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Working man's hotel

Designed by a renowned local architect, bearer of several names and the site of several fires, the former Grand Hotel on the corner of Front and Fifth streets in Medford celebrates its 100th anniversary this week.

The Housing Authority of Jackson County, which now operates the four-story, 26-unit building as affordable and subsidized housing under the name Grand Apartments, will hold a celebration of the building for residents Thursday, with presentations by historians and those involved with a 2009 rehabilitation project.

Originally designed as a working man’s hotel, the Grand in its early years housed salesmen who arrived on the railroad at the nearby depot, now Porter’s Restaurant.

“The traveling public could literally carry the luggage across the street to the hotel,” said Ashland historian George Kramer. More prominent guests likely stayed at the Medford Hotel, completed a couple of years earlier, as it included restaurant facilities, he said.

Construction of the Grand in 1914 was a curiosity because a Medford economic and building boom that started in 1905, fueled by excitement over the pear industry, already had faded, said Medford historian Ben Truwe.

“There were people who were apparently in denial,” said Truwe.

Architect Frank Clark, who designed many early city buildings, drafted plans for the hotel for owner William S. Barnum, founder of the Rogue Valley Railroad between Medford and Jacksonville. Construction took place during 1914 and 1915. Building costs were estimated at $75,000.

“What I think is interesting about those hotels, both the Medford and the Grand, they were basically built when the railroad was still the major way to get to town,” said Kramer. “The automobile hadn’t taken over yet.

“Nobody went there on a vacation. It was a working place,” said Kramer. Most likely, hotel guests shared bathrooms down the halls, but there would have been wash basins in their rooms, said Kramer. Salesmen either took their wares to stores or set up in a small space in the hotel.

Originally called the Barnum Hotel, it became the Hotel Austin in 1916 when Austin Chisholm leased it. But a year later it ended up back in the Barnum family’s hands and took its name again. It became the Grand Hotel in 1927 when it was sold.

“By then the newspapers were calling it the Barnum Apartments,” said Truwe, who concluded its decline as a salesman’s stop could be inferred from the articles.

A 1921 fire gutted the fourth floor, according newspaper accounts, and a second-floor fire broke out the next day. In 1983, two fires hit the vacant building within seven months.

Officials declared the building unsafe in 1984, but two Salt Lake City developers purchased the hotel that year and entered it on the National Register of Historic Places. They converted it to apartments for low-income, elderly and handicapped tenants, spending $1 million on repairs.

Housing Authority of Jackson County bought the building in May 2009 for $850,000. The agency hired Adroit Construction for a refurbishing project, most of it paid for by $759,000 in federal funds. Medford Urban Renewal also assisted with the project.

The storefront area was reworked to more closely resemble Clark’s original design during the 2009 renovation. Windows were designed to look like the old double-hung wood windows, some of which had fallen out due to deterioration.

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

Historian Ben Truwe says the four-story Grand Hotel, at 202 N. Front St., was constructed after Medford's building boom already had faded. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Those who lived in Medford in the 1970s no doubt will remember the Hotel Grand's sign. This photo was taken in 1979. Photo courtesy of Housing Authority of Jackson County