Medford in 1984

Medford, as Viable, Vital City, Has Endured Economic Changes

President, Southern Oregon Chapter, American Institute of Architects

    I read with interest and some dismay Stu Watson's article on architect Tom Marineau's impressions of Medford that appeared in the Mail Tribune, July 22. The headline began on a high note, dealing with ". . . Dreams of Rebirth." The article rapidly deteriorated into a tone of negativism and ended on the apocalyptic note that Medford will have to die before it can be reborn.
    I don't know why Marineau has chosen Medford among all the cities of the United States in which to live and work, but I would find his reasons most revealing. Medford has always been my home and, even though I have had the good fortune to see much of this country and other parts of the world, Medford will always be my home. As an architect and a lifelong Medford resident, I share some of his concerns that Medford is not all that it can be, but I also feel some obligation to put Mr. Marineau's observations in perspective.
    Medford, unlike Jacksonville or other towns rich in well-preserved historical buildings, was not frozen at an instant in time. Medford has always been a viable and vital city and, as such, has had to endure the ravages of fashion and changing economic conditions. Many of the worst detractions from Medford's architectural history took place in times of great prosperity. Medford's streetscape clearly shows the stages of Medford's development, both good and bad.
    It's easy to poke fun at buildings whose facelifts have not endured as well as the original brick might have. Historical hindsight tells us which fashions are timeless and which are now an embarrassment. Nonetheless these improvements were made by well-intentioned property owners who believed in Medford and its downtown.
    Marineau cites apathy as a central cause of Medford's woes. I think that's far too simplistic an explanation and a false perception easily given to the recent arrival. Marineau was not here when the Robinsons rebuilt their store on the site of its ashes. Marineau was not here when Jackson County Federal enlarged their headquarters branch on Main Street. Marineau did not witness the restoration of the Leverette Building and other structures on that block, nor has he seen the gradual evolution of one of the finest civic centers on the West Coast. This to me is not apathy.
    There may be apathy, but it is not the merchants, whose livelihood depends on a viable downtown, who are apathetic. I think the apathy may be with the absentee landlords who have no real allegiance to Medford and quite likely have never even seen the tax write-offs that they own.
    Apathy or not, good things are happening in Medford's downtown. Plans are under way to provide dwelling units in the Grand Hotel. The return of permanent residents to Medford's core area can bring new life to our city and will create incentives to make the urban area more livable.
    What Medford may have lost in recent years is a sense of its own identity and a measure of the civic pride that I recall from growing up here. We have tried so very hard to sell our community to outside interests that we have really forgotten to promote Medford to our own citizens. If we could rekindle some of our former spirit it may not matter to a merchant that improving his building doesn't result in a quick payback.
    I hope Mr. Watson's article had a similar impact on most people. It may help to start a real dialogue on the course we set as Medford heads into its second century. This could be an opportune time to look at our heritage and determine what kind of a future our city will have. Let's not bury Medford prematurely while it's still living, breathing and growing.
    The Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects would welcome any opportunity to join with other citizens in a cooperative effort to ensure that our investment in Medford's future is well spent.
Medford Mail Tribune, July 27, 1984

Last revised February 23, 2012