Exploring the Palace Hotel

On the corner of Eighth and Central in Medford, Oregon (across from the Craterian Theater, for you locals), is a brick building formally known as the Halley Block. Its now-abandoned upstairs level was for many years operated as the Palace Hotel.

I first became intrigued by the building's history through my mailman, Brian Boothby. He told me his grandfather operated a greengrocer's shop on the ground level in the 1930s, and during those years there was a brothel known as The Brass Steps above the shop. Brian's grandparents would tell his father, "You don't go up those steps. Things happen up there."

Tom Boothby's Quality Market in the 1930s.

A check of the city directories reveals that during the 1930s the building was the site of the Palace Hotel, the home and business of Robert Henry and Addie Halley, who began the building in the 1890s. (A series of additions followed, finally completing the block in 1927.) In the early years R. H. Halley ran his tin shop in a storefront on ground level; he and then his wife operated the upstairs level as the Palace Hotel. Mr. Halley died there in 1919; twenty years later the Palace came to an end, when 89-year-old Addie died on October 29, 1939.

Palace Hotel, rear
The rear of the Halley Block reveals its construction history.

I suppose maybe there was once a brothel up there, but there is absolutely no corroborating evidence. I suppose it could be that things happened up there when Addie, a 50-year member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, was just too old and feeble to notice or object. More likely (much more likely) Brian's father remembered that childhood warning--"Don't go up those brass steps"--and later in life connected dots that really weren't really there to connect.

Unchanged since it was completed in the early 1900s, the Palace became the Crater Hotel after Addie's death and was operated, in faded glory, by Carl H. W. and Letha M. Oestreich from 1946 until its closure in 1972. The Palace has been vacant ever since.

In December 2005 I was granted access by the owner and invited Brian and some friends along for a little urban exploration.

Dead pigeon, 2006
We cracked open those doors for the first time in years, and there they were: Brass Steps; a wide brass strip on each step. There were also the last tenants of the Palace, dozens of skeletonized pigeons.

North staircase, 2006
Looking back at the main stairway into the Palace. You can interpret the light dots in these images as ghosts, if you like. But it was just too dark up there for my tiny flash; the digital pictures were so dark that when I adjusted the contrast the dust on the lens was magnified.

Palace Hotel lobby, 2006
The lobby, with the main desk in the background. At the top of the picture is one of the skylights, now sealed over to keep the pigeons out. When the Palace was alive, this room would have been bathed in natural light.

Palace Hotel front desk, 2006
The hotel desk again.

Palace Hotel Register, SOHS
A Palace desk register, covering the dates from June 20, 1921 through May 31, 1926, survives in the collection of the Southern Oregon Historical Society. In the 1920s a large proportion of the clientele was made up of people from the outlying areas of the county, in town for business or shopping. Most opted for the 50-cent rooms.

Room 13, 2006
The room with the bad-luck number 13 was a supply closet. No coincidence, I'm sure.

South lobby, 2006
The building occupies a complete quarter block and was built in stages, finally filling the property in 1927.
Since apparently fire codes of the day required every room have two methods of egress, every guest room has a door and a window--even those now buried in the bowels of the building by subsequent additions. The window seen through the door at right opens onto a carpeted hallway, but some interior windows open onto dusty escape passages that only eventually lead to an outside window.

Post-and-tube wiring, 2006
The original post-and-tube electrical wiring survives on the ceiling. If you wanted to plug in an appliance (forbidden by the house rules), you'd have to screw a plug adapter into a light socket.

South lobby, 2006
The wool carpet is in good shape, as are the woodwork and walls.

South window, 2006
From 1960 through 1963 the Oestreichs operated an antique store overlooking the corner of Eighth and Central, later moving the shop to Jacksonville. Sometime after 1963 closets were built in this room, the first to catch the morning light. T
he large corner room was apparently used as communal sleeping quarters for those who couldn't afford a private room.

Bathroom, 2006
The manager's apartment had its own bathroom, and a few high-class rooms had sinks, but otherwise this was about it--three toilets, four sinks and five showers in a room in the 1927 concrete addition.

Explorers, 2006
Intrepid explorers examine the shower facilities.

Ladies' room, 2006
The ladies' room is toward the center of the building and consists of a small former closet with a toilet and a bare bulb inside--nothing else. There a penciled souvenir
of the hotel's years of decline reads, "Winos: Please keep wine bottles out of toilet. Put them in garbige [sic] cans in rear off hall." Scrawled above the adjacent toilet is the classic "No need to hover above the seat, the crabs in here can jump six feet."

Hallway, 2006
Another long, dark hallway. I'm sure it looked a lot better before the skylights were covered up.

Graffiti, 2006
The hotel is remarkably free of graffiti; apparently even winos used to have some dignity. Above is a rare ballpoint exception, embellishing a section of toilet-paper carton used to cover a hole in a door.

South section, 2006
One of the higher-class rooms from the earliest section of the hotel, circa 1894. Note the sink.

Sink nest, 2006
This particular sink is full--courtesy of generations of nesting pigeons.

Fire escape, 2006
The fire escapes in the rooms along Central Avenue consisted of a half-inch knotted manila rope, tied to a square-headed lag bolt screwed into the window frame.

Fire escape, 2006
The same rope. Note the wallpaper in this and the other photos.

South stairwell, 2006
The entrance in the older section of the building, next to the former antique store. The odd rectangle on the wall is where a painted-on sign or picture was removed. And no, that isn't snow on the banister.

What does the future hold for the Palace? The wrecker's ball, probably. To be useful again, the upstairs would need a new roof, new wiring, an enormous air-conditioning system, and--most important of all--a tenant. Otherwise, this glimpse into history will eventually become just that--history.

Last revised April 20, 2008
©2006-2008 Talky Tina Press, Medford, Oregon