Once they saw the ceiling, they were sure.
The real ceiling, that is.
Not the nondescript dropped ceiling of acoustic tiles and fluorescent lights, the sort of anonymous and arguably ugly feature you would expect to see, but scarcely notice, in any of thousands of office buildings.
Once that banal addition had been pulled down, and the 110-year-old, decorative pressed tin ceiling 16 feet above the floor was revealed, Bob and Shannon Moon and Kyra Rohner — Shannon’s daughter and Bob’s stepdaughter — were convinced that the first stage of renovation for the historic Baker City building they had bought must be the first floor.
“When we discovered how beautiful the ceilings were, we couldn’t do anything but restore this space,” Bob Moon, a Baker City attorney, said while sitting in his office in the Baker Loan and Trust building at the southwest corner of Main and Broadway streets.
“To me it’s just a work of art.”
That revelation changed the renovation schedule the new owners had planned after buying the building in September 2018.
The trio — Kyra is also an attorney, in practice with her stepfather — initially intended to start with the second floor of the building. The structure, with an exterior that features Pleasant Valley tuffstone as well as granite, was assembled, in less than a year, to replace a structure destroyed in a Jan. 26, 1910, fire that devastated half a block on the west side of Main Street between Broadway Street and Washington Avenue.
(A story in the Jan. 27, 1910, issue of The Evening Telegraph, a Portland newspaper, described the fire, which started in the basement of the Weil Mercantile Company’s store, as the “most destructive fire Baker City has ever known,” with losses exceeding $300,000, of which only a bit more than one-third was insured. The loss equates to about $8.3 million today, adjusted for inflation.)
But once they had seen that tin ceiling, they decided to start with the first floor.
Bob said the office space was “a complete disaster” when they acquired the building.
But the challenge of renovating the structure wasn’t nearly as daunting as it would have been if not for fortunate familial connections.
Shannon’s son and Kyra’s brother, Josh Rohner, is project manager for Sid Johnson & Co. in Baker City.
Shannon, whose father was the construction firm’s founder, Sid Johnson, who died in 2014, is the company’s office manager.
And it happened that when the pandemic began, the company was able to add the renovation to its other projects.
“It wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise,” Shannon said. “This would have been too much to do on our own.”
Doing away with that dropped ceiling was a vital part of the project in multiple ways. Besides revealing the pressed tin ceiling, the removal uncovered a row of windows that had been blocked, making the first floor much darker than it was originally.
Natural light now streams into the lobby and into Bob’s and Kyra’s offices.
The renovation was comprehensive.
“There isn’t anything you see here that was there when we first bought the building,” Bob said, gesturing to his office and to the main entrance area outside.
Except, of course, that ceiling.
It was in excellent condition for the most part, Bob said.
A few sections had to be repaired, and the owners found a company in Cleveland that had experience with pressed tin.
Josh designed the renovations and oversaw the project, which included replacing the heating and ventilation system.
Shannon and Kyra decided on such things as light fixtures, including eight large lamps that hang from the ceiling.
They also chose paint colors, Shannon said, her laugh suggesting that their conclusions didn’t always happen without a certain amount of discussion.
Bob, also smiling at the memory, avoided those debates.
“It was really easy for me,” he said.
One of the more difficult parts of the project — and certainly the heaviest — was moving the massive steel door to its current place at the entrance to one of the building’s two former bank vaults.
Trouble is, the door had been in the basement, where the other vault is.
And the route from the basement to the first floor is a flight of stairs that, by today’s more stringent building standards, are both steep and narrow.
Shannon said that during the renovations she asked Josh whether the door, which bears the name “Baker Loan & Trust Co.” and was constructed by The Hall’s Safe Co. in Cincinnati, would fit at the entrance to the first floor vault.
His rueful answer: “Unfortunately, yes.”
Sliding it out of its spot in the basement was comparatively easy.
But maneuvering the ponderous thing up those stairs was a different matter.
“It’s nice ... now,” Shannon said.
Bob and Kyra moved into their new offices on Monday, Oct. 11, following an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 6 to celebrate completion of the first phase of the renovations.
Bob and Shannon said they still plan to refurbish the second floor, a project they expect will take two years.
They haven’t decided on its use, but one possibility is using it as a vacation rental, Bob said.
Shannon said they would like to apply for a grant to cover part of the cost.
In the meantime they’re still excited about having completed the first phase, seeing the utter transformation of the space that confronted them three years ago.
“It’s better than what we thought it would be,” Shannon said.
Bob said he recognizes that the building is a prominent piece in Baker City’s nationally recognized downtown historic district.
“It’s right in the center of Baker,” he said. “We’re happy to have the opportunity to do this.”
Shannon said they bought the building in part because her brother, Mark Johnson, co-owner of Sid Johnson & Co., inspected the structure and deemed it sound.
The new owners also marvel at how rapidly the building went up following the fire, back when the 20th century was scarcely a decade old.
“Within a year it was rebuilt,” Shannon said.
“It took us a year to remodel it,” Bob said with a grin.