Steel of Ashland is doing the metal frame work for the project, and other subcontractors are also being used.

The hotel was built by George Holt in 1880. The first guests were President Rutherford B. Hayes and his party. The balcony was added 10 years later, and the current one is a replica built in the 1960s. SOHS had leased the building from Jackson County for a number of years.

Under the 2010 sale plan, SOHS might have received $1 million had the building sold for an initially projected $2 million. SOHS took a $200,000 advance against the sale in 2010. Last year, it received $400,000 from Jackson County to end the agreement.

A 2010 proposal to remove the balcony for a potential lessee who wanted to establish a wine center inside sparked considerable debate. Although the balcony was sound at that time, the city had put it off-limits to people.

“Our interest is to lease it out at this point,” said Bragg. The county will not pursue a sale after the work is completed."

The upstairs includes a ballroom area, another area that may have been a barroom, a built-in cabinet system, a smaller room, restrooms and utility spaces. Over the years, the ballroom has been used for a variety of events.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com