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Jacksonville or Jackson Hole?

Amovie in which a gold-mining town falls into a network of tunnels pops into Jacksonville Mayor Bruce Garrett's mind when he sizes up a new sinkhole behind the U.S. Hotel.

Garrett said the hole in the parking area reminds him of the 1969 movie "Paint Your Wagon," which will be shown during the 150th anniversary of Jacksonville in September because locals like to think the wacky cinematic town bears a striking resemblance to their own.

The sinkhole, one of many that have popped up over the years, first appeared in June in the parking lot behind the hotel, which fronts California Street. The cantaloupe-sized opening in the asphalt reveals a sunken area underneath that is bigger than it appears on top.

"It's growing," said Garrett on Thursday. "It could be connected to a tunnel down the street."

A honeycomb of tunnels and wells lies underneath this former gold-mining town, resulting in occasional sinkholes that often reveal artifacts from the 1800s.

"We had one on Eighth Street where a big chunk fell in," Garrett said.

The newest hole in the ground didn't appear to be threatening the hotel or nearby buildings.

Fixing the hole was a problem for the cash-strapped Southern Oregon Historical Society, which takes care of the hotel and other historical buildings in Jacksonville.

At first, the society asked the city whether it would consider paying for the repairs, citing its tenuous financial circumstances and the lack of maintenance staff.

Garrett said the city declined because it has its own financial needs.

Allison Weiss, executive director of the historical society, said she received several quotes for the job, ranging from $1,307 to more than $3,000. The low bidder is Bradley Excavation in Talent, which is expected to start on the project soon.

Surrounded by construction tape, the hole drew some attention on a recent afternoon from people speculating it might be a tunnel or something else to do with gold mining.

"I wonder where that goes," said Fire Chief Chris Arnold. "I wonder if there's a mine under there."

While many locals think "Paint Your Wagon" is based loosely on Jacksonville's history, the Governor's Office of Film & Television doesn't have any indication of the link between the two. The movie was partially filmed near Baker, though. And, because of the film, then Gov. Tom McCall created the office of film and television.

Garrett said the extent of the depression is unknown, but if artifacts are uncovered they will be preserved and state officials will be notified.

Jackson County has been trying to sell the hotel, which it owns. Garrett said he hopes whoever buys it will spend the time to make repairs to the building.

Just a cursory look at the brickwork reveals mortar has come out and the face of one brick has eroded, leaving the soft interior exposed. Garrett said he was worried that new mortar was a type of cement that was harder than the original, which could cause cracking problems for old bricks that need a little give.

While the hole behind the hotel likely wouldn't be life-threatening if someone stepped in it, holes in Jacksonville do cause problems, sometimes undercutting streets and gardens.

Weiss said her family was walking to the Britt Festival a couple of months ago and discovered another hole in Jacksonville.

"My daughter was walking down the street on the way to the Britt Festival and her foot fell into a hole," she said. Her 4-year-old was not injured.

Weiss said she wouldn't know the difference between a sinkhole and a regular hole. She said she didn't report the problem to the city.

"We're not complainers," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

Jacksonville Mayor Bruce Garrett peers into a sinkhole that appeared in the pavement behind Jacksonville's historic U.S. Hotel. - Bob Pennell