Historic I.O.O.F. Building Transforming into Clatskanie Cultural Center

by Deborah Steele Hazen

THE EXTERIOR OF THE HISTORIC I.O.O.F. Hall/Avalon Theatre building was restored several years ago by the Clatskanie Foundation. Now, as a hugely successful fundraising campaign nears its goal, work is underway  inside to reconstruct the interior into a multi-purpose theatre, ballroom, retail space and offices for the City of Clatskanie, Clatskanie Foundaiton and Clatskanie Arts Commission. See the accompanying story for details.  Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen

THE EXTERIOR OF THE HISTORIC I.O.O.F. Hall/Avalon Theatre building was restored several years ago by the Clatskanie Foundation. Now, as a hugely successful fundraising campaign nears its goal, work is underway inside to reconstruct the interior into a multi-purpose theatre, ballroom, retail space and offices for the City of Clatskanie, Clatskanie Foundaiton and Clatskanie Arts Commission. See the accompanying story for details. Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen

From the outside, the Clatskanie I.O.O.F. Hall/Avalon Theatre building looks much like it did when it opened almost 88 years ago, but inside a complete reconstruction is underway.

Thanks to the largest fundraising campaign in the history of a community known for its volunteerism, the Clatskanie Foundation has raised over $3,250,000, on the way to a goal of $3,300,000, to purchase and restore what was a crumbling eyesore in the middle of town into an historic showplace for cultural events and civic activities.

Over 300 individuals, businesses, industries, organizations and private foundations have contributed – from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands – to make what once seemed like a distant dream a soon-to-be reality.

Under the guiding and experienced eye of volunteer project manager Mike Engel, a retired general contractor and a director of the Clatskanie Foundation, “rough-ins” of the sprinkler system, plumbing, heating, and electrical systems are now underway and in various stages of completion. Seismic upgrades are virtually complete. The theatre floor is almost 90 percent done; framing is about two-thirds done, and the old roof was being torn off this week in preparation for replacement.

Wherever possible, the Foundation is using local contractors and suppliers for the work, including John Norgren’s crew, for carpentry; Rick Richmond Construction, which poured the new theatre floor; Ark Roofing, Kynsi Construction, and Clatskanie Builders Supply.

Project engineer Dave Hicks, a retired Wauna Mill engineer and also a Foundation director, is lending his expertise and has served as liaison with architect Mario Espinoza of the Portland architectural firm of Ankrom Moisan. Espinoza is also the architect for McMenamin’s projects and was chosen for his expertise in the restoration of historic buildings and theatres.

When it is completed early in 2015, the new Clatskanie Cultural Center will include a 170-seat multi-purpose theatre,  a 1,000 square foot retail space on the ground floor, a “green room” and dressing rooms, restrooms, offices for the Clatskanie Foundation and the Clatskanie Arts Commission (CAC), as well as a lobby with an elevator and stairs to the second floor.

The second floor will have a 2,600 hundred square foot suite of offices and a public meeting room for the City of Clatskanie, a 2,300 square foot ballroom for dances, dance and exercise classes, receptions, a kitchen, restrooms and a lobby area.

Fond Memories Turn Into an Eyesore

Local residents, many of whom had fond memories of attending movies in the theatre, and dinner and dances in the upstairs rooms, watched the once grand building crumbling after it was sold by the few remaining members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) into private hands about 25 years ago.

Under the first private ownership, an illegal marijuana-growing operation ruined the theatre seats with leaking watering pipes and spilled potting soil, and did damage throughout the building.

Next, a young man with ideas bigger than his budget, gutted the building, hoping to reconstruct it. He left it stripped down to the concrete walls on both floors. The theatre, which  had seen live vaudeville performances and movie showings from the silent era through “Crocodile Dundee,” was completely stripped. The floor was dug down to the dirt, so that nothing was left in the theatre except a few shards of the once luxurious velvet stage curtain.

That owner sold it to an Astoria man who used it as a warehouse for a hoard – everything from rotting mattresses and mildewed rolls of carpet to surprisingly neat stacks of banana boxes piled 10 feet high and full of everything but the kitchen sink – there were sinks tossed elsewhere in the 13,500 foot building.

CLATSKANIE CULTURAL CENTER VOLUNTEER PROJECT MANAGER Mike Engel works in what will be the second floor lobby, with the elevator shaft in the foreground.  Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen

CLATSKANIE CULTURAL CENTER VOLUNTEER PROJECT MANAGER Mike Engel works in what will be the second floor lobby, with the elevator shaft in the foreground.
Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen

Inspired to Give

In the fall of 2005, the all-volunteer board of the Clatskanie Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization known primarily for its administration of scholarships and other funds to benefit the community, learned that C. Keith Birkenfeld, a descendant of Nehalem Valley and Clatskanie pioneers, had left the Foundation $500,000 with the proviso that it be used for a “bricks and mortar” project.

Birkenfeld, an educator and philanthropist who built a fortune through wise investments, left virtually all of his considerable fortune to various non-profit organizations – mostly in the Puget Sound area where he lived. The half a million dollars left to the Clatskanie Foundation, in honor of his family roots and many distant cousins in this area, was the second largest of the approximately three dozen bequests in his will.

Additionally, Birkenfeld left the bulk of his fortune to the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust Fund at the Seattle Foundation with an advisory committee entrusted with the task of dispersing the funds to worthy projects and programs and inspiring others to give to non-profit organizations that operated on “lean” budgets, emphasized volunteerism, received no or minimal government funding, and accomplished significant good in their communities.

Birkenfeld, who died at the age of 66 in September of 2005, had many interests – among them history, art and political science.

After learning of the half million dollar Birkenfeld bequest, Foundation board members considered several possibilities before coming to the conclusion that saving the dilapidated hulk just a half block off of Highway 30, and restoring it for use as a performing arts and civic center, would be the project with the most positive impact on the community – aesthetically and because of the cultural and recreational opportunities it would provide.

Local engineer Andrew Niemi volunteered his services to inspect the building and gave his opinion that it was salvageable.

The executor of Birkenfeld’s will approved the idea and release of the funds was arranged after Foundation President Rich Larsen successfully negotiated the purchase of the building.

Meanwhile, former Clatskanie resident Erika Weisensee, who has since volunteered her services to assist in grant writing, accidentally discovered while doing other research that the Clatskanie I.O.O.F. Hall was originally designed by Ernst Kroner, one of Oregon’s outstanding architects of the early 20th century.

Subsequently, the Foundation, with Hicks and fellow director Deborah Hazen doing the necessary research and paperwork, was successful in having the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With engineering and architectural studies completed, the Foundation used the remainder of the Birkenfeld bequest to restore the exterior facade of the building, removing the eyesore from  Clatskanie’s commercial district. That exterior work, along with the first of the seismic upgrades was completed in 2010.

“The Dream Team”

In the meantime, the Foundation built partnerships with CAC and the City of Clatskanie to launch what would become the most successful fundraising drive in local history.

CAC, which has operated 26 performing arts seasons out of the Clatskanie Middle/High School Donavon Wooley Performing Arts Center, agreed that a smaller, more intimate theatre space, would be more suitable for many of its offerings, and would also allow for an expanded series of recitals, poetry readings, lectures, public forums, etc., as well as community theatre.

Saddled with a cramped, non-ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, problematic building with a council chambers that was once the fire truck garage, the City of Clatskanie agreed to move its offices to the second floor of the restored Clatskanie Cultural Center in exchange for the donation of the current building to be razed and used for expanded parking space, plus water and sewer service for the non-profit portions of the building.

Clatskanie Mayor Diane Pohl, City Manager Greg Hinkelman, City Finance Manager Sharry Hilton, and Dee and Elsa Wooley, the longtime leaders of CAC, joined Larsen, Hicks, Engel, Hazen and Foundation treasurer Teresa Wemmer, on what fundraising consultant Mark Sherman would later dub “the dream team.”

After several years of preparation, and with an approximately $200,000 bequest from the late Dr. Charles “Bert” Grayson of Clatskanie, the dream team, with materials designed by yet another volunteer, Amanda Moravec, launched a fundraising drive in early 2012, going first to the Birkenfeld Memorial Trust, which granted another $500,000.

With $1 million coming from Keith Birkenfeld’s philanthropy, the newly-restored 170-seat theatre will be named after him.

Birkenfeld did, indeed, inspire others to give. in the last two years, “the dream team” has been successful in receiving prestigious grants from:

The Ford Family Foundation – $500,000;

Meyer Memorial Trust – $295,000;

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust – $250,000;

The Collins Foundation – $90,000;

The Wollenberg Foundation – $60,000;

Oregon Community Foundation – $30,000;

James F. and Marion Miller Foundation – $30,000;

Samuel S. Johnson Foundation – $10,000;

Portland General Electric Foundation – $10,000;

Georgia-Pacific Foundation – $5,000;

Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation – $5,000.

Oregon Community Fund – Fred W. Fields Fund – $5,000;

Columbia County Cultural  Coalition – $1,500.

As the recipient of the C. Keith Birkenfeld Humanitarian Award in 2013, Mayor Pohl donated the $25,000 prize to the Clatskanie Cultural Center campaign.

Add to those donations, extraordinarily generous contributions from local citizens and industries:

Eric and Bonnie Evenson – $30,000;

Teevin Brothers Land & Timber – $30,000;

Dr. and Mrs. James Tyack – $10,800;

Global Partners LP – $10,000.

Stephen and Linda Constans – $10,000;

Curt and Jeanne Fluhrer – $5,000;

Robert and Michelle Keyser – $5,000;

Toby and Kara Harris – $5,000;

David and Bertie Smith – $5,000;

Clatskanie Kiwanis Club – $5,000;

Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce – $2,500;

Portland & Western Railroad – $2,500;

Greg & Joann Booth – $2,500;

Matt & Celice Carlough- $2,500.

Additionally, another three dozen local individuals and businesses have donated  between $1,000 and $2,000, including all of the Foundation directors, and literally hundreds of others have made donations of varying sizes at a benefit appraisal fair in 2010 or the Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising “Twelve More Miles to Clatskanie” concert in 2011.

All contributors of $1,000 or more will receive permanent recognition in the lobby.

“The restoration of this historic building shows what can happen when the community works together to make great things happen in Clatskanie. Not only will this important structure be restored but it will be a hub for cultural events, enrichment activities, family and group gatherings. On a daily basis, it will be alive with the City of Clatskanie business,” remarked Elsa Wooley, who now does double-duty as the Foundation’s secretary as well as continuing her work with CAC.

Seat Naming 

While construction is well underway and dreams of moving into the building are expected to become a reality early next year, the fundraising goes on to close the approximately $45,000 gap and to build a maintenance fund for the future.

More grants and in-kind contribution requests are in progress.

As of this week, 40 of the 170 seats that will be placed in the Birkenfeld Theatre – vintage seats in beautiful condition that were obtained for a “song” from McMenamin’s Baghdad Theatre in Portland – have been sponsored by individuals paying $250 to have their name or a loved one’s name engraved on a plaque to be placed on a seat.

Forms to sponsor a seat are also available at or

Those wishing more information about making a donation to the project may call Hazen at 503 728-4129 or 503 338-8268.

Clatskanie Blues Festival Brings Rhythm to the River Saturday

Clatskanie will be singing the blues this weekend as the Clatskanie Blues Festival, benefitting the United Way of Columbia County, returns to the Clatskanie City Park on Saturday, July 26.

The outdoor “Rhythm on the River” concert will feature top blues performers: Harper & Midwest Kind, Steelhead, the Beacon Street Titans, and the Robin Gibson Band.

Vendors open at 11 a.m. and the music begins at 1 p.m.

Sponsors of the event are the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD), Portland General Electric (PGE), Fibre Federal, Global Partners and Teevin Bros.

About the Performers

“Harper & Midwest Kind” is described as “an amalgamation of blues, rock, funk, soul, and world music.” Australian singer/songwriter “Harper” creates “a heady mix of roots music through his creative use of the harp, and didgeridoo. Borrowing from western and world music, this musical visionary develops a highly original take on the roots genre.” Harper is backed by the Michigan-based band “Midwest Kind.”

“Steelhead” is a multi-dimensional rock ‘n roll band. All members have years of experience playing classic rock, blues and country, as well as a lot of contemporary music. They play an extensive selection of popular songs ranging from Green Day, Collective Soul, Nirvana, The Clash, Dire Straights, The Doobie Brothers, The Beatles, and many more, appealing to a wide audience of various ages.

As one of the 2014 Cascade Blues Association Muddy Award Nominees for Best New Act, The Beacon Street Titans’ brand of “infectious, hard-swinging, jump swing and blues music will amaze you,” organizers of the festival say. “Vocals, guitar, blues harp, horns, upright bass and drums combine to create a sound and energy that is absolutely irresistible.”

The Robin Gibson Band is a “hard-rockin’ blues unit” comprised of Robin Gibson (guitar/vocals), Allen Weeks (bass/vocals), Gary “Reverend J” Jaskoviac (keys/vocals), and Dave Smith (drums). Between them, they have over 150 years playing music. “They play hard, and with lots of energy, to get you up and moving,” according to blues festival organizers.

Community-Wide Garage Sale This Saturday in Clatskanie

Clatskanie’s 20th annual community-wide garage sale is happening this Saturday, July 26, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 22 locations in town and in the rural area.

The event is sponsored by the Clatskanie Chamber of Commerce.

Maps noting the address of each sale will be distributed on Friday, July 25, from the Chamber office at Windermere/St. Helens Real Estate, Carla’s Closet/Latté Da, Flowers ‘N Fluff and Hump’s Restaurant. Addresses are also listed on this week’s classifieds page.

Clatskanie PUD Board Hears Need for Rate Increase

by Deborah Steele Hazen

Presentations of information and discussion of “why we need to consider a rate increase” kept the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD) board of directors busy at its meeting July 16.

That issue, as well as long-term planning, were also being discussed at a two-day strategic planning session of the PUD management team and board held Tuesday and Wednesday, July 22 and 23, in the banquet room at Hump’s Restaurant.

Possible action on a rate increase is expected at  the PUD board’s Aug. 20th meeting.

Last week’s meeting began with a presentation by financial advisor Alan Dashen and the PUD’s long-time attorney Larry Cable.

Last February, the PUD board had authorized general manager Marc Farmer to issue revenue bonds not to exceed $14 million to repay the $6 million outstanding debt on a revolving credit line, about $4 million of which was used to partially fund the new headquarters facilities (the majority of the $14 million headquarters cost was covered by cash reserves) and the remaining $2 million was towards phase 1 of the new Wauna transmission line, as well as other capital projects. In addition to the $6 million outstanding debt, the bond issue was also aimed at financing other capital projects.

However, when the district began steps to issue bonds, the financial institutions said “gee, maybe you need a little more money in the bank,” Dashen told the board.

The PUD currently has an A3 bond rating level, at the bottom of the “A” scale. “That’s about as low as I’d like to see you go,” Dashen said.

Having higher revenues in place through rate increases would allow the PUD to maintain its existing credit rating, and be eligible for a 20-year bond issuance at three to four percent, Dashen explained.

The PUD also has outstanding bonds from 2007 to build the Bradbury substation to serve new development at Port Westward and the transmission line leading to it, as well as rebuilding the Conyers (Clatskanie) substation.

While the PUD has had rate increases tied to BPA power costs, it has not had a cost-of-living/inflation increase to cover operating costs since 2003, Farmer said.

“From a legal perspective, you have a general obligation to increase rates if you have trouble paying your bills or if you want to increase debt,” Cable told the board.

However, Cable added, the Clatskanie PUD is in a unique situation in that the majority of its power is sold to one customer – Georgia-Pacific. “You’re required to raise rates as a matter of law to make your payments, but you have been making those payments.”

Ideally, the PUD should have $6 to $9 million in reserves to cover 60 to 90 days worth of power, according to those presenting information at last week’s meeting. Currently it has about $3.5 million in reserves, and is owed about $2.1 million by Global Partners, which has been paying off the debt in monthly payments for equipment installed at the time the ethanol plant at Port Westward was built. Global plans to pay off the debt in full if it receives the permits to expand its operation, Farmer reported.

Since the unsuccessful attempt to sell bonds earlier this year, PUD staff members, headed by energy resources and services manager Eric Hiassen and senior power analyst Paul Dockery, have developed a planning model that shows the district will need to increase rates to provide financial stability, funds for capital improvements not funded with bonds, provide adequate cash flow and coverage to allow the district to issue bonds for major projects.

District revenues depend in part on secondary electric market prices from the co-generation project at the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill, the PUD’s “slice” of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) which, because of BPA decisions, is smaller than it was, and the Arrowrock hydro-electric plant.

While those secondary wholesale revenues have helped keep PUD rates low, they also lead to uncertainty in forecasting revenues, Hiaasen explained. The co-generation plant unexpectedly was shutdown for repairs for several months during the past year, and the amount of power available from the BPA and Arrowrock projects is dependent on water conditions.

The secondary power sales have “masked” the district’s increasing operating costs,  and delayed a rate increase, Hiaasen explained. But with lower market prices and a lower BPA “slice” percentage, “our funds from operation are not sufficient to operate the utility.”

Various options for rate increases as well as bonding versus a continued line of credit were expected to be discussed during the strategic planning session this week.

Collections Policy, Court Case, Public Comments

The only formal action taken by the PUD board at its July 16th meeting was adoption of a revised credit and collections policy, which had been discussed at previous meetings.

The board tabled a decision on whether to continue a lawsuit against the BPA regarding its change in policy for contracted for/committed to (CF/CT) Tier 1 power, pending discussions with Georgia-Pacific and the BPA.

Lori Piercy and Keith Sutfin, two of the three PUD directors who were recalled in 2007, criticized directors Merle Gillespie and Don Hooper, as well as former general manager Greg Booth, saying that the allegations against Booth in 2007 were linked to the recent lawsuits by former employees against the PUD.

Piercy called Chief editor Deborah Hazen “a liar… You lied about me, Keith and Rod (Ollila).”

Piercy also demanded that Gillespie and Hooper resign.

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