Abandoned JC Penney store in Oregon

J.C. Penney Building, Newberg Oregon
Date added: October 28, 2022 Categories: Oregon Retail Department Store
Looking south at the main facade. (Note where paint has been removed to expose original tile facing.) (2003)

The J.C. Penney building was constructed in 1927 during a period of prosperity and economic growth. It was the first chain department store to establish a location in Newberg. After two decades without national competition, two other companies opened catalog shops within a block of the store. However, J. C. Penney was the only one to have an actual storefront with merchandise in the community. It remained in its original location on E. First Street for over 50 years.

The J.C. Penney building property is part of the J.B. Rogers Land Claim, which was acquired by Walter Edwards from his father, Jesse Edwards, Newberg's "founding father." In December 1926, the heirs of Walter Edwards transferred this property as part of his estate. The 1/26/27 Newberg Graphic reported that C.J. Edwards received a consideration of $10.00 for the 104x80.6 parcel, which originally included this lot and the one to the west.

The buyers, Elmer P. Dixon and Rose H. Dixon, his wife, soon acquired a mortgage in the amount of $6,000.00. The loan helped finance the construction of the J.C. Penney space, which was part of the "Dixon triple-block." This included the two storefronts immediately to the west, the first of which was occupied by Skaggs-Safeway grocery. In June 1927, the Dixon's conveyed a one-half interest in this property to Ralph A. Butt and Edith Butt. Five years later, the Dixon's deeded their remaining interest to John C. Dixon and Grace M. Dixon, who in 1939 transferred the property to Alice Dixon.

The property remained in the Butt and Dixon families until 1980, when Dixon entered into a Contract of Sale with M&M Partners. Within a few months, the contract was assigned to Jules Drabkin, Dan Corrigan, and Dan Tarlow. In 1987, they acquired the other one-half interest in the property from the estate of Edith Butt. The gentlemen sold the J.C. Penney building to Donna Wright and Wallace Wright in 1991. It was acquired by Jane Carlsen, in February 2003.

The J.C. Penney building, part of the "Dixon triple-block", was completed in August 1927 under the direction of S.E. Watkins. The two-story masonry building, which sits in an area of early 20 century commercial architecture, was considered a quality mercantile establishment. The interior was lighted by the "most modern system", which included skylights and 300-candle power electric lights. Its fine oak furniture, counters, and showcases were designed and built especially for the site by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, firm. According to the 7/24/27 Newberg Graphic, "The addition of the new J.C. Penney store to the business district will be a distinct advantage to Newberg people and give the commercial section of the city an added metropolitan appearance."

The store was constructed at a time of prosperity in Newberg and when nationwide chain department stores were first being introduced. The Newberg store was the 818th for the company, which was celebrating its 25 anniversary. At the time, J.C. Penney's neighbor to the east was Skaggs-Safeway Grocery, which had over 900 stores. It was the largest retail food concern operating west of the Mississippi River, with locations in 10 states.

At the time it opened, J.C. Penney's was one of two dry goods establishments in town according to the city directory. The other was Miller's Mercantile, located in the Union Block building at 616 E. First Street. These two merchants dominated the local domestic wares market for decades. It wasn't until 1950 that a second chain department store Montgomery Ward's, arrived in Newberg. The company opened a catalog-shopping store at 610 E. First Street, two doors west of Miller's.

In the early 1960's, the Mercantile went out of business, leaving J.C. Penney and Ward's to serve the local community. A few years later, these two companies were joined by a third national chain, when Sears established a mail order outlet a block away at 504 E. First Street. Of the three companies, J.C. Penney was the only one in the community to have an actual store with merchandise. In 1980, upon the expiration of its current lease, J.C. Penney closed its doors in Newberg.

City of Newberg History

The city of Newberg is located approximately 20 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon, on the north shore of the Willamette River. Early settlers referred to this area as the "grubby end" of the Chehalem Valley, which is located in the northwest section of the larger Willamette Basin. Euro-Americans explorers and trappers were attracted to valley due to its abundance of game and berries since the early 1800s. However, it wasn't until 1848 that the first town plat was recorded at the land office of the Provisional Government. Joseph B. Rogers named this town Chehalem, which was sited on his 643-acre donation land claim. Rogers had emigrated from Canada to the valley under the auspices of the Hudson Bay Company in 1841. Unfortunately, Rogers died in 1855 without any records indicating he had sold any lots or constructed any buildings on the property other than his own house. In 1866, Peter Hagey purchased most of the north half of the Rogers' claim, bound by First Street on the north and Main Street on the west. Hagey farmed his land, on which the J.C. Penney building is now located, until it was sold to Jesse Edwards in 1881. A few years later, Edwards, considered to be the "father of Newberg," constructed his own residence, the prominent Hoover-Minthorn House.

The first mention of Newberg came with the establishment of the post office on November 5, 1869. Sebastian Brutscher, its first postmaster, named the office after his hometown in Germany. This name was not reinforced until February 1881, when a pair trying to take advantage of the railroad purchasing rights of way, filed a plat for the town of Newberg. Their plan consisted of less than six entire blocks, from which Edwards purchased an entire block on First Street, and out of which only one other lot ever sold. As such, in 1883 Edwards platted his own town of Newberg on land in the original Rogers' claim, designating its northwest corner at the intersection First and College Streets. He is said to have moved a store to this site "around which the first village was started". In fact, McKenney's 1883-84 Pacific Coast directory identifies Newberg as a post office, with two general merchandise stores, one of which was co-owned by Edwards. Just two years later, the town would open its first bank and begin to display other signs of prosperity.

A few events were particularly influential in the growth of Newberg. The first was the arrival of William Hobson, a minister from Iowa, who moved to the Northwest in the late 1870s to establish a Friends Church. Following his prompting, hundreds of Quakers joined Hobson (in Oregon) and rapid development followed. The opening of the Friends Pacific Academy, in the fall of 1885, provided additional impetus for families to settle in Newberg. In addition, the presence of the college attracted educated professionals to the area. Equally important was the arrival of the railroad in 1887, which was to the west of Edwards' property. The many fruit and wheat growers lured to the region for its fertile valleys took advantage of the improved access to markets, and thus cultivation on a large scale began. The combination of these factors led to increases in population and prosperity, and the town began to grow between the sites of the railroad and the general store.

The December 11, 1888 edition of the Newberg Graphic described the community as having 15 business houses, five good sawmills, a flouring mill, three grain warehouses, two fruit drying houses and a brickyard. Sanborn Insurance Maps from 1891 indicate that most of the development was on Center Street, between First and Second. Maps from 1902 show increased development along Blaine Street, down which the railroad tracks ran. By this time the city, which incorporated in 1889, had a city hall and fire department, and was growing in a linear fashion connecting the two ends of town. Businesses catering to the growing population, providing jewelry, notions, furniture, barber, hardware, a bank, harness shop and fish and poultry shop began to appear on First Street.

Commercial development in the early 1900s shifted from Blaine Street to First Street and its side streets. The Newberg Electric Light Plant, Newberg Creamery, skating rink, public school and Carnegie public Library were all located within a few blocks. In the early teens, the community's two primary industries were Spaulding Logging co. and Jesse Edward's Newberg Brick & Tile Co. Businesses expanded and multiplied so that by 1912 First Street was almost completely developed, ending the first period of major growth for Newberg.

The second period of development followed the introduction of the automobile and resulted in car-related businesses flanking the older commercial core. The Red Electric interurban rail, which arrived in Newberg in 1914, promoted the use of First Street as a primary corridor. Lines ran west on First, and trains ran five round trips to Portland per day. By 1917, however, Highway 99W, the first paved highway built by the State highway Commission), had been completed. Businesses sprang up along the roadway that catered to the automobile. For example, between 1921 and 1927, the following were constructed: Ryan Motor Co., Palmer's Buick garage, Martin Motor Co. garage, hart's garage, Berrian Service Station, and the Motor Inn Service Station.

The late 1920s were considered prosperous times for Newberg. According to a March 27, 1927 article in the Newberg Graphic "There is now every reason to believe that Newberg will experience one of the best seasons this city has ever known." Industrial development included Spaulding's expansion of its logging interest to open a pulp and paper plant and the establishment of the Dundee Walnut packing plant. Commercial growth is reflected in the edifices constructed for the Palace Meat Market, Groth Electric Company, and Economy Cleaners & Dyers. Residential development was also booming. "New residences are being constructed in many parts of the city and it is a safe guess that there is not an idle carpenter in Newberg at the present time".

The introduction of national chain stores to Newberg occurred during this time. Interestingly, two of these were located in the 1927 Dixon triple block: the J.C. Penney & Co. department store and Skaggs-Safeway, said to be the largest retail food concern operating west of the Mississippi River. The tremendous growth of Newberg during the 1910-1930s is reflected in the amount of construction that occurred during that time. The local historic inventory indicates that 78% of the community's resources date from 1900-1936.

Building Description

The J.C. Penney building in Newberg, Oregon was built in 1927 during the ownership of Elmer P. Dixon and Ralph A. Butt. It sits in a row of late 1920s commercial buildings, and was originally identified as part of the "Dixon triple-block." The building was constructed under the direction of S.E. Watkins during a time of prosperity in Newberg. J.C. Penney & Co. was the first nationwide chain department store to enter the local market.

The building is one of 13 "commercial with decorative masonry" style buildings in Newberg according to the 1984-85 Historic Resource Inventory. This commercial-style was introduced in the early 20 Century, as ornamentation, such as medallions and tile work, began to be applied to buildings. These masonry buildings are notable for retaining original features and materials, forming a distinctive visual link on East First Street.

The J.C. Penney building is an asymmetrical, one-and-one-half-story masonry structure. It measures approximately 40X104 and has a partial basement. Penney's faces north, towards E. First Street, a busy thoroughfare. The rear of the building abuts an alleyway and an adjacent public parking lot. Period commercial buildings sit on its east and west sides, respectively, thus no exterior descriptions of these facades are available.

The building's roof, which was covered with hot asphalt in 2001, slopes to the rear and has a slightly corbelled parapet. The upper section of the main facade is clad in stretcher bond brick and features a variety of belt courses, all of which are painted a cream tone. This section is adorned with medallions and a board-formed cornice, painted in a contrasting salmon hue. The J.C. Penney & Co. name was originally displayed in large letters on an electric sign placed just below the cornice. According to a July 14 1927 article in the Newberg Graphic, "This sign contains twenty 50-candle power lights of the blue daylight type." The center section of the cornice was removed around 1990 to accommodate a business sign according to plans in the local building permit office.

The lower section of the main facade includes a recessed entry with two entry doors separated by a display case and flanked by a large retail display window. The display windows feature recessed panels on the interior walls and ceiling, as well as removable track lighting. The entry is capped with a full-width 15 single-light transom window, whose windows alternate between hopper and fixed panes. Decorative turned mullions divide the windows, although nearly half are currently damaged or missing.

The lower portion of the building's front is faced with glazed yellow and black tile, which an article in the April 21, 1927 Newberg Graphic described it as "a very attractive front." Tiles with decorative vents are spaced asymmetrically below the display windows. In 1971 the entrance to the store was remodeled and the tile entry flooring was covered with pebbled concrete. The lower section is currently painted the same cream color tone as the upper portion of the building and the transom matches the other decorative features; however, paint has been scraped away in small sections along the building's outer walls to reveal the original glazed tile facing. A park-style wood bench has been installed in front of the central display case.

The rear facade of the J.C. Penney building is asymmetrical, yet balanced in its elements. It is clad in stretcher bond brick with a stucco finish, which appears sprayed-on. The rear is the same cream hue as the front of the building, with the window and door frames painted in the decorative salmon tone.

The upper floor features six wood one-over-one, double-hung windows on slightly projecting sills, which are fairly evenly spaced apart. The windows are paired on the western end of the building and the eastern-most panes are somewhat smaller. These window features appear identically on the lower level of the building. A larger loading-dock-style winging door is located just east of the paired window. It rests about two feet above the ground and is balanced with one of the upper-floor double-hung windows. The rear entrance is adjacent to the smaller window on the building's eastern edge and is nearly centered below another upper-level window. The recessed entry features v-notch siding and is accessed by four interior steps. Alterations include the replacement door, step covering, and wood handrails.

The interior of the J.C. Penney & Co. building is essentially one large room, which is broken into two levels at the rear by a mezzanine. The store boasts nearly 16' ceilings and features three large floor-to-ceiling capped, boxed posts, which are evenly spaced down the center of the store. The interior walls are clad in stucco and some have horizontal panels designed for retail display attached. The floors are primarily hardwood although some carpet is present below the mezzanine and in the balcony. The staircases are lined with faux wainscoting, which also appears around the retail counters.

A balcony runs along the front of the store and sits above recessed entry and display windows. This is where the original J.C. Penney offices and cashier's desk were located. The balcony is approximately 15' deep and is accessed by a private L-shaped staircase along the store's eastern wall. The balcony railing is composed of slightly recessed panels on capped base moldings. Both the stairs and the balcony floor are covered with carpet and commercial display racks line the outer walls.

The mezzanine is 7'8" in height and sits to the rear of the store. Its L-shaped staircase is located along the eastern wall, just south of the balcony's flight. An article in the July 21, 1927, Newberg Graphic described the mezzanine as being 24x40; however blueprints from the mid-1980s in the building permit office show its dimensions as 43.5x40. As the mezzanine was remodeled in 1952, with work estimated at $4,000.00, this is likely when it was enlarged. Two smaller boxed posts, which mimic the three larger ones, are spaced evenly below the mezzanine and may have been installed during the remodel to support the increased load. A restroom and storage space lie along the eastern wall, while two dressing rooms are centered along its western side. The walls are primarily covered with horizontal display panels and the existing carpet is currently being removed from the hardwood floors.

Below the mezzanine are temporary moveable shelving units and a retail counter. Commercial display racks line the outer walls and the flooring is primarily hardwood, although some areas with carpet are present. In its southeast corner, near the rear entry, are an original restroom and one altered to comply with ADA requirements, as well as the utility room, which includes access to the basement. According to blueprints from the mid-1980s, the basement is 74' deep, measured from the rear of the property and 26' wide, moving west from the center wall. According to the July 21 1927 Newberg Graphic, the original steam-generated heater located in the basement heated the entire Dixon triple-block. This includes the building to the west at 512-514 E. First Street, which housed Skagg's Safeway Grocery and Boyd's Books. No signs of the steam heater remain. The basement storage space has a concrete floor and its walls are clad primarily in stucco.