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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Adler House museum shares story of man and his legacy

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Adler House museum shares story of man and his legacy

Step back into the Adler household of 1899 and learn more about the upbringing of Baker's biggest benefactor. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).
Step back into the Adler household of 1899 and learn more about the upbringing of Baker's biggest benefactor. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr).

By LISA BRITTON

Of the Baker City Herald

Only two people have ever tested the security alarm at the Leo Adler House.

One was an 80-year-old woman celebrating her birthday in Baker City.

The other was Mary Oberst, Oregon's first lady.

"Every alarm in this house was going off" and the police rushed in, said Chary Mires, director of the Oregon Trail Regional Museum and Adler House.

The reason for the "break-ins" was an improperly latched front door that stood open just enough to be noticed.

"They knew it was closed, but the door was open," Mires said.

In 1899, Leo Adler moved into the two-story house at 2305 Main St. with his family: parents Carl and Laura, sister Theresa and brother Sanford.

He was five years old.

Adler resided in that same house for more than 90 years, until his death in 1993 at the age of 98.

Throughout the century, he made few changes or repairs to the home, not even installing electricity or water to the upstairs.

After his mother died in the 1930s, Adler never even climbed the stairs to the second story, Mires said. For the last 20 years his life, he only used the back four rooms of the house.

"He just abandoned parts of the house as he aged," Mires said.

Adler also parked every lawnmower he'd ever owned in a front room, along with a whole collection of worn-out brooms.

"They never threw away a broom," Mires said.

When he died, Adler — a millionaire philanthropist who built his fortune on a successful magazine distribution business — willed the bulk of his estate to endow scholarships for students and fund Baker County community projects.

He also donated his home and its contents to the Baker County Museum Commission.

In 1994, the Commission decided to restore the house to it's 1899 condition.

Three years and $138,000 later, the project was finished.

Now anyone can take a step into Leo Adler's life — not the lawnmower strewn rooms, though, but the house of Adler's childhood.

A committee of four — Mires, Colleen Brooks, Jane Hutton and Scotty Haskell — tackled the project.

"We were here everyday," Mires said.

They found furniture, pictures, papers — and dust.

"For 50 years, there had not been a woman's touch in this house," Mires said.

Adler wasn't known to hang out at the house much, preferring to be out on the town, she said.

"Leo was very gregarious. It wasn't just ‘tip your hat' — he had to stop and talk."

So the four women scrubbed, sorted, researched and arranged.

"This was all in the house — but it didn't look like this, trust me," Mires said, sweeping a hand over a formal dining room and a table set with china.

The first floor is wallpapered in the taste of the late 1800s. Rooms on the north side are papered with sheets ordered from the same company with the same rollers and ink that were used in the 19th century.

"This is not really a reproduction, this is the real McCoy," Mires said.

A few of the rooms have been decorated to a specific theme — bedrooms, for instance — and some have been changed from the original purpose.

The back room that functioned as Adler's bedroom now houses his office furniture, awards and mementos that were moved from his office at the Pythian Castle after his death.

An "honorary fire chief" hat sits atop a file cabinet; another plastic fire helmet bears Adler's name.

"We tell people Leo had two passions in his life: one was baseball and the other was the fire department," Mires said.

The home's second story, they found, had been stopped in time when Adler's mother died in the '30s.

So the women left it alone — after a good cleaning — from the cracks in the plaster and a few water stains on the ceiling to the original wallpaper from 1889.

It is still electricity-free, except for a few lights to ensure safety on the stairs.

"Everything is original. It has so much historic value," Mires said.

These are the rooms of the family, areas where no guests would have ventured, she said.

Dress-up costumes hang in the nursery, most likely the property of Theresa who was photographed in a variety of outfits, Mires said.

"It could have been Leo for all I know — but I can't imagine Leo as a court jester," she said, pointing to an outfit of bright colors with bells affixed to the collar.

The nursery leads to a suite with an ornate wooden bed and a worn pair of slippers tucked beneath the bed frame.

This is where Mires likes it best, in the master bedroom and sitting room.

The couch and chairs are clustered around a fireplace made from steel but designed to look like marble.

A battery-powered radio stands silent against a wall.

"It's so original. And it's so comfortable," she said. "Maybe (Laura) would be sewing, Carl was listening to the radio and the kids on the floor.

"By the time people get through they feel like they really know the Adlers."

Even Mires learned more about Adler during the restoration project.

"And some of the secrets will go the grave," she said.

The Leo Adler House is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $12 per family and free for children less than six years old.

For more information, call the Oregon Trail Regional Museum at 523-9308.

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