ENTERPRISE — It takes an artist with vision to restore an aged building to its former glory. Fortunately, for Enterprise’s historic Litch Building, developer and co-owner Andy McKee has found just that in Robert Ryan of Arrowhead Construction in Enterprise.
For the past three weeks, Ryan has worked high above River and Main streets in Enterprise using an airbrush and other tools of the fine arts to restore the intricate, colorful facade of the Litch Building. Much of the restoration work is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.
“You’ve gotta’ have vision,” Ryan said. You’ve gotta’ be able to see what something can look like before you start. That’s what good contractors do.”
So far, Ryan has cleaned, scraped, and primed the upper, generally well-preserved tin siding, and then carefully covered it with three coats of silver paint — the original building’s principal color. The new paint is an automotive formula that is designed for metal, and has more shine to it than the original color did, he said.
“Robert is a meticulous craftsman who takes great pride in his work,” McKee said. “It’s rare to find someone who cares as much about the details and authenticity of a job as the owners do.”
Now Ryan’s working on the decorative panels, painting them black, gold and red. The gold trim gets three coats of a metallic paint. The red and black also get three coats.
The colors are true to their time. Ryan said he worked with Sherwin-Williams Paints to ensure that the hues were historically accurate to those used in 1903 when the building was constructed and 1909 when the second story was added.
“These are researched, old, historical colors. The owners, Andy McKee and his brother, Todd, wanted to stay with the original color of the building, which was silver. This silver is a little bit louder than the original color of the building. It almost looks like a mirror.”
Ryan, who was a bicycle racer before he began painting old buildings, fell in love with restoring them, considers himself a perfectionist with a touch of obsessiveness.
“I’ve been an athlete most of my life,” he said. “I raced bicycles in Hawaii and Northern California, and I won the Nevada/Northern California time trial championship for two years in a row.”
He said his drive comes from inside.
“I’m really focused, and I’m driven to try to do the best that I can. That’s always been my personality. I’m, like, OCD (obsessive-compulsive) when I’m working on this stuff,” he said, gesturing towards the building.
Ryan said using the airbrush and other artistic tools of his trade can be a “real challenge.” Add in the fact that he works in a swaying lift high above the street, doesn’t make things any easier, he said.
“I hate to think of how many hours I’m putting in on this job,” he said. “But the building is going to look great.”
Ryan lives in Enterprise. He discovered the joys of restoring venerable buildings when he worked on a really old Victorian home in Monterey, Calif. Other buildings he has restored in Wallowa County include Kit Phelp’s home in Lostine.
His mother, he said was a talented artist. So it’s no wonder that Ryan has both artistry and vision in his skill set.
“I use airbrushes and artists’ brushes just trying to bring out the fine details in an old building like this,” he said of his work on the Litch Building. “And the only way to do it is to bring out what you can in the building. A lot of people might not appreciate or see the details in the work, but somebody who does this for a living can appreciate it. Andy does it also. He loves doing restoration.
“This building is a ton of work,” Ryan said. “It might even be 2022 or 2023 before it’s completely done, but its going to be something for the community to be really proud of when its finished.”