Buildings from a long-standing Walla Walla motel could become permanent homes to someone with $1 and a means to move them.
The manager and owners of City Center Motel are offering three of the five structures at 627 W. Main St. for one buck each to anyone who can move them.
The offer is part of a broader plan by the Eugene, Ore.,-based owners, Weber Properties LP, to clear the land at Ninth Avenue and Alder Street and redevelop the highway commercial-zoned property. Specific plans for construction have not yet been publicly disclosed.
City Planner Melissa Shumake said a request from the limited partnership for a demolition permit last month prompted a recommendation from the Walla Walla Historic Preservation Commission, a citizen advisory committee, to see if the buildings could be repurposed in the community.
Similar attempts have had varying degrees of success over the years with other developments, Shumake noted. Most recently in 2016, Whitman College had a cluster of homes for $1 apiece in preparation for construction of its new dorm and dining hall. Three were moved, Shumake said.
In the case of City Center Motel, Manager Robbie Betzler said an intent to purchase any of the structures at $1 apiece must be received by Dec. 31. The relocation must be complete by Feb. 29. All costs associated with the relocation are the responsibility of the buyer.
Costs are difficult to estimate because they depend on the location of the destination, distance to it and the route, which can include the need for arborist trimming of the tree-lined streets of town and power line alterations, Shumake said.
“It can be difficult,” she said. “If you don’t have a place to move them to in the timeframe, it may not work.”
The attempt, though, is important as a way to keep the buildings out of the landfill and repurpose structures that are historic in the community but don’t meet enough criteria for national or state registries, she said.
It’s also a step in what will be a huge transformation.
“Regardless of what goes in there, it’s going to look a lot different,” Shumake said.
The property for decades was a landing pad for visitors, short- and long-term. Work crews coming into town, traveling salesmen, and truck drivers made their way to City Center Motel. According to county records, two of the structures onsite were built in 1927 and three came in 1929.
Many longtime residents of the community fondly remember a period when it was managed by Doreen Taylor and her husband, the late Doug Taylor. According to a 1977 U-B article, focused on their work at home (home at work?), the pair had managed it since 1960, in addition to Doug’s operation and ownership of Pioneer Car Wash. The motel was owned by Doreen Taylor’s parents, the late Regina and Abraham Mathison on the same block where Regina was born.
The story reported Regina’s memories of “sheep being driven down a dirt Alder Street and President Taft leading a parade past her house.”
Doreen Taylor’s childhood bedroom became one of the motel units, and the story recalled how she played “Annie Annie Over” in what became the motel driveway.
In the last two years, most of the surrounding housing now available for purchase and relocation were closed off to tenants because the labor around cleanup was too great for the business generated there, Betzler said.
As a Realtor with Kelly Right Properties and the owner of a motel in Dayton, Betzler said he took on management of City Center Motel to help out the owners behind Weber Properties, whom he met through real estate business.
Closing off rental operations there was relatively easy, but relocating some of the long-term residents highlighted the pains for affordable housing for Betzler.
While some tenants balked at the cost of $275 per week — a lease-free fee that included cable, internet and power — others found it a more accessible form of housing that didn’t require a difficult-to-assemble down payment. One tenant, Betzler said, lived there 15 years.
The structures available for purchase do not include the multi-room motel structures. One is a building that’s operated as the onsite laundromat. It also includes a bathroom and small room.
A building on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Alder Street could be used as a two-bedroom with a large kitchen and living room, plus three bathrooms.
The third available structure borders O’s Hand Car Wash & Detailing. It’s a two-story, two-bedroom building with one bathroom, laundry room, kitchen and front room. Attached is a second unit, Betzler said.
If the buildings don’t sell, the city will ask the owners to salvage elements considered historic. That may include porch supports, bay windows, railings and similar features. During redevelopment, an interpretive sign may also be posted at the site.
Those interested in learning more about the structures and possibly relocating them can contact Betzler at 509-386-3222.