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Burned out historic Talent building headed for restoration

The Malmgren garage building was constructed in the 1920s. Mail Tribune file photo

The burned-out shell of the 1925 Malmgren Building in downtown Talent, once a pottery center for the Rogue Valley, is on its ways to restoration and listing on the National Register of Historic Places. On Saturday, Oct. 23, Clayfolk will hold a pottery sale in the building, which was a victim of the Almeda fire.

Building owner Bonnie Morgan said she hopes the rebuilding will encourage other businesses in downtown to come back. She and her late husband, Melvin, operated Southern Oregon Pottery Supply, at 111 Talent Ave., for 30 years until 2008. Since then, it has housed artist studios and an antiques business.

“With Talent losing so much, we have this one thing that we could revive and make it an anchor for the historic part of the downtown,” said Morgan. “We’ve got four external walls and two internal walls. These are poured concrete walls.”

Morgan is working with Ashland historic preservationist George Kramer to gain the historical listing and qualify for a rehabilitation tax credit from the federal government. Kramer said the process, with a burned building, is different because normally you would first put one on the register, then do the work.

Instead, the pair are looking at a three-step process, the first of which has been completed with the National Park Service, which administers the register program. The service needed to determine whether the shell has enough historic characteristics that it could be listed.

“They agreed. It took a little negotiation and convincing,” said Kramer. The service was concerned about the structural integrity of the walls, but an engineering study showed they were in good shape despite the conflagration. “We sort of have a hand-shake agreement with the Park Service,” said Kramer.

“They weighed it. It was tough for them,” said Morgan. “There was so little left of the building. There was no roof, just a shell,” said Morgan.

Talent had put the building on its landmark list in 2011. Dr. Theodore Malmgren had the building constructed in 1925 for use as an automobile garage. It’s set back from the sidewalk since the space out front once had gas pumps. In 2011, Talent Urban Renewal Agency funded re-creation of bi-fold wooden doors the building first had, replacing existing roll-up doors in the large, front entrance.

For listing on the national register, exact re-creation is not required as long as the historical defining features are retained, said Kramer. Character defining features that survived includes the stepped parapet building front, the 8-by-12-foot front opening and large windows on several walls.

The second phase of the project, creation of architectural plans, is now underway. The third phase will be formal application for listing once work is completed.

Morgan said she expects the cost of rebuilding to exceed the amount of insurance reimbursement. Morgan had Western Environmental clean the site rather than wait for FEMA to do it because she didn’t like looking at the destruction in downtown Talent. Insurance covered that cost.

“You’ve got to bring things up to code, but you want to capture that historic feel. It’s always a tradeoff as to how you capture that,” said Morgan. “It is so complicated. I thought I would be rebuilding this last spring. That’s how naive about the process I was.”

Kramer has about a half-dozen photos of the building from various sources. One of the best, which shows it in 1951 as a feed store, came from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Kramer has worked on projects in downtown Portland and The Dalles that restored buildings in decrepit condition for listings on the national register. He was also involved with the effort in Medford to get Cargill Court, damaged by a fire, on the register. The project never happened and the building was razed to become a parking lot.

Morgan also lost the nearby 1906 Hanscom Hall, which was on the register, in the Almeda fire. Working with Kramer, Morgan restored the building then got it listed in 1996. It was Talent’s first listing on the National Register. Morgan plans to rebuild the structure, but not to criteria that could again qualify it for the National Register.

Hanscom Hall escaped destruction in a 1911 fire that burned down much of Talent. As one of the few standing buildings, it served as a center for the town and as the post office, said Kramer. It had a variety of commercial uses over the years, including time as Talent Café.

Clayfolk’s sale will feature 15 artists from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Morgan will sell her own pottery at the sale. Fire changed the color of the building’s walls and pitted the paint. That has inspired her to do some new treatments on her pottery.

The pottery group usually holds an annual sale before the holidays. Last year it featured pop-up sales due to the pandemic, eschewing a larger venue, and may do the same this year. Information can be found at www.clayfolk.org.

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