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Adding ‘sparkle’ to downtown

Photo courtesy of the Southern Oregon Historical Society. An illustration gives a glimpse of what the $1.2 million renovation of the interior of the 1947 J.C. Penney building would look like.
Historical Society proposes $1.2 million renovation to create events center

The Southern Oregon Historical Society wants to convert a piece of its own history into downtown Medford’s future.

The swooping contours of the exterior of the “streamline moderne” 1947 J.C. Penney building would be reimagined in a proposed interior renovation that could transform the organization’s headquarters into an events center that cpuld hold 390 people.

The historical society, which raised $75,000 in a fundraising event last year, will hold another fundraiser April 6 to bring in more of the estimated $1.2 million for renovation of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tickets for the fundraising event will be $100. For more information, see sohs.org/springforward.

Ron Kramer, the society’s executive director, said there’s great demand for an events center downtown.

“This will be a slightly more tony substitute for the Inn at the Commons, which has closed,” he said.

Preliminary drawings show the main interior area with similar curvy lines that mimic the exterior styling. The carpeting and doors would have a similar style.

An events center that could handle weddings, Rotary meetings and other small events could generate up to $9,000 a month in revenue for the historical society, Kramer said.

SOHS also rents out space at Hanley Farms for weddings and other events, though this source of revenue dropped by 60% during the pandemic.

Formed in 1946, the historical society has gone through a financial rough patch after losing the bulk of its income in 2007 because of an earlier ballot measure and the withdrawal of financial support from Jackson County during a budget squeeze.

The extra rental income from the J.C. Penney building would help the historical society’s bottom line.

Revenues in 2020 were $308,945 and expenses were $274,488, according to the historical society’s 2021 annual report.

SOHS photo Illustrations of the remodel are shown on the side of the J.C. Penney building, located at the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue.

The 26,000-square-foot building, at the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth Street, has enough space to house both the historical society, including its extensive library, and an events center, Kramer said.

The building was designed without supporting walls, and the roof was constructed in a way that doesn’t require many interior supports.

Previously, the building housed KidTime, which has relocated to the Carnegie Library building on Main Street. But KidTime’s departure and the loss of rental income at Hanley Farm resulted in a 53% decrease in revenues.

Oregon Architecture and Kramer & Company, run by Kramer’s brother George Kramer, will design renovations and furnishings that fit with the historic building’s architecture.

Kramer said he’s received comments that the $1.2 million estimate of rebuild is too low, but he said the building won’t require any significant reconstruction.

It will need a new heating and air conditioning system and will be cleaned up on the outside. The roof membrane will also need to be replaced.

A catering kitchen would be installed to handle events.

“The building will sparkle with all of that done,” Kramer said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.