Palouse: Historic building burns
By LuJane Nisse
Fire alarms ripped through the early morning hours April 8, 2014, and within about 30 minutes one of Palouse, Washington’s historic buildings was in ruins.
“The alarms woke me up about 4 a.m.,” one neighbor said. “I knew it had to be something bad. I could see large clouds of smoke down Main Street.”
The cause of the spring fire is still unknown, according to Palouse Fire Chief Mike Bagott. “It started up high in the building, probably in the attic,” he said. “Most likely it was electrical.”
The huge building went down so fast and was too hot for fire marshals or the insurance investigator to see any real cause. There was a fresh paint splatter (still wet) on the road next to the building, Bagott said, but it couldn’t really be tied to the fire.
When the building burned it was fascinating to see the advertising on the adjoining building (Wheeler Building) appear. It gave way to the fact the Boone building was built later than the one next door (see photo of advertising which appeared).
The fire leaves a large hole in the historic Main Street of this eastern Washington town with about 1,000 population. The Main Street of Palouse was listed on historical registries in the 1980s, taking volunteers hundreds of hours to document all the buildings’ lineage.
Built in 1899*
According to deceased authors/local historians J.B. and son Bob West in their book “Hills of Home” the building was constructed first as a one story building in 1889 (recently discovered that date should be 1899*) which would become the Boone Mercantile Company, costing $7,500. The second story of the building was added in 1906.
The Boones put their grocery business in the back of the store and “conducted the rest of the business in front. In 1903 he reorganized the Palouse State Bank, making room for it in the northeast corner of the building. This bank closed in 1909 the same year in which the National Bank of Palouse, later the Farmer’s National Bank, was organized.” (Growing Up In The Palouse, by J.B. West, pg. 174).
J.M Batten bought the store’s inventory in 1910 and conducted business as J.M. Batten and Company. He closed the general merchandise after a few years and moved the groceries to the front closing the back portion. The back space became the town’s post office in later years and continued there until 1986 when the new post office building was erected.
Batten moved their grocery store to the Wheeler Brothers’ building (next door to the Boone building) when C.L. Hill – son of George N. Hill – bought their building August 17, 1934. Hill opened a variety store there. When the Hills retired in the late 1960s they sold the inventory to retired teacher Ira Morrison. Morrison was in business there for only a few years and since they were unable to sell the business the doors were closed.
The area remained vacant until Larry Meyers and Mr. Reed from Pullman bought it and, after some extensive remodeling, made it into a tavern (information taken from the book “Hills of Home” by J.B. and Bob West and The Palouse Republic newspaper as well as memories from local residents). The corner space was leased to a local man who opened a realty office.
According to Bev Brantner who lived in an apartment above the business, the two men from Pullman (Larry Meyers and Mr. Reed – first name not known) remodeled and “I could watch out the window as they changed the outside. They moved the door to the left and added the awning and barn board siding,” she said. Those two changes remained until recent days.
When G.A. and Dixie Perry bought the building in 1970 they named the bar the Wooden Nickel and the area on the corner that used to house a bank, a variety of other businesses and lastly a realty, was turned into an ice cream parlor.
“We had a contest to name the parlor,” Dixie said. “It was for the kids and they all had an idea for a name but the name chosen was The Local Scoop turned in by 8-year-old Glen Arland. He got a prize of $10 for his entry.”
The Perry’s sold to Oscar “Pete” Pedersen in 1975 who continued the name of Wooden Nickel until his death in 1988. His adopted daughter Vickie Pedersen ran the business for a short time. She closed the business and the street level part of the building was empty for several years. Dave Bromeling bought the building and worked at updating the building. The tavern and Local Scoop locations were used on and off by civic groups.
Lots of memories were created in the Wooden Nickel over the years. Two main ones that remain in people’s minds are the “Wall of Names” inside the bar and a local gentleman nick-named Herman “Shorty” Hatley.
The Wall of Names started when Debbie Keene (now Hellinger) wrote a name on one of the bricks on the south wall.
“I put Randi and Travis names on there and suggested we sell a brick for a buck,” Hellinger said. “Phil Beeson bought the first set of bricks to draw Jon-Jon Peterson’s red truck and write the ‘big red truck goes all around.’” (Randi and Travis are Hellinger’s children.)
The idea to “sell” bricks for $1 to anyone wishing to memorialize their visit took off like wildfire, Hellinger said, until the wall was nearly full of names, quotes, dates etc. Many visitors came back over the years to locate their name and remember that night’s antics.
“Shorty” Herman Hatley lived in an upstairs apartment one or two doors down from the bar and became an icon at the Nickel and on Main Street with his interesting stories and antics. “He loved to play the spoons,” one resident remembers. “He’d pull them out and play at the drop of a hat. He joined in, usually without invitation, to any music on Main Street, the park or the bar.”
Shorty also loved to dance and, with or without a partner, could be seen dancing at the bars and musical activities. He really kept in shape and walked to Potlatch nearly daily – eight or nine miles — up until he was in his 60s or 70s. The picture taken of him on the bench outside the bar became very popular and was made into a postcard. (see photo)
Gary and Terri Hanks leased the bar in 1993 and renamed the bar the Palouse Cabouse (sic). The Chamber of Commerce had just obtained a red caboose they planned to turn into an information office and the excitement caught on with a restaurant (a block away) being named The Dining Car and the bar followed suit with the Palouse Cabouse.
Mike and Julie Wells took over the tavern in November 2000 renaming it Palouse Tavern. The Wells added a larger menu than just the “burger and fries” menu and began grilling steaks featuring “steak night” once a week drawing crowds from neighboring communities. When the Wells left to open a steak restaurant in Pullman and one in Colfax, Bob Brookshier took over the tavern renaming it Palouse Tavern Act II. Brookshier continued the successful steak nights and expanded to the side street giving patrons a choice of indoor or outdoor dining. Bob and Tina met on the job at the tavern, enjoyed a whirlwind romance and were later married.
Scott Stevens purchased the building from Dave Bromeling in February 1, 2008 and the Brookshiers were able to continue their tavern business. However when Stevens sold the building to the last owner, Adam Barron in 2013, he had plans of extensive remodeling and opening a family restaurant and bar which ousted the Brookshiers.
Barron and his wife spent a great deal of time remodeling and the day before they were planning to open their Brick Wall Bar & Grill to the public, the building burned to the ground, April 8, 2014. The Barrons vowed to rebuild
A local fund was established but even with the town’s generosity it was not enough, even when combined with the insurance money, and they had to give up that dream.
The empty lot was sold to John and Diane Cooper who do not have any immediate plans to build. However, Diane said she’d like to see a “green area” there. She also noted the signage painted on the building next to the space was so unique she’d like to see it stay.
*For many years historical accounts have reported the original first story of the Boone building was built in 1889. Recently, however, Don Myott (lifelong resident and history buff) says that date appears to be a typo and should be 1899. Myott has fire insurance maps for 1889, 1891 and 1893 that show only a vacant lot there. With that information it can only be concluded the 1889 date is a newspaper typo and the building was actually built in 1899.