In 2013, Oregon City officials declared the Buena Vista Social Clubhouse a "dangerous building," putting it on the road to demolition. Starting this year, it's on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for funding to ensure its preservation.
Such a remarkable turnaround for this building culminated June 26, when federal officials recognized that the Buena Vista "property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history."
Buena Vista Civic Improvement Club members who established the clubhouse were a unique group for Oregon City, in that residents came together regardless of background or status to make a significant impact on their neighborhood. Unlike other clubs in Oregon City between 1930 and 1968, the Buena Vista organization allowed men and women to join regardless of marital status, allowed women to serve in its leadership positions, and did not dictate membership based on religion or employment status.
Club members for decades used the building as the "center of the social fabric of the neighborhood," raising funds to build a bridge, pave roads, install drinking fountains and construct park play equipment, among other civic improvements. The building was donated to Oregon City in 1987, when the club formally dissolved, and the city rented it out for events until closing it to the public in 2013.
City commissioners turned around the fate of the building last year after appointing Denyse McGriff to a vacant position on the commission. McGriff, a longtime preservation advocate, had in 2017 helped create a sub-committee of the Oregon City Parks Foundation to act as a friends group for the building. At the urging of citizens, commissioners voted last year to restore power to the building, allowing security lighting and minimal heat to slow the deterioration of the structure until long-term repairs are funded.
OCPF President Roger Fowler-Thias noted that the foundation fronted the $4,000 to have the electrical hooked up again, which the city had torn out three or four years ago.
"We are very happy to have a started down the road in saving another historical building that was red-tagged for the wrecking ball," Fowler-Thias said. "Thank you, Denyse, for being on this issue for so many years and never giving up."
After volunteering to clear gutters and remove invasive plants, Friends of the Buena Vista clubhouse plan to continue to invest time and money into the building, buoyed by the National Register of Historic Places designation, with a goal of reopening it to the public for weddings and club meetings. Hardwood flooring needs refinishing in the approximately 1,000-square-foot clubhouse's large dining/dancing area, among several other maintenance issues.
The building that would become the Buena Vista Civic Clubhouse was originally constructed around 1896 at 619 Center St., directly behind the Huntley Drugstore. The clubhouse building was moved to its current location in 1930 on Jackson Street, on the edge of Atkinson Park, where it has remained to this day.
Around 2003, the Buena Vista Neighborhood's land — from Jackson to Division streets and from 14th to 18th streets — was formally added to the McLoughlin Historic District. Buena Vista was originally named "Kansas City" in the late 19th century due to the origin of some of the area's early settlers, but the residents decided to change it in 1923.
By 1914, Buena Vista had approximately 35 homes, and nearly every available lot had been developed by 1939. But by 1996, the neighborhood was no longer recognized by the city and it had lost the only other non-residential building that defined the community, the Buena Vista Grocery that once stood at the intersection of 16th and Polk streets.
"With the loss of the grocery store, the Buena Vista Social Clubhouse became the last surviving non-residential building notably associated with the neighborhood," McGriff said. "Though not much is known about the Buena Vista Neighborhood's early development, the clubhouse stands as the best known example in the vicinity of a community and civic building."
UPDATE: Friends of Buena Vista would like to credit Leesa Gratreak for sheparding the nomination through the process. "Leesa put all of our information together in a package and her work alone got the Friends of the Buena Vista Club House to the finish line," McGriff said.
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