A former favorite spot for nightlife in Baker City is getting a royal makeover just in time for the Christmas parade and tree-lighting event on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Jeff Jentzsch of Rupert, Idaho, recently bought the former Royal Cafe and Lounge, a longtime popular dance place, at 1902 Main St., as an investment.
Jentzsch said someone mentioned that it would be fun to have one last dance before he remodels the interior of the building, which is on the east side of Main Street just north of Court Avenue.
He was intrigued.
“The stainless steel floor is still there and that’s what we’re trying to do, is get this back to a semi-presentable state and do one last dance,” Jentzsch said.
The dance will take place after the tree-lighting ceremony, and those attending will have the option to buy a piece of memorabilia from the historic Kennedy Building, constructed around 1900.
Jentzsch sent in a slab of the steel floor to Natural Structures in Baker City, where workers are slicing the sheet into coaster-sized pieces. The pieces work as a ticket as well, but they will have paper tickets too.
“It’s like when you’re buying concert tickets. You can get the economy ticket or the one that has the backstage pass,” Jentzsch said.
After the dance, Jentzsch plans to turn the building into a storefront with several businesses inside with an area for Art Roamers.
That’s the nonprofit organization Jentzsch and his wife, Susan Ogawa, started in 2016. It travels around the world to showcase works by artists from struggling countries.
Pieces promoted by Art Roamers include the metal animals displayed at several places in downtown Baker City.
Jentzsch said he and his wife started working on the Kennedy Building a week ago, and they’ve found historical treasures.
One discovery was the “United States Supply Company,” a book Jentzsch thinks dates to the late 1800s and features bathroom appliances such as iron and porcelain bathtubs ranging from $40 to $150.
The property has a rich history.
The building that originally occupied the site was a two-story structure built around 1874 by Catholic vicar Father DeRoo and known as the Arlington Hotel.
“It was the first brick building in Baker City,” said Jentzsch.
The hotel was later operated as the Cosmopolitan, and J.T. Kennedy later acquired the building. He probably added the third story, according to the Baker County Library District’s historic photo archive.
The top two stories were removed around 1969 by owner Jack Eng, a Baker restaurateur and photographer.
The building was used for a variety of retail outlets, including the first location for Sears in Baker City, Jentzsch said. There was also a real estate business and another company.
“We’re going to do something similar,” Jentzsch said.
He said remnants of the red velvet wallpaper that graced the former Shangrila restaurant, owned by Eng, are still visible in places. Jentzsch said he will preserve those portions within picture frames.
He plans to have the exterior in tune with the rest of Main Street as period oriented and Victorian styled.
The interior will be more contemporary with spaces to serve multiple uses.
“So, inside will be kind of planning for the future, while outside will be looking to the past,” he said.
Jentzsch has not applied for grants for the renovation. He is trading some antique items, such as the brass candelabras, with other building owners working to restore historic buildings.
Jentzsch attended the University of Idaho and has an associate’s degree in architecture and a degree in engineering. He has worked for years in construction.
Jentzsch and his wife had been visiting her daughter in Baker City five years ago. After establishing Art Roamers, they decided to do a pop up show in town.
“Everybody was so friendly and helpful,” Jentzsch said.
From there, they did several shows in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, eventually making their way back to Baker where they set up the metal animals this summer.
“So, really what brought us to Baker City was the folks, the people,” Jentzsch said. “The friendliness, the openness, the willingness to help and it’s just been refreshing.”
For 2020 Jentzsch said Art Roamers will be visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and others parts of Southeast Asia.
Inspiration to help foreign artists came when he and his wife went to Nairobi, Kenya.
Jentzsch had gone to Africa as a volunteer for a Utah nonprofit to help with construction projects.
While there, he and his wife met Samuel, a man living in the slums making a life-sized ostrich sculpture. He was the first foreign artist they signed on with Art Roamers.
“We try to select artists or groups that we can make a difference,” Jentzsch said.