Preserve, Reuse, and Pass Forward Oregon's Historic Resources...
Several months back, the HPLO received a phone call from one of our league members in Linn County who had been alerted to a verbal decision by the City of Tangent to demolish the “Big Red Barn.” Also known as the “Bass Barn” or “Tangent Barn,” the Big Red Barn was built in the early 1920s by poultry farmers Herbert and Jane Borden in the small grass seed farming community south of Albany. Although a number of buildings in the Tangent vicinity date to the much earlier settlement era of the 1850s, the Big Red Barn has achieved local notoriety because of its scale and—longtime residents remember this—a unique owner by the name Kitty Kat. According to an article in the Democrat-Herald:
John Bass bought the property in 1946 for $40,000 and lived there until his death in 1983. He left the property to his cat, Kitty Kat, along with $70,000 in maintenance funds. When the cat died 10 years later, the property was passed on to the city.
Fast forward another 18 years to today and the City of Tangent has determined that maintaining (not to mention rehabilitating) the structure proves too costly for the small city of 1,000. Currently the City spends about $3,500 annually on the barn's fire and liability insurance, according to a local preservation advocate. Although demolition of the barn was slated for this month, the salvage operation previously selected to bring the barn down is no longer able to do so. Because the City wants the barn removed this summer, they have turned to an online resource to solicit bids for the barn, TheBarnPages. Bids for the barn will be accepted until August 1st, however, the ability of a bidder to purchase and rehabilitate the barn on-site is not known.
Because no federal dollars or permits are going into the demolition of the barn, there are few mechanisms available to the public to slow or stop the removal of the Big Red Barn outside of negotiations with the City of Tangent. A state law, ORS 358.653, does obligate local jurisdictions to submit documentation prior to the demolition of a public building, however, the statute is largely procedural as there are no penalties for non-compliance. Our neighbors to the north, Washington, have established a Heritage Barn Register and Grant Program to provide recognition and funding for private and publicly owned agricultural heritage, providing one model alternative to the situation in Oregon today.
Although the exact fate of the Big Red Barn is still to be determined, the issue of barn recognition and preservation is one that continuously resonates with both urban and rural populations across the state. The three barns listed on the HPLO’s Most Endangered Places list provide a sampling of the different types of barns and varied threats acting on them that can be seen across the state. More details about the strategies for protecting and rehabilitation the Most Endangered barns can be found here, here, and here. And while not every older Oregon barn will be maintained, rehabilitated, and reused, those places that provide tangible reminders of significant aspects of the state’s agricultural heritage should be given careful consideration before being met with demolition or salvage sale through outlets like TheBarnPages.
If you are interested in proposing alternatives to demolishing the Big Red Barn, contact Tangent City Coordinator Georgia Edwards before August 1st.
University of Oregon student Michelle Oborn has just completed a series of measured drawings of the Big Red Barn. Those who are interested in seeing some great examples of University of Oregon work should take a look at the Big Red Barn Drawings.