Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Two local businesses are going to swap historic locations later this year.

Chaves Consulting Inc. will move many of its operations to the Old Post Office Square, which is at 1650 Dewey Ave, at the southeast corner of Main Street and Auburn Avenue. The company owners announced they have purchased the former Post Office, which was built in 1910.

Chaves' Synergy Data Center, however, will remain at the Baker Tower, 1705 Main St., which anchors the northwest corner of the same intersection.

A law firm, Coughlin and Leuenberger (formerly Coughlin, Leuenberger and Moon) has owned the Old Post Office for nearly 30 years. The firm is moving to the Baker Tower, the 10-story former Hotel Baker that opened in 1929.

Principals of both businesses made a formal announcement about the arrangement on Thursday, and afterward they allowed a group of visitors to tour the Old Post Office.

Chaves Consulting needs extra space because it's growing to serve an increasing number of governmental and quasi-governmental clients using the Oregon Records Management System. The business employs 25 people and expects eventually to have 100 employees focusing on this aspect of their business.

Chaves Consulting also offers wider ranging administrative support and information technologies services.

The company's plan is to occupy only the main floor of the Old Post Office initially. It provides about 5,700 square feet of space. The entire building has approximately 14,000 square feet.

Kathleen Chaves, chief executive officer, has been considering ways to use some of the space. A windowed section of the lower floor might be perfect for an employee exercise area, she pointed out. It's near a marbled area with plumbing, even showers.

Kathleen's husband, Richard Chaves, the company's president, said the business is as committed to taking care of the building as the law firm's owners, David Coughlin and Martin Leuenberger, have been.

Richard Chaves, who grew up in Baker City, said he remembers passing the building every day as he walked to and from school. He said he often took a sip from the brass drinking fountain that used to be outside the building.

Kathleen Chaves looked out toward the entryway with its 18-foot-high ceilings and said the light that pours in allows those inside to "feel positive."

The post office property with two floors of space and a basement is assessed at more than $318,000. The selling price wasn't disclosed.

The attorneys are selling the building because they want a smaller office to manage.

Coughlin and Leuenberger talked about the building. The attorneys bought the property in 1982 and have completed a great deal of refurbishment on the stone and buff-colored brick structure.

When they wanted to buy the building it was a time when the economy and bankers' sensibilities were quite different.

"Seventeen-and-a-half percent interest," Leuenberger said.

Preservation of historic buildings weren't common occurrences in those days, he said.

Steve Haberle also shared his experiences. As a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce he used to help set up the Old Post Office for Halloween parties that would scare local children. In those days it was "in terrible condition," he said.

Years later, Haberle was the contractor who made the building attractive and usable for the law practice. Before the firm purchased the building it had been owned by a Californian who "didn't know about the weather here," Haberle said.

Without the necessary weather treatments, water leaked in and the ceilings "were falling," he said.

"There was plaster all over the floor."

Even with the lack of care during the years when the building was unoccupied, Haberle could tell it was "one of the best built buildings in Oregon," he said. "It's amazing."

The large mail sorting area was broken down into offices and a large conference room. The goal was to preserve the terrazzo floor as well as the granite and marble areas. Wood that couldn't be saved was carefully matched so the interior was consistent.

Careful rehabilitation of the building also provided the attorneys with a long-term tax break for their preservation efforts.

Coughlin and Leuenberger, perhaps for the last time, on Thursday proudly handed out leaflets that describe the building's history. The information has sat near the front door for visitors and tourists to easily grab during business hours.

The Old Post Office Square was built in 1910 in the second empire style. It was occupied by federal workers until 1971. Coughlin said that many people wonder about the revolving door that used to grace the front. Its whereabouts are "a mystery," he said.

Baker Tower is the tallest building east of the Cascades in Oregon. The 10-story building was constructed in 1929 in Art Deco style. Scrolls and garlands are among the decorative flourishes as well as pairs of eagles that seem to guard the entryways.

It was originally a hotel before it was used as a residence, then a mixed-use location.

Both structures are part of the Baker Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. So the law firm still will inhabit a structure with a story.

The Chaveses plan to upgrade the telephone and computer capabilities in the old post office to best suit their high-tech business.

Both businesses should be in their new locations in September.