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Forest Service compound in Grants Pass up for sale

A developer's dream or a preservationist's puzzle, the historic 2.66-acre U.S. Forest Service compound in southwest Grants Pass, dormant for a decade, is going up for bid beginning April 25.

The Forest Service made the announcement official Friday, saying the property surrounded by a residential neighborhood on Southwest L Street simply wasn't being used. The agency said last year it wanted to auction the property. All seven buildings are on the National Register of Historic Buildings, including the centerpiece 5,250-square-foot warehouse shop, and all are up for sale.

"We explored selling it to several interested parties, and none of them came to fruition," said Virginia Gibbons, spokesperson for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. "The property has a lot of potential being within the city limits. It would be really great to see it put to good use.

"Our intent is to get fair market value for it."

Online bidding will begin April 25 and end when bidding is no longer active.

For registration and bidding information, visit the General Services Administration website at realestatesales.gov.

An open house has been scheduled for April 29-30, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

The city of Grants Pass showed interest for a time. In 2011 Mayor Mike Murphy supported it, and said at the time the city had first rights to buy it for $245,000.

The city's offer contained contingencies, including indemnifying the city for future cleanup costs due to concerns about buildings containing lead-based paint as well as requesting that the feds perform additional environmental tests.

After the city detailed its contingencies in a letter, the Forest Service rejected the offer with no public comment.

Another offer of $244,000 was made in September 2011 by Sand Mountain Society, a Portland-based organization noted for restoring historic fire lookouts and conservation work around the Northwest.

Those negotiations inched along and finally dissipated with neither side commenting on the reasons why.

Gibbons said the buyer will be encouraged to work with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office when any changes are proposed. And should the purchaser have no interest in that, they will be encouraged to sell them to someone who might move the buildings to another site with the intent of preservation.

Those in favor of preservation cite the former auto shop building's huge glass windows, gables and other architecture inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Guided by prominent local contractor Gust Lium, CCC workers from Camp Kerby in Selma began building the complex in 1933 on what was then the edge of Grants Pass.

Lium was also known for his work with the historical buildings at the Oregon Caves National Monument.

The cost for the seven buildings at the site was $5,500.

The classic "Cascadian Rustic" architecture, familiar all over Oregon, is characterized by wrought iron, ample stonework, gables, dormers, exposed eaves, prominent chimneys and lots of windows with lots of panes of glass.

The CCC's trademark pine tree logo is cut into at least one spot on all seven buildings.

Back in 2006, some people still had some sentimental feelings for the place, especially the main building. One was Jim Ford of Grants Pass, whose father, Ferris, worked there in the 1940s and 1950s.

"There's a lot of people who don't want to get rid of that old building," Ford said. "We have to save some of this historical stuff. There's a lot of history there."