Downtown Oroville: Can We Talk?
Note: this article first appeared in the October 13th, 2016 edition of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune
49º North Artists have been spending a lot of time in Main Street’s empty buildings lately. Setting up window displays and installing artwork has given us a close-up view of their architectural details and evidence of their history. We’d like to talk about that experience.
Oroville’s Main Street does not need a Theme, nor does it need a Color Scheme.
In the eyes of a couple of relative newcomers to Downtown Oroville (a perspective not far from that oft-sought tourist potential, the Visiting Traveler), we see a handsome streetscape that reflects substantial investment in the town, along several blocks. The mix of two-story brick facades that speak of past prosperity with several false-fronted small buildings, a couple of which were updated to reflect post-war modernity, shows the history of the town as nothing else could. Variety and diversity are what make our downtown visually interesting – as well as a reflection of our proud community. This downtown diversity makes it clear that Oroville has not torn down their heritage.
A number of historic buildings still exist on Main Street: The Covert Bldg at Central & Main, the First National Bank Bldg. on the corner of 14th Street, and, of course, the stubborn remains of the old Grubb/Peerless Hotel. The original IOOF Hall, a relic of early 20th Century fraternal zeal, houses Eva’s Diner—and memories of Saturday Night dances on the 2nd floor. The false fronts, installed around 1899, now support the post-war canopy of the Oroville Trading Post; the buildings may well have been moved from old Ragtown. Main Street also features a couple of 1887 wooden buildings—next to Betta’s—architectural “themes” rarely seen any longer. And who could possibly resist the Tin Palace on Appleway, with its tin siding molded to look like now-antique concrete block?
To go along with this bonanza of visual appeal, another important asset of Downtown is the fact that a major highway runs through it. No amount of signs or banners could be worth more than that, when it comes to drawing visitors in.
The civic plans of sixty years ago to improve Downtown with a modernization theme are now hopelessly outdated and, regrettably, still around. That sight might give present-day reformers something to think about.
The 49º North Artists’ crew that has been clearing the cobwebs is increasingly appreciative of the riches of design that we’ve discovered under the scruffy outward show of empty windows. We encourage all 49 North residents to see their town in fresh ways, with new admiration for the very neglect that preserved their inheritance.
Instead of paint—and we love paint– 49º North Artists suggests filling the empty buildings with the same variety and bustle that built them in the first place.