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Original Medford Hotel burned to ground in 1988

I'd heard from a friend that the big brick Medford Hotel building on Main Street is a rebuild, and that the original building was destroyed in a fire.  When was this fire, and what caused it?

— Anonymous, via phone message

We're grateful you came to us for your question-answering needs instead of resorting to further hearsay from your friend, unnamed inquisitive caller.

Indeed your friend is correct, the historic Medford Hotel, which had its grand opening on Sept. 19, 1911, ultimately saw its demise when it burned to the ground the evening of Aug. 8, 1988.

The first alarm came at 9:09 p.m. according to Mail Tribune archives, and 50 firefighters responded from Medford, Phoenix and Central Point fire departments, as well as Jackson County fire districts 3 and 5. Power to several city blocks in the area was cut for two hours, and more than 3,000 spectators gathered downtown to watch.

The building, designed by Frank Clark, had seen its last day as a hotel on Jan. 1, 1987, and was undergoing construction to be converted into a subsidized housing complex.  

According to the Aug. 18, 1988 Mail Tribune, Medford Fire Department and insurance company investigators determined that the fire's point of origin was in the middle of the basement, caused by slag from welders' cutting torches smoldering among wood joists.

The building, located at 406 W. Main St., was well-insured. Just under two years later, residents moved into the rebuilt replica building on Aug. 2, 1990.  Although the original building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the reconstruction is compatible with Medford's downtown historic district, the replica hotel, now known as New Medford Apartments, does not have a historic designation.

—Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.