One of the nice things about being a Realtor in Baker City is coming into contact with historic commercial properties that have such amazing stories behind them. We are currently marketing a building at 1901 Main Street in Baker that has such a history, as well as a bright future.
This building is special for other reasons: It has served most recently as a local events center, hosting town hall meetings, dances, Baker Orchestra concerts, fundraisers, holiday celebrations, company parties, Eastern Oregon Theater productions, art shows and exhibits, weddings, parties and more.
Sigmund Heilner, a pioneer Jewish merchant in Oregon, constructed the building in 1874. An immigrant from Bavaria, Heilner commanded an expedition that supplied guns to volunteers fighting an Oregon Indian War in 1856. He was involved in insurance, mining, hides, grain, wool and established the first bank and telephone system in Baker. As his business kept growing, so did the building, which encompassed not only a hotel, but a brothel of great reputation. The building still shows where a basement corner entrance (now filled in) accommodated discrete gentlemen.
The Heilner building has always been at the center of action downtown, at the intersection of Main and Court streets. Every parade, festival and rally that happens in Baker, happens in front of this building. It is a superb location!
The current owner renovated the building in 2012, bringing it up to modern codes, refinishing the first level wood floors, updating its utilities and installing a new roof. The basement, first floor and second floors are each 5,000 square feet and there’s a beautiful mezzanine above the main floor. An architect who specializes in renovating historic buildings guided the work.
- The main floor has two public bathrooms, three walk-in sidewalk display windows, an office with a huge walk-in safe, a large catering/break room, a utility room an electric closet.
- The building has two public entrances from the sidewalk and one alley entrance.
- The mezzanine has two bathrooms, an office, a dressing room and a conference room and two stairways to the mezzanine.
- The basement has one bathroom, three storage rooms and a large main room, a maintenance/shop area and one stairwell to the main floor.
- The second floor is mostly unused and has not been renovated, but it is clean and in good shape. It is wired and plumbed and ready to be hooked up for something. The top floor entrance is reachable from an exterior stairway from the street.
- The catering/break room is not a commercial kitchen but could be converted to one. For now, caterers bring their food in and use the room for preparation and serving.
The Heilner Building has lots of exciting possibilities and is priced incredibly well at $245,000. While the building no longer has dwellings, the city will permit living spaces to be constructed so it could have lofts, a hotel or up to 10 bed and breakfast rooms, most of which would have views of the downtown and/or mountains. The roof could also accommodate a “roof garden” for events.
Baker County has an active entrepreneur community and Baker City Realty owner Andrew Bryan is one of the movers in this area. He’s started a number of successful ventures in education, retail and real estate and, for the past few years, Andrew and his Baker City Realty colleague Ann Mehaffy have had a dream to develop one of Baker City’s most unusual historic properties. Ann has been a supporter of creative endeavors over the years as a community leader, director of the historic district Main Street Program, artist, horticulturist, financial advisor and now realtor.
The Baker Grocery Company Building, located at 2345 11th Street, is their new focus. Right now this project, dubbed the Paradigm project, is in its early stages but they and other collaborators have developed a plan and are contacting potential investors and supporters.
The Baker Grocery Company Building is highly unusual in several respects. It’s a warehouse, built in 1910, and served as a distribution center for much of northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington until the World War II. Until recently, it was used as a distribution center for a film and video production service and but now sits vacant. Historic buildings are not unusual in Baker City but the Baker Grocery Company Building boasts 33,000 square feet of space, a working freight elevator and is in relatively good condition, having been occupied and used throughout most of its history. Typically, historic commercial buildings aren’t nearly this large so the Baker Grocery Company building is a real gem of a warehouse. The building boasts a basement, first story and second story. It’s located near downtown and has a nice storefront appearance to 11th street just off of Highway 30. See the RMLS listing here.
Old building, new uses
The technical term for the plan is “adaptive reuse” or preserving an older building and updating it for something new and usually, something that’s never been done before with the building. Over occasional cups of coffee and a few beers, Andrew has been developing a vision with investors originally from Baker City who want to bring their expertise back to the area. Their plan is to refurbish the building and start an indoor growing operation for organic fruits and vegetables, using hydroponics, which they would sell under a locally branded label. The investment group might even get into aquaculture and raise fish. Baker City’s climate tends to be too cool to support extensive year-round agriculture, particularly for specialty crops, but the large indoor space of the Baker Grocery Company Building is ideal for indoor agriculture. Depending on investment, developers may retrofit the building with solar panels or small-scale wind powered generators to provide for the building’s energy needs.
The project would provide several dozen jobs and help Baker City’s export economy, bringing in cash regionally and beyond. Andrew thinks the enterprise might be a good fit for those who are seeking WWOOF-ing opportunities. This organization assists people interested in participating in an agricultural work programs, mainly attracting adventuresome younger people who spend summers and off-time working for a few weeks or months on an organic/family farm in exchange for room and board. WWOOFers coordinate their visits on the Website and are keen on innovative, unusual projects. The Baker Grocery Company building would also house artist studios and a gallery and fit well with Baker City’s emerging arts and cultural scene.