Nestled into the hills over the Yaquina river, one finds this reserved Art Deco concrete cube. I came to know of it’s existence by browsing the Oregon Historical Sites Database. Scrolling through the Art Deco tag to see if there were any small towns hiding some little-known gems of architecture (there are several). I came upon a single listing for Toledo, the only information given was the address and date and materials of construction. As you have already seen, a town of barely 3,000 on the Idaho boarder boasts one of the finest examples of Streamline Moderne in the whole state. I was preparing myself for another such discover in Toledo. What I was met with was nothing so exceptional, rather something very standard.
This is not to say that this is not a fine example of Art Deco, it is, if subdued. You can already see the building is kept in remarkable condition, it’s upkeep is clearly a priority to the town. As City Hall, it makes sense. Beyond Google maps, there are a few other photos online, but that’s it. I cannot find any photos from the 20th century, nor any information about the building’s construction. It’s clear from the structure itself that it was always intended to be used as City Hall, and from the City’s website it is clear that this is how it’s always been used.
I needed more information, and since I was already planning a trip to Newport with friends, I decided to stop off at Toledo along Highway 20.
Highway 20 runs from Southeast Oregon up to the coast. Driving north on I-5 from Eugene, we caught the 20 at Corvallis, headed west. The 20 winds down through the Cascadian foothills to the coast. After leaving Corvallis, you pass a few country stores and not much else. After about an hour, there is a sign on the side of the road: “Toledo.” You have to make a left turn off of the highway followed by a sharp right, this leads you down a residential looking road through the woods. About a mile down this road, you make a sharp descent down to the Yaquina river edge. Sloping down to your left, is Main Street (previously Hill Street), and on it, is downtown Toledo.
We parked in front of an old glazed-brick garage. And walked down-hill to the City Hall. It’s a quaint town: we passed an antique store and a clay studio. Many storefronts were empty, but everything was in good condition and clean. I found this Art Deco door handle on the door of an empty art studio (my image on right). It was Sunday, so aside from the empty buildings, the town itself seemed empty as well. There was a fog rolling in along the river, the sky was overcast. It felt strange walking down Main Street, like we did not belong.
Just one block down, though, was City Hall. And as Google Street View attested, it was in remarkable condition. The paint seemed reasonably new, there was no visible damage to it. There was a slight green patina from moss on parts of it, but this is an artifact of local environment and not disuse. It felt partly at odds with the predominantly wood-based architecture that flanked the rest of main-street. And by placing it in the crook of the hill, and sense of geometry got lost, and it felt dwarfed by the sequoias on the hill behind it.
Despite it’s incongruity with the surrounding environment, it is quite remarkable. The bulk of the concrete building is neutral in color, beige over taupe with white trimmings. Faux column’s frame the entryway and windows on either wing. The main entry is at the center of the front facade, with nested recessing rectangle frames giving it a wave-like form. Above the door is a relief of blue waves tossed in a purple wind, framed in a white octagon. At the top of the main building is the words “City Hall” flanked by two nested recessing purple squares, echoing the door.
While there is seemingly no information online about this building, there was a historical placard there on the street!
I captured the above from the placard. One can immediately see that the current city hall used to be two separate buildings. The placard indicated that the old fire bell has been moved to a newer fire house, indicating at some point that the fire house was fashioned into part of the city hall. We can see from the artist sketch that the hall stands basically as it did originally, except for the massive addition. The other revelation was that there used to be a wonderful Art Deco Texaco next door. Sadly, this Texaco was removed to put a parking lot in.
The text of the placard indicated that most of the fixtures in the city hall were original, except for the doors. It also mentions that highway 20 used to run right through downtown, which brought in a huge amount of business to main street. Sadly, in the 1970’s a bypass was constructed, which is why I found it so difficult to locate the town to begin with.
It became clear from the placard that there was a oddly shaped addition made connecting the two buildings in a sort of complex. There was an attempt to keep the style: concrete, painted beige with angled green trim. The issue is that instead of poured concreted they used cinder blocks. This was likely an attempt to keep the project affordable, but it really is no replacement aesthetically (just look as the image here).
The placard also claimed that the city hall was built as part of a WPA project. I can find no evidence on WPA sources that a project took place in Toledo. Though there was definitely a major project in Newport: the Yaquina bay bridge. Looking through Oregon State photo archives for Lincoln county, I learned that Toledo used to be the county seat, and saw many images of lumber, lumber mills, and mill workers. There were few images of downtown, and not one of the City Hall.
Why is the city hall so seemingly restrained, and why was it so little celebrated by Toledo’s inhabitants? It’s possible I’m just not very good at research, but from what I’ve read about Toledo, it’s inhabitants were always proud of their industry: lumber. The town was essentially founded to service a lumber mill. Hardworking, prosperous, this way of life was often seen as at odds with the progressive nature of the WPA. Many American’s didn’t trust WPA workers as they entered their communities, saw them as lazy as strains on the system. The design of the building too was so futuristic, that it probably felt impractical to those that spent their days toiling in sawdust and slough. These were the same people that ousted Japanese from their community.
Regardless of how it was received, we have one final bit of information from the placard that’s worth mentioning: the architect. Francis Marion Stokes was born in Cincinnati, OH (ironically Toledo, OR was named for Toledo, OH). His father William R. Stokes moved his family to Portland, OR. He joined in business with Richard L. Zeller to form an architecture firm. His second son, Francis Marion, would join that firm. The Stokes name is on 78 building listed on Oregon’s Historical Sites Database, he and his son left and indelible mark on Oregon. A biographical note, indicates that William Stokes was Republican but votes independent on local issues. I can find very little information on Francis Marion, other than what work he produced. So my final thought is to just record a few other buildings that Francis Marion Stokes designed.