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Cooper Building coming back to life

Ghosts inside former Speakeasy served eviction notice to make room for progress

The interior of the J.S. Cooper Building has a sunken-floor bar, mezzanine seating and an unfinished upstairs amid rustic timbers. The historic building was recently sold and improvements are about to begin.

Photo by Pete Strong

The interior of the J.S. Cooper Building has a sunken-floor bar, mezzanine seating and an unfinished upstairs amid rustic timbers. The historic building was recently sold and improvements are about to begin.

January 14, 2014

INDEPENDENCE — Bodie Bemrose has a lot of work to do to the J.S. Cooper Block Building in downtown Independence, but he is up to the challenge.

He has experience remodeling old buildings, including a few in Monmouth's downtown.

One thing is for certain: Bemrose is not afraid of the alleged ghosts haunting the Cooper building any more than he is the work needed to renovate it.

He said he isn't a part of the ghost movement, but thinks Independence is heading into a new era.

"Let's not revive the economy based on ghost stories and murders," he said. "We're going to breathe new life into this building with businesses in the community. The ghosts are gone. We're kicking them out of there. They're gone. I might put up a sign that says, 'Eviction notice: all ghosts.'"

With the ghosts out of the way, the first order of business is the uneven flooring, and work will start next week.

Somewhere, someone boarded up the vents in the basement, which caused moisture to build up, Bemrose said. Some of the old growth fir floor joists are rotting because of it.

The floor will need to be redone, starting at the front of the building and working back. Bemrose said some of the 2-inch by 14-feet floor joists will be salvageable, and the old flooring, also of old growth fir, will be saved.

"It's not a cheap job to fix," he said. "No one's going to appreciate it because it's all out of sight. It's all under you, but you have to do it."

Bemrose, owner of B.C. Bemrose &?Co., has been interested in history, and in historic buildings, for years. His great-great-grandfather came to Oregon on the wagon trails and settled in Airlie. He grew up on a farm in Buena Vista and still enjoys hearing his 97-year-old grandmother tell tales of historic Independence.

"I've been gathering history for a long time," he said. "I understand these buildings now because that's our passion, historic buildings."

Bemrose will restore the Cooper Building to as close to the original 1895 building as possible, including the tall windows and storefronts along C Street.

"One of the reasons why all these buildings had such tall ceilings is because there was no electricity," Bemrose said. "So the only way to get light from the front to the back was to allow the natural light to travel."

The brick walls that cover the entrances where two shops used to be on C Street, a barber shop and a cigar shop, will be removed.

Bodie Bemrose uses historic photographs of the J.S. Cooper Block Building to piece together the past uses of the building. He plans to restore the building at 206 S. Main St. to its historic glory.

Photo by Emily Mentzer

Bodie Bemrose uses historic photographs of the J.S. Cooper Block Building to piece together the past uses of the building. He plans to restore the building at 206 S. Main St. to its historic glory.

The Cooper Building will again accommodate at least three different businesses, possibly a fourth, and up to 12 individual offices on the second floor, including single room executive suites and some multiple office suites.

The bar, part of Cooper's Landing — once touted as the longest working bar in Oregon — will remain.

"This would cost someone $100,000 to build nowadays," Bemrose said.

A new entry will be built, and the unfinished stairway in the center of the restaurant will be removed, but the sunken bar, the mezzanine level and exposed wood, benches and chairs will all stay.

"The beauty of this, when they sunk that bar, all that framing is solid," Bemrose said. "It's not sinking. It's everything from the bar over."

Discussions with local architect Jane Honbeck are still happening over details, such as how to bring walls and half-moon windows back, but Bemrose is all in, even if it means the bar won't be quite as long.

"We're going to go for it," he said. "We're going to tear that brick down and bring back the storefronts. That's the only way to restore a building if you're going to be a purist."

He is willing to be flexible, depending on if a tenant business has a request, but overall, Bemrose is a believer in original.

"The old-timers, they had it figured out," he said. "We always think we can make things better, but they actually knew what they were doing."

Bemrose hopes to have the building occupied by August, the first time since 1995 that it has been fully used. He has already had inquires about both the office space and from ground-floor retailers.

He is the project manager, leasing broker and property manager for owner-investor Florin Drutu of Delta Painting Co. in Portland.

Bemrose and Drutu have worked together for years, and it was Bemrose who represented Drutu in negotiations of the Cooper Building, 206 S. Main St., in downtown Independence.

Who is Florin Drutu?

Florin Drutu is the new owner of the J.S. Cooper Block Building on Main Street in downtown Independence.

He is from Transylvania, Romania. He left the Romanian Socialist Republic, a communist country, in 1987 when he was 18. He and some of his family members were caught trying to cross the border and sent to prison. He was released, and later successful in escaping Romania and immigrating to the U.S.

He started a painting company in Portland, where he met Bodie Bemrose, who used him to paint a number of buildings in Portland, Oregon City and Monmouth.

"He's living the American Dream," Bemrose said. "He saves his money; his company's grown; he's doing well, and he's not afraid of the building. He wants to save it. He loves the history here."

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