Aging historic buildings need insulation, windows and light bulbs

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Purchased in 1914 as a summer estate for Julius Meier of Portlands Meier & Frank department store, Menucha turned 100 years old this year.Faced with the stewardship of an aging historic estate and stifled church funding, the Friends of Menucha Foundation is hosting a fall fundraising dinner to benefit Menucha’s long-term upkeep.

The property purchased in 1914 as a summer estate for Julius Meier of Portland’s Meier & Frank department store turned 100 years old this year.

Menucha, meaning “renewing stillness,” was bought by First Presbyterian Church of Portland in 1950.

Since then, the property situated on a mountain peak overlooking the Columbia River Gorge has served as a nonprofit, ecumenical retreat center whose mission is to provide visitors a place to reflect and retreat.

A fundraising dinner, hosted by the Friends of Menucha Foundation, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Menucha conference center at 8711 E. Historic Columbia River Highway in Corbett.

Guests will celebrate Menucha’s centennial with cocktails on the lawn followed by a four- course dinner in the historic Wright Hall.

Meier’s great-granddaughter, Debbie Kaye, will emcee the event, which costs $100 per person or $700 for a table of eight.

Lauren Deming, marketing director at Menucha, said a decline in membership at the First Presbyterian Church of Portland and at mainline protestant congregations in general has led Menucha management to become less reliant on big church funding.

Especially for such a large task as a complete renovation of many of the buildings on the century-old estate.

And while it is needed, Deming said staff are taking a more manageable approach: breaking down the most specific needs and funding those first.

The fall dinner will raise money for new insulation, energy-efficient light fixtures and window replacements.

Menucha’s facility operations director, Tim Kurkinen, said the focus is on some of historic buildings that are approaching the 100-year-old mark, including Wright Hall, once home to Meier and his family.

Kurkinen said insulation is pretty much nonexistent and/or low grade by today’s standards.

Crumpled newspapers and dried grass have been found in some of the walls on the property, which the Meiers only lived in during the summer.

“The buildings are very, very drafty,” Kurkinen said.

And when the strong east winds, averaging about 80 mph in the fall and winter, blow through, he said, “Doors open and close. You get the feeling there are ghosts here.”

Because the buildings were designed to be a summer home, he said nobody thought to insulate them.

“Only a few staff stayed on site, a couple of groundskeepers, housekeepers and a driver or two,” Kurkinen said.

Over the decades, Menucha has made some minor repairs just to keep up with day-to-day use and update the facilities for growing number of occupants.

Adding insulation as well as replacing many of the original single-pane windows, Kurkinen said, will make the buildings more comfortable for guests and enhance their character, but also cut down on energy costs.

There also are a lot of original light fixtures that were updated to incandescent bulbs in the 1980s and 90s, but no longer meet new green energy-efficient standards.

“We really want to jump on board and make this place more green because our energy bills are quite high,” Kurkinen said, “and all the benefits come with that.”

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