Baker’s eclectic mix garners publicity in print, and online
Baker City’s reputation as an eclectic destination for tourists,
particularly those interested in history, gained a boost recently with
attention from Oregon’s largest newspaper, as well as a pair of
magazines and a travel Web site.
Local attractions and businesses have been highlighted on the Vintage Road Trip Web site, in Portland Monthly and Wine Press Northwest magazines, and by columnist Gerry Frank in The Sunday Oregonian.Baker City’s reputation as an eclectic destination for tourists, particularly those interested in history, gained a boost recently with attention from Oregon’s largest newspaper, as well as a pair of magazines and a travel Web site.
Local attractions and businesses have been highlighted on the Vintage Road Trip Web site, in Portland Monthly and Wine Press Northwest magazines, and by columnist Gerry Frank in The Sunday Oregonian.
A crew from Vintage Road Trip — vintageroadtrip.blogspot.com — was impressed with Baker City’s historic downtown district and its turn-of-the-20th-century buildings, and with the 10th Street business district that’s highlighted by the symbols of a later period — the neon-lit drive-ins of the 1950s and ’60s.
Andrew Bryan, contract marketing director for the Baker County Marketing Committee, said the recent spate of publicity has elevated the city’s profile.
Bryan said he especially liked the headline, “Baker City to the Beach: good eats, lodges, shops” over Frank’s Sept. 20 column, which touted art by local artists and boutique wines featured at Earth & Vine, and referred to Baker City as “One of Eastern Oregon’s most progressive communities.”
Bryan said a crew from the Vintage Road Trip Web stayed two days in Baker City during October, shooting photos and blogging about things worth stopping for.
The crew wrote about their stay at the restored Geiser Grand Hotel, and their two-hour tour of downtown with Ann Mehaffy, program director for Historic Baker City Inc.
“In Kicks sportswear store, owned by Ryan (and Kaylin) Chaves, we came across one of the best finds of the day: a bank vault now serving as a changing room,” the bloggers wrote.
Kaylin Chaves said two massive steel safes built in the 1800s were used to store precious gems and intricate jewelry crafted by the building’s occupant, Palmer Jewelry.
She said the concrete vault was built around the safes, so in the event of a robbery the safes couldn’t be hauled off. Steel bars and another steel door remain attached to the vault, although a black curtain hangs in the doorway for customers to close when they are using it as a dressing room.
“All we added was a mirror and a bench, because we wanted to keep everything inside,” Chaves said. “When you walk inside the vault, it’s like you are stepping back inside a piece of history.”
Beverly Calder, owner the Bella Main Street Market, said the Web site crew loved the authenticity of Baker City’s downtown, as well as its Route 66-type business strip along 10th Street (old Highway 30).
“The gal (with Vintage Road Trip) said this is the town they have been looking for,” Calder said. “We have an intact historic downtown, and we have 10th Street, which has a whole ’50s, ’60s motor feel.”
Calder said the road trip crew seemed truly excited that Baker City has preserved its business districts, whereas most towns across the West and Midwest have only remnants of their historic downtowns and ’50s and ’60s memorabilia left.
Erin Hansen, owner of The Little Pig sandwich and espresso shop on 10th Street, said the business’ neon pig sign was sitting in storage when she bought the building.
“As soon as we put the sign back up, people started coming in here telling us stories about their fond memories of this place,” Hansen said. “Some of our customers come in and buy mugs as anniversary presents, because this is where they met 40 or 50 years ago.”
“It started out as a diner in the mid ’50s. They had carhops. This was a big turnaround spot when they dragged the gut,” Hansen said.
At the In & Out Hamburger drive-in, manager Gladys Lethlean said things haven’t changed much since 1957, when her father-in-law, Dale Lethlean, now 82, bought the business, building and its famous neon sign.
“Everybody in town used to come here after football and basketball games. They’d line up outside and (Dale) kept the place open until midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning, or until everybody got served,” Lethlean said. “This was a busy place after the ball games.”
The In & Out also had carhops working from the late ’50s through most of the 1960s.
“Carhopping was a big hit back then,” Lethlean said.
While much has changed in Baker City since then, Lethlean said the In & Out has remained pretty much the same, including the family’s signature Wampus ham and cheese burger and hand-cut, battered and fried onion rings.
Calder said the type of exposure Baker City received from the newspaper and magazine articles, and the Vintage Road Trip Web site are better than advertising because people will talk about the stories and say, “Oh, have you seen this?”
“It’s storytelling. People will come here looking for an experience, an authentic, nostalgic experience — not another shopping mall,” Calder said.
Bryan said the Vintage Road Trip crew encouraged the community to create a historic district to do some restoration and revival of the Highway 30 district (which includes Broadway as well as 10th) to its original 1950s/1960s flavor, including bringing back the era’s neon tube signs to more businesses along that strip.
Bryan said there’s lots of interest nowadays among travelers who want to experience the nostalgia of that period in American history.
He said setting up a historic district or expanding the existing downtown district to seek grant funds and provide financial assistance for businesses along Highway 30 would help that process along and expand Baker City’s attraction as a road trip destination and tourist attraction.