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Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Balloons float past the J.S. Cooper Building's octagonal tower cupola during the Hop & Heritage Festival in 2012.
February 12, 2013
INDEPENDENCE -- There's a ladder on the second floor of the J.S. Cooper Building on Main Street that allows you to enter its highly visible octagonal tower, said Marian Fitts while walking through the dimly lit structure, flashlight in hand.
The tower cupola once held a bell that sounded every time a boat arrived with cargo and docked along the Willamette River across the street, Fitts said.
Continuing with her tour, she noted an access in the west alley to the basement -- it was used for coal deliveries.
During its early days, the first floor of the Queen Anne-style building housed a general store. Doctor and dental practices, law offices, a barber shop -- a slew of businesses have been located upstairs at one time or another.
Local lore states ghosts reside here, too. Fitts can't vouch for that.
"The only thing that's happened to me is a light coming on at a random time," said Fitts, a lifelong Independence resident and a Windermere real estate broker. "It was built in 1895 ... you've got a lot of history here."
History, but not much activity in the last seven or eight years.
The Speakeasy Steakhouse and an eBay store have been the last operations inside the building -- and both of those closed during the mid-2000s.
James S. Cooper erected the structure in 1895 after coming to Oregon from Missouri in the 1860s.
The property has been mostly used for storage since then, though some new features were added in mid-January -- very visible "for sale" signs.
It marks the first major push to sell the commercial property at 206 S. Main St. in years, Fitts, the building's listing agent, said.
Many in town hope it happens. With the exception of Independence Station, the Cooper Building might be the most asked-about structure downtown, said Shawn Irvine, city economic development director.
"Along with (Sterling Bank), this is the most identifiable landmark we have," Irvine said. "There's a desire to see that building open and in use."
The nearly 8,300-square-foot building is owned by the California-based Muis Trust.
On Aug. 22, 1922 a crowd gathered outside the Williams Drug Co. along Main Street, possibly for a parade. The J.S. Cooper Building has been a fixture of downtown Independence for more than a century, holding medical and law practices, a barber shop, grocery store and several restaurants.
Bobby Muis, the trust agent who lives in Independence, has tried selling the building on his own since 2006, Fitts said.
She said that family health issues have sparked this earnest move to liquidate the Muis family's downtown properties; the trust is also trying to sell what used to be an old Chevrolet dealership and service station at 159 S. Second St.
The Cooper Building is listed at $600,000.
The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected in 1895 by James S. Cooper.
The interior of the building has a sunken-floor bar, mezzanine seating and unfinished upstaris amid rustic timbers.
Cooper came to Oregon from Missouri in the 1860s, ran a number of farms and businesses in Polk County, and became a state representative.
Historical records on the early days of the Cooper Building are sparse. An 82-year-old article in the old Independence Enterprise newspaper states, however, that the Williams Drug Store occupied the ground floor as of 1909.
"When I was young, back in the 1940s, it was still a drug store," said Tom Girard, a lifelong Independence resident. "The owner, (C.S) Williams, had a big house on C Street."
A photograph in the state's historical archives shows that the ground floor had become the Hi-Ho Restaurant by 1959. The west portion of the building was a dance hall and popular watering hole, Girard said.
A local doctor purchased the site during the late 1970s and turned it into Cooper's Landing, a restaurant and lounge mainstay for almost two decades.
These days, about the only view inside is through the windows of the lobby off Main Street. Peek inside and you can see model airplanes, old photographs and a mannequin.
For sale signs were posted on the Cooper Building in mid-January. Its listing price is $600,000.
Hidden away from the public eye is the restaurant and lounge at the end of the hallway that runs east to west -- they're huge.
Large timbers extend all the way up to the exposed second floor. A large sunken-floor bar, stained-glass windows and a player piano -- with the reel still in it -- are eye-catching features.
Winding staircases that lead to the mezzanine and unfinished lodging upstairs divide a slew of empty tables and booths. A roulette table, legs removed, is affixed to a north wall.
"There were some architect's designs at one point to turn the upstairs into a bed-and-breakfast or hotel rooms," Fitts said.
To be certain, the building needs work, she said. The
upstairs renovation was never finished. There's moisture damage to some areas of the floor and a leaky section of roof. The kitchen needs to be updated for fire suppression.
The Cooper Building's condition put the owners at odds with city maintenance codes a few years ago, though issues such as deteriorating brick on the facade and a stormwater drainage problem have been resolved, Irvine said.
"There are keystone properties downtown ... this is one of them," he said. "If we can get a good tenant bringing traffic to that building, it could have an exponential impact."