It’s been a long, slow process, but Bowlby Building owners Bill Warnock and Michele Starr are happy with their progress toward renovating the historic Bowlby Building in downtown Enterprise, and grateful for all the help they’ve received from the community.
Warnock and Starr purchased the building in November 2017.That was a month after the rear wall collapsed. Many people thought the building unsalvageable, but Warnock and Starr had a different idea.
Born in Wallowa County, Warnock is a fifth-generation native. He and Starr make their home in Vermont for about 8 months of the year, where Warnock practices as a naturopathic physician. But in the summer, they return home to Wallowa County. They plan to move back on a full-time basis once Warnock is able to retire from his practice in about 3 years. But right now, most of their incomes are being poured into saving this landmark structure.
“This building is a historic place,” Warnock said. “It’s part of the county’s past. We didn’t want to lose it.”
Historic or not, in October 2017 about half of the entire rear wall of the tall two-story building collapsed. That wall was added to the otherwise sturdy building probably in the 1930’s. Up until then, Warnock said, the Bowlby Building had an ample “backyard” that included outhouses and places to tie up one’s horses.
The reason for the wall’s collapse according to stonemason and Bowlby-stone expert Dave Melville is that what appeared to be a single, solid, thick wall was actually two walls—an inner one and an outer one, separated by a wooden frame. In the fall and winter, water from the roof would seep into the space between the two walls, soak into the wood, and freeze, exerting pressure on the walls, and splitting them apart. Finally, the walls just crumbled.
“When we bought it, the ceiling and the roof were sagging, and the building was just not in good repair. We had to gut it out. Now we are building ADA-certified bathrooms. Installing insulated double-pane windows. Making it as energy efficient as possible. If you are going to restore something, why not go all the way,”
The refurbishments include re-establishing what was once an alley and then about 1920 became a barbershop with an apartment above it, into a proper structural component of the building, providing a wide new stairway to the upstairs, and of course, rebuilding the collapsed back wall of the building.
The Bowlby Building’s spacious upstairs was once the Masonic Lodge. The Mason’s symbol is still emblazoned on the building’s second story. When Warnock and Starr purchased the building, several fading murals that depicted a knight, angels descending Jacob's ladder, and other topics remained on the crumbling plaster that coated the Bowlby Stone walls.
"During the demolition to gut the building" Starr said, "a portion of the plaster that was used to cover them up came off to reveal the images beneath. Demolition on those walls was stopped for about a month until we could get back here from Vermont so I could have time to research if there was any way to save them. They were too far gone and the plaster was really all in pieces."
The ground floor is spacious, and would lend itself to a retail store or perhaps a restaurant. “We don’t know exactly what we are planning to do with this space right now, but we are in the process of figuring it out,” Warnock said. “Our dream would be to find the right people and do a farm to table restaurant. We’re looking at maybe something like the Lostine Tavern before it closed. That would be a wonderful thing for downtown Enterprise,” Starr added.
“Everyone has been so very helpful and supportive of restoring this building,” Starr said. “Dave Melville has worked really hard on restoring the back wall with original stones, Ken Nash has really pitched in, Chris Borgerding has done the internal reconstruction and reinforcements, and Enterprise Electric has done a great job on wiring. We still have a ways to go. But we are thrilled with how much help we are getting. “
In the meantime, work is also progressing on their newer Dutli Building next door on the northwestern corner of Main and River streets. A new shop, Thistle and Pine, is set to open in the corner spaces in October. (See Biz Buzz, this issue.)
After the first building that was located on the northwest River-Main street corner burned down in 1949, and the present structure was built on site by German immigrants, the Dutli's. “Being German,” Warnock said, “they did a really good job. It has 10-inch poured thick concrete walls, and 16” steel I-beams. The Dutlis ran a bakery here. Later, the building was purchased by Jensen’s, who made it into a meat locker—which is still downstairs. And then it progressed to a Montgomery Wards store and Economy Drugs.” Because of its sturdy and newer construction, Warnock and Starr expect to have the Dutli Building ready for full occupancy by businesses sometime next year.
“We don't want to be a low-rent district, and businesses that are serious should be able to pay reasonable rents," Warnock said. "Joseph has taken off, but we think it's Enterprise’s turn, and we want to see this town again become the prosperous business center it has been in the past.”