By BRENNA KNOWLES
Of the Baker City Herald
Tabor Clarke thought he heard a train was going down Main Street.
andquot;It was extremely loud,andquot; he said, andquot;There was a strong gust of wind and then I heard a horrific noise.andquot; That noise was the sheet metal facade at J. Tabor Jewelers separating from the building and crashing down to street level amidst a freak windstorm that hit downtown Baker City shortly after 4 p.m.
Clarke rushed out of the store to check on two passengers in a truck who had just parked at 1913 Main St. The facade had fallen on the truck.
andquot;My first thought was that I just wanted to make sure they were ok,andquot; Clarke said.
According to Tim Frost, Baker City fire chief, the two passengers in the truck were not injured.
Jay Lohner of the Baker City Police said the facade landed on the truck bed but did not damage the truck. Frost, Baker City Public Works employees and Baker City Police helped lift the facade so the driver could pull out from underneath.
andquot;It came down nice and softly, evidently,andquot; Frost said.
The crew also helped direct traffic while the facade was removed from the area. Both southbound lanes of Main Street were closed from about 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., according to Lohner. Main Street was transformed into a two-lane highway by diverting one lane of southbound traffic into the northbound lane, Lohner said.
All traffic was stopped for about 10 minutes around 5:40 p.m. to allow workers from Triple C Redi-Mix to remove the fallen sheet metal and the sidewalk under the awning also was blocked while debris was removed from the area.
Jill Anderson, 13, was next door at Anderson Photo when she heard the crash. andquot;My dad said to check what happened,andquot; she said as onlookers gathered and pointed out broken tree branches, nests that birds had built between the facade and the original brick store front, and the way a street lamp had broken and punctured the falling facade.
Clarke said he might restore the building's original front instead of replacing the tin facade. He was waiting to talk to the insurance adjustor.
andquot;It makes sense to try and renovate, but we have to wait and see,andquot; Clark said. andquot;This is historic renovation by divine intervention.andquot; Clarke serves on the board of directors for Historic Baker City. He said the board is currently looking for grant money for historic renovations but his store will not receive any funding after this incident because those funds have not been secured.
Clarke said he has worked in the building for 12 years. He said the facade was put on the building when the store was Mack andamp; Sons Jewelers.
The building is now called the Gerstle-Solomon Building by Historic Baker City. It was constructed in 1879 and was the Gerstle Store and Fancy Bazaar. A warehouse was added in 1888. The store sold general merchandise and became a grocery store once the warehouse was added. In 1895 the store sold toys, notions and stationary. In the 1980s the building was Levinger Drugs. The building is owned by Nelson Clarke and Kevin Bell.
The Baker City historic district included 110 historically-significant buildings. Of those, more than 75 have been partially or fully restored to their historic appearance.