The excitement of Dunsmuir locals and downtown merchants was nearly palpable last Wednesday as work was visibly underway in the historic three-story Hutaff Building on the corner of Dunsmuir Avenue and Pine Street.
Rumors had been floating around for a number of weeks about the big building more recently known as the Travelers Hotel, and Dunsmuir residents had speculated about whether or not someone had indeed bought it.
Reports of the sale were confirmed last week when heavy equipment arrived on Dunsmuir Avenue, doors on the sleeping giant were flung open, and a crew of workers began purging the old building of its accumulation of mattresses, shabby old furniture, and other obsolete debris.
The landmark building had been vacant for nearly a decade; it was condemned due to a broken indoor sprinkler system as a result of a skylight that caved in.
For the first time in nine years, the exterior doors of the Hutaff Building stood wide open last Wednesday. Parked along the street in front of the previously dormant building were work trucks, trailer and a backhoe – for removal of heavy debris in the clearing out process underway.
As of Monday, one of the new owners, Charles “Chick” Mengis of Oregon, said they had removed 120 mattresses from the building. He and his son, Andy Mengis, were on site Monday to see about getting utilities turned on in the building, so work could proceed.
“We’ve just completed the first stage” of the project, “which was buying the property,” Chick said. “The second stage is (getting) electricity and plumbing.”
There was still no power, no heat, and no running water in the building as of Monday. And, unfortunately, there had been a major break in a water main in the street behind the building last Thursday. This meant the City was busy responding to that emergency and the problems caused by the resulting flooding in the streets, from Shasta Avenue, down Pine Street, to Dunsmuir Avenue.
Another member of the group that purchased the building, Chick’s son Greg Mengis of Fremont, said they plan to bring the building back into service to the community of Dunsmuir, with retail/commercial space available on the first floor, and residential use on the top two floors.
Greg said they’ve already been approached by someone who said they would be interested in buying a condominium unit in the building. He said the owners group consists of people with a wide variety of skill sets necessary for the successful and timely completion of the project.
A retired accountant, Chick Mengis said he has become increasingly involved with various building projects ever since he and his sons first got involved with Habitat For Humanity on a project in Yakima, Wash.
Chick and Andy say they “hope to be developing condos and commercial space” and they “hope to have studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom condos” available when the project is finished. Chick added with confidence, “It looks like something we can do.”
In the meantime, initial workers have been clearing debris out of the building and are discovering some beautiful, 100-year old straight-grain hardwood floors. Chick expressed an interest in learning more about the Hutaff Building, saying that they learned from one Dunsmuir old-timer who informed them the building had even housed a church once, in one of the former interior “mall” spaces. That would account for the presence of some old wooden church pews the new owners found in the building.
Chick talked about why they were attracted to the idea of embarking on such an ambitious renovation project in Dunsmuir. He said Dunsmuir is “a significant attraction to us,” because he and his sons have a shared love of skiing, snowboarding and scouting. “We’re outdoor people,” he said, adding that they could foresee that same appeal for others who might also want to come to Dunsmuir for similar reasons.
The newest addition to their group is Ryan McInnis of Portland, who will be involved in the on-site building/construction aspect of the project. McInnis said he had just come off a construction project in South Carolina, and had just returned to Portland when he was approached to bring his skills to the group. McInnis will be staying in Dunsmuir, working on and overseeing the physical part of the project.
Although he’s not one of the new owners, Steve Pierce of Dunsmuir is involved with the project. A Dunsmuir resident for 42 years, Pierce said he worked there at the Travelers Hotel when he was 16 years old, as a prep cook and bus boy. He said he later worked at Mercy Medical Center in Mt. Shasta for 19 years. For the past 10 years, Pierce said he has been the property manager for the building for Baymark Financial, the previous owner of the building.
Pierce said he will be helping in whatever ways he is needed, explaining that one of his strengths is his ability to network and bring the right people and equipment needed to the various aspects of the project.
After nearly a decade of disuse, the town is excited to finally see some fresh, forward movement with the prospect of the old Hutaff Building once again opening its doors for both business and residential use.
Siskiyou Arts Museum volunteer Linda Price said she is “Totally! TOTALLY!” excited about the project, “excited because I see life coming back!”
Local artist and retired bartender/bar manager Megan McGill said she is excited “because a dead building is coming alive! It’s a sign of prosperity for the town.”
Ron McCloud, town historian and owner of the historic Dunsmuir Hardware store, said “HURRAY! It’s about time!” McCloud said the old Hutaff building is “such an important part of our history and heritage... This is going to be such a shot in the arm for the whole community.”
With an estimated time frame of 18-plus months for what Chick Mengis describes as a “medium-scale” project to be completed, Dunsmuir will have plenty of time to wait and see how it all turns out.