A Pendleton tradition came to an end when city officials decided not to move a warning siren to the new city hall complex in October 1996.
Pendleton’s noon siren was a long-standing tradition. The city-wide alert system began with a bell atop the old city hall at the turn of the century to call reserve and volunteer firefighters to their work. The bell was eventually replaced by a siren, with the old bell gracing the front of the Court Street fire station. The original siren was replaced by an air raid siren in the 1950s. And from 1962 to 1994, controls at the downtown fire station were used for the siren to indicate where a fire was burning. From then until October of 1996, the siren still was tested each day (except Sundays) at noon.
But when the new city hall complex was opened, the Pendleton City Council decided that the $10,000 bill to move the siren to the new digs was more than they could justify. The siren would blast its last on Oct. 31.
Fire Chief Dick Hopper, who suggested the siren be disconnected, wasn’t sorry to see the tradition put to rest. “I’m sure you’ve been downtown when it’s gone off. It just about drops you to your knees.”
Immediately, supporters of the siren made their voices heard. “They are taking a part of me away,” said Jenny Hogge, who lived and worked near the noon whistle all her life. “I think it’s sad and I think it’s a part of Pendleton.”
Rachel Lawrence, manager of Maurices clothing store, said she would miss the reaction of unsuspecting tourists who weren’t prepared for the siren’s shriek. And “I know my employees are late if they come in when the whistle blows.”
Jim Sewell, the former restaurateur who bought the old city hall building, said he received hundreds of phone calls and letters asking that he continue the noontime tradition, including a packet from fourth grade students at Hawthorne Elementary School. And Sewell said he would be happy to keep the building-shaking blast a part of Pendleton’s day. “I don’t mind running the siren at all,” Sewell said, though he added he would like the city to help with its maintenance.
The siren kept its daily vigil until the late 2000s, when it was sold to a private party.