Andy McKee, the sometimes controversial contractor and property owner is ready to begin the renovation of the Litch Building, located at the corner of West Main and River Streets. McKee and his brother, Todd, bought the property in 2017. ¶ Some citizens have voiced complaints that the McKees, who are working on a number of Wallowa County projects, have overextended themselves and couldn’t afford to complete the project. ¶ Not true, according to McKee. In fact he recently received a matching funds Main Street Grant through Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office, to the tune of $200,000.
McKee grew up in the small town of Colton, on the west side of the state. He later served as a hunting guide and packer for the Minam Lodge and fell in love with the area.
“We invest in the community we live in,” he said. “My kids go to school in Joseph, and my wife works here in Joseph on Main St.”
He has the same feelings about Enterprise and the Litch Building project, which he will work on concurrently with building his own residence.
“My family’s living in a 5th-wheel right now while we’re building,” he said. “That takes priority over any other project.”
Something many are possibly unaware of is that McKee is virtually a one-man show. He has one part-time helper. Keeping cost low is what allows the McKee brothers to keep investing in properties.
McKee noted that the Litch building has a huge structural flaw that took months to find an engineer to rectify. The floor was sagging up to four inches in places upstairs.
“If we hadn’t bought the building, the building probably would have toppled over,” McKee said. “It was that bad. “People may not like the way it looks now, but you really wouldn’t have liked it laying on the ground or killing somebody.”
McKee said many engineers don’t like working on historical buildings, especially those made of stone. He finally talked local engineer, Ralph Swinehart into taking on the project. According to McKee, it still took a little arm-twisting to get Swinehart to take on the project even though he has a penchant for older buildings.
McKee said the work done on the project already included taking about a half-million pounds of mostly plaster out of the upstairs portion to relieve the stress on the floor.
The building owner explained that the building on the corner was originally designed as a one-story structure back in 1903. In 1909, another story was added onto the first — without rebuilding the floor structure for the second story.
“It’s over-spanned, and it’s under-engineered because back then they didn’t really engineer anything — they just made it super stout and super heavy duty to withstand loads because they had no way to calculate snow loads and wind loads and all that,” he said.
Later, issues surfaced, and some previous owners had used band-aid fixes to keep the building standing. Some issues were not readily observable until McKee started taking apart the inside. There, he discovered that the building had three drop-down ceilings with all the accompanying extra weight.
“We couldn’t do anything until it was engineered to be fixed,” McKee said.
The McKee brothers would eventually like to see eight professional-living houses upstairs. While the main floor is envisioned as a mix of bed and breakfasts with commercial spaces in between. He is currently working with an Idaho businessman to create a little burger joint in one space. He added the commercial spaces would be much smaller than the old 3000-4000 square feet commercial spaces of the past.
McKee said the grant funds are available now and get put to use in the near future.
“We’re going to get started on the facade first, and get it restored to its original condition,” he said. “That should put some people’s anxiety to rest.”