05 March 2017

[liff] It Really Got Underway When I Found Out They Tore Down The Old Corvallis Gazette-Times Building

Firstly, and at the outset, I'd like to make it utterly crystal clear that I'm not here to cast aspersions or tell the newspaper business how to run its business … well, not necessarily. I am, after all, a prole. I go to what work there is, do what work has to be done, and come home to my anxiety-ridden, yet cozy-if-not-entirely-comfortable-and-without-pitfalls life.

But you know how, once you past a point, you start to recognize, since you can no longer ignore it, how things you took for granted and for constant had actually changed out of all recognition? Become things you no longer recognize? There is a point. We all remember it, like that legendary moment when we're all at a iconic disaster and you're saying to each other yeah, you know you never forget where you were when. 

There was a before, and there was an after.

Before, at 600 SW Jefferson Avenue in Corvallis, Oregon, was the headquarters of a fondly-remembered part of a younger life. Twice in my life I've called Corvallis home. It's a pretty town, located in a lovely place. Of the major northwestern Oregon cities, it's the only one that is not hung off I-5 like a bead on a string, however, because of Oregon State University, drawing students from all over the world, the sophistication of a much larger town always seemed to be in the woof of the town's fabric. And, while being Oregon's Ag college, there is a great deal of tech research going on there, so before the internet was that big a thing, it was a cinch getting a internet login there.

Those of you who did online in the 1990s who know the name 'jacobs.orst.edu' would know what I mean. So, it was off the beaten path but it was a pleasant size and not too far away from everything. Corvallis remains pleasant to this day.

Screenshot of the article you can find here.
During the day, the daily paper was (and still is) the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Being a newspaper devotee, a habit borne of long practice, I loved that paper. It was a good size for the town and hit all the high spots; what I remember most was the fairly-cracking good writing of the editorial page editor, Wendy Madar. The paper itself was house in a solid, understate building bounded by SW 6th and 7th Streets and SW Jefferson and Adams Avenues. It was just west of downtown, a building of red brick and gray concrete, a welcoming little courtyard in front where there were benches for anyone to use, a tree-shaded park-like setting, and a big front porch with the words Gazette-Times in newspaper-masthead black letter in iron over the front of that. It was the sort of building that expected to be around a while.

A cherished memory is going into the lobby, in front of the newsroom, and to the left, there was a rack with a number of recent papers there. Anybody could go and peruse them, and several times, I did. I remember the newsroom, with that quiet hubbub of people getting news things done. All that is in a capsule in my mind.

Back in November, whether it was before or after The Election I don't recall, but I got one of those little frissons of 'wonder what that's doing right now', you all know the kind, and I go looking through Google Earth to get a view of the old building. And I see that there is a Corvallis-sized city block of scraped earth there. And that stunned me for a very long time.

The G-T building in 2012. Google Street View.
I have studied the history of the building a bit. It was built in the 1970s, back when the paper was still a family-run operation, owned by the Ingalls family. The publisher, Robert Ingalls, wanted a new building that would give the paper room to survive and thrive. He was thinking of the future, but maybe not the future we all got, where media owners went from many owning many to just a few owning the many; eventually, the G-T got bought by Lee and went from being the Albany Democrat-Herald's competitor to its partner. Eventually, printing equipment, circulation staff, the whole nine-yards moved east to Albany. 600 SW Jefferson became too big to keep. And so it was sold. And demolished. In the year 2015, 104 years after the founding of the paper. The article about it can be read here.

The G-T is now in a leased office in a corner of an older strip-shopping center in the 1800 block of NW Circle Blvd in Corvallis. Just reporters and editorial staff and management. Doesn't require much space, I guess. Look, I get it; the business is changing, they can't support the old physical plants; it's all about content, all media organizations have to make money. I get it. Really I do. But when I found that the G-T's urbane, lovely city center headquarters was now really just a storefront in a North Corvallis shopping center, my heart, already broken by the self-consumption of The Oregonian and the blanding of the once-vibrant Portland radio scene, got broke into a few more pieces, and I couldn't ignore that things had started to change into something I didn't really want to see any more.

Another thing I get is that change will happen, models will evolve, change, and disappear. I get that, too. What I wish didn't have to happen, however, was that not only the new is embraced, but the good part of the old gets shunned. I said it when The Oregonian moved out of 1320 SW Broadway; edifices matter. When it comes to media such as newspapers, they matter. When you move your century-plus local newspaper - a newspaper, I'll remind, that celebrated its centernary back in 2009 with a birthday party that included a dapper character re-enacting the coin flip that chose the order the then-newly merged paper's combined name would go in - to a small leased office on the north side of town, certainly that reflects current realities. They are what they are, regardless of how regrettable that might seem.

What bothers me is that it may also reflect a future with diminished, narrowed horizons, a future where we're all thankful we're doing as well as we are because we could be doing so much worse.

It's hardly a part of my life, but I'm mourning it. Which should tell you a great deal about me, I guess, somehow, in a way.

The Gazette-Times' building's demise was documented in a scene that can still be viewed by all and sundry at http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/local/gallery-gazette-times-demolition/collection_e13be39e-d06b-5f11-ae4b-228715d1bcd6.html

There was a before, and there is an after.

Welcome to after.

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