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Safety of Jacksonville's historic U.S. Hotel subject of debate

JACKSONVILLE — Mortar slowly washing away from bricks at the U.S. Hotel has history buff Larry Smith worried about the future of one of the town’s historic icons while it awaits sale, but a tenant has a different perception.

“We don’t agree with his view,” said Sue Tucker, owner of Trolley Stop Antiques. “It’s not going to fall down. There are deferred maintenance issues.”

Southern Oregon Historical Society leases the 1880 building from Jackson County. The two entities have had the hotel listed for sale since 2010, with proceeds to be shared under a formula.

Smith says the mortar has washed out from between bricks because of leaking downspouts and he worries those areas might collapse. He’s also concerned about the condition of a balcony off the second floor.

“Every day it sits longer rotting, it will be less attractive to a buyer,” said Smith, executive director of the Jacksonville Woodlands Association. “The building is slowly eroding away, and something needs to be done soon.”

Tucker said she and another person plan to submit a letter that is contrary to Smith’s views to Jackson County. Smith said he was writing a letter to County Administrator Danny Jordan. He had previously emailed city councilors, city officials and the three county commissioners about the conditions.

“He’s not totally on board as far as what issues are here,” said Tucker. “The county has done some maintenance as we have asked them to do.”

Under the lease agreement, SOHS gets $1,100 per month in rent from the Trolley Stop and also gets rent from events. Jackson County receives about $2,300 per month in rent from U.S. Bank.

“The events are very small,” said Rob Esterlein, executive director of the historical society. “We lack funds for major work. We are a nonprofit that struggles to stay afloat."

Maintenance of the building is also covered by a joint agreement, with the county responsible for the part that includes U.S. Bank, said Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg. When the roof was replaced, both organizations cooperated in the project, Bragg said.

Rent from the bank goes into the county’s property management program, which is part of the general fund, said Bragg, who plans to send someone to inspect the condition of the bricks.

Balcony issues are more of a concern, said Esterlein. The balcony is structurally sound because there are steel supports inside wood covers, but he worries about the second-floor decking, which can’t currently be used. The structure is not a hazard to pedestrians, he said.

The society is exploring grant possibilities to fund repair work, said Esterlein.

Under terms of the 2010 agreement, the society was to receive $1 million from sale proceeds, although the commissioners provided a $200,000 advance against the sale. SOHS in 2010 planned to use a portion of the proceeds to pay off a $600,000 loan. Any remainder would go to the county.

Smith credits the late Robbie Collins, an early town historical preservation advocate, for saving the building when it faced demolition in 1964. Collins also got U.S. Bank to locate in the structure and spend money on upgrades, said Smith.

Coldwell Banker is the agent for the sale.

“It’s going to take someone who wants that historical property rather than wanting a building for capacity purposes,” said Esterlein.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwrtier@gmail.com.

The 1880 U.S. Hotel in Jacksonville is owned by Jackson County and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. A leader in the Jacksonville community worries the historic building is deteriorating. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch