There was plenty of cake to go around on Thursday as Echo celebrated the 100th birthday of its city hall.
The cream-colored building on Bonanza Street has withstood the test of time pretty well, said Mayor Richard Winters. He said since the city’s $500,000 renovation of the building in 1999, it hasn’t seemed like any more of a maintenance headache than the much newer buildings where many of his counterparts in larger cities meet.
“This is every bit as comfortable, and my joy in it is its history,” he said.
Of course, it hasn’t come without its problems. During the 1999 renovation, paid for through state and federal grants, Echo made national headlines for hauling away an impressive 4.6 tons of pigeon droppings from the attic, accumulated over the course of more than 80 years.
City Manager Diane Berry said the renovation also expanded the library from 800 to 3,300 square feet, restored the ballroom upstairs to its former glory, added central heat to the building and expanded other rooms, including a bathroom that was so tiny people had trouble fitting their knees between the toilet and sink.
“The janitor’s closet was bigger than the original bathroom, so that was quite the luxury when we moved back in,” she said.
Echo’s city hall was completed in 1916, and Berry said Echo residents celebrated with a Fourth of July dance in the ballroom. Later, monthly fire department dances there raised money for Echo’s first firetruck purchased in 1949.
For decades the building also housed The Star Theater downstairs; the bay window on the south side of the building is where employees stood while selling movie tickets. The back offices used to hold a jail cell for unruly residents picked up by local law enforcement.
Today the building holds the city offices, the library, various historical displays and the upstairs ballroom that hosts community events such as Inland Northwest Musicians’ free Christmas concert.
Before the reception at city hall on Thursday, about a dozen people gathered on Main Street for the official dedication of a metal tree sculpture by artist Douglas Gisi. The sculpture is one of many art pieces in downtown Echo, but Berry noted it was special because it was the first piece commissioned by the newly-formed Echo Art Committee.
A sculpture of stalks of wheat was recently placed across the street, and a cougar sculpture and piece of art paying tribute to Native American culture are in the works.
The celebrations coincided with a two-day visit by judges from America in Bloom. The national competition recognizes cities for urban forestry, environmental efforts, floral displays, heritage preservation, community involvement and other criteria. Echo is a past winner in the small cities category.
Judge Steve Pategas, who lives in Florida, said he was excited for his first trip to Eastern Oregon and impressed with what he saw in Echo.
“The blend of history here and how they preserve it and the color in the garden and how they integrate everything, it is just amazing,” he said.
Pategas said Echo was smaller than most America in Bloom’s small cities competitors (his next stops in Ohio, Indiana and Colorado are all more than five times larger than Echo’s population of 700) but what is important is that they are beautifying and improving their community anyway.
“Size doesn’t really matter,” he said. “The wealth in the community doesn’t really matter. It’s about what resources they have and how they’re using them.”
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.