JOHN DAY - At one time, officials mulled whether to tear down the outdated cluster of old buildings on the bluff above busy Main Street.
Other priorities came up, and the Forest Service buildings remained, pressed into service for vehicle repairs, shop activities, storage and even temporary firefighter bivouacs.
Today, the John Day Compound is getting major restoration in a project that honors its history and the workmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The 1930s complex, which sits on "Government Hill" across from Blue Mountain Hospital, is being renovated thanks to the Malheur National Forest's successful bid for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
The lack of upgrades and modifications over the years probably were a plus for the eventual survival of the buildings - a little worse for wear, they remain true to their original design and structure. That enhances the value for history buffs and preservation officials.
"This is considered one of the nicest and most intact CCC compounds in the region," said Don Hann, Malheur National Forest archaeologist.
The compound has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, earning that spot because it is one of the best surviving examples of the CCC's Rustic Style of architecture. According to Register documents, that style reflected an architectural philosophy of "modest functional design, with emphasis on efficiency and functionalism, with less cost, in terms of labor and materials."
The ARRA work will include fixing up the buildings, including the old auto shop, a couple of homes built for an assistant forest supervisor and district ranger, and a small barn with a small corral for Forest Service horses.
One of the least likely treasures is the old gas station in the center of the compound. In its dilapidated state, it seemed to employees something of an eyesore, but preservation officials said it too has historic value. And as the gas depot, it once was a hub of activity for the complex.
The buildings are getting new roofing, paint jobs and, in some cases, heating system upgrades. The old lead paint has to be removed as a hazard first. The plans call for replacing windows where possible.
"Double panes are best for energy efficiency, but not for historic preservation," Hann said. Instead, workers will reseal the windows and add storm windows in keeping with the era of the buildings.
The work also will preserve the trademark symbol of forest buildings of the era - tree cutouts on the wooden shutters and some other facets, to be painted in a highlight color.
The dozen buildings in the compound are among more than 70 structures across the national forest that are being repaired and rehabilitated through ARRA.
The volume of the work is breathtaking to longtime Forest Service workers like Hann. Up to this point, he said, the Forest might have been able to rehab a couple of buildings a year, if that.
ARRA required that the money be obligated by the end of September, but the work will continue on contract over the next two years.