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Sparta gets a spark

Medford's historic 1911 Sparta Building has attracted a lot of attention over the years for its distinctive columns, gleaming white-brick façade and curved front.

Until now, the only thing the local landmark hasn't attracted is a tenant for the first floor, even after a 2011 restoration by owner Carl Coffman.

That's all about to change as Lumiere Salon-Atelier, currently housed on the second floor behind the curved glass at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Main Street, plans a major expansion into the downstairs.

"We're going to double what we have," said MJ Scheve, owner of the salon. "Moving downstairs is a way for me to get involved in the community."

Scheve wants to create an event space in more than half of the downstairs to attract musicians, artists, foodies, baby showers, weddings and other events. She said she's already talked to community members who are interested in the space, though she wants to connect with photographers, event planners and others.

One of the key features of the downstairs is a massive oak bar that has been a feature in the Sparta for years. Scheve said it will remain a prominent part of the decor, and she's building a restaurant area near the back of the building to handle food preparation. She hopes to host farm-to-table dinners at some point.

The event space is about 3,000 square feet, and the salon in the front of the building occupies about 2,500 square feet.

Scheve plans to have the stations used by the stylists move so the building can accommodate even bigger events in the downstairs.

Lumiere occupies 645 square feet in the upstairs, where customers can look out over the downtown and the nearby mountains through the windows at the corner of the building. Scheve plans to keep this space, looking at possibly opening a yoga space.

Lumiere has four stylists, but Scheve wants to add two more plus invite other stylists from around the country to work there on a temporary basis to give the community an opportunity to keep up with the latest trends.

Scheve said she is very fond of the Sparta, which currently has tenants in the entire upstairs.

She said she talked to Coffman, the Portland owner, last year and began discussions about ideas for the building. Scheve goes to Portland three days a month to work in another salon so she can keep up with the latest in hair styling.

"She's grown a pretty nice business there," Coffman said. "She's going to draw a good focus on that corner of the city."

In 2011, Coffman budgeted about $500,000 to fix up the building, including adding an elevator. Now, he said, he's probably going to spend up to $200,000 for the improvements to the downstairs. He'd left the downstairs unfinished after the restoration work, hoping to attract a restaurant.

He said he's changing a door on the Riverside side of the building to provide a better entrance for the event space.

A mezzanine is also being added next to the salon to add more space to the building itself. Three bathrooms will be built as well.

Coffman said he will spend another couple weeks framing the downstairs, but it will take about four months to finish it and install a heating and air-conditioning system. By the time he's finished and Scheve adds her own touches to the building, it could be later in the year before it's ready.

In 2015, Restore Oregon presented the DeMuro Award to Coffman for the 1911 building, designed by well-known local architect Frank Clark. The building had received $100,000 toward restoration from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.

Also, the Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission presented a 2013 historic preservation award to Coffman. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

Built by Elmer Childers, the Sparta was developed by orchardist John Root, a former resident of Sparta, Wisconsin.

The original opening in the front of the building was big enough so that cars could drive in and out for Gates Ford, followed by Rogue River Chevrolet and then Western Auto Supply.

Before Interstate 5 was built, the intersection in front of the Sparta was the gateway to Crater Lake Highway, and Pacific Highway was the main road through the valley.

Over the years, Coffman said he's been approached by businesses that have wanted to lease the downstairs, including multiple antique stores, though it didn't work out because the building didn't have a loading dock.

"I think MJ's plan is a good one," Coffman said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

The Sparta Building opened in 1911.
Dave Ray, left, and Justin Oehme of Ginter Construction work on the first floor of the Sparta building in downtown Medford. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]