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West Linn's original city hall was the epicenter of social and civic life

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERY UYETAKE - Seismic upgrades will be needed to make the old city hall suitable to today's uses but its not clear how extensive the work would need to be. There’s a spot in West Linn that has served as a historical hub, an epicenter of social and civic activity since long before white settlers arrived in the middle of the 19th century. Native American tribes chose it for a fishing village, then there was a ferry and, later, a bridge. It was a trolley stop and next door to West Linn’s most bustling industry. It was a market, a library, a butcher shop and the place where the old-time city fathers made their biggest decisions. The community’s police station was once there, as well as the town’s post office.

Now it sits empty and serves no purpose — but one West Linn man would like to change that and he’s looking for help.

John Klatt turned his historical photo collection into a business seven years ago and as a member of West Linn Historical Society, he’s particularly interested in the history of where he lives — and that includes the modest two-story brick building just north of the historic West Linn-Oregon City Arch Bridge. Depending on their tenure in the community, some people call it the old police station, some the old city hall. A few old-timers may even remember when Les DeJarden operated the market downstairs before opening a chain of Thriftway stores in other locations.

“Over the years there have been all sorts of reasons the building was a place for people to gather,” Klatt says. “It’s historically very significant in West Linn.”

The building, owned by the city of West Linn, has been vacant since 2014, when the police department moved out. It was built in 1936 with Depression-era federal stimulus dollars and located right next door to the trolley station that served the West Linn Paper Mill down the road.

It was constructed as West Linn’s first city hall.

Klatt is hoping to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places, a move that would qualify it for grants and other rehabilitation programs. But he needs help from the public — specifically photos of the building in any of its incarnations: city hall, post office, grocery, police station, even the library.

PHOTO COURTESY OLD OREGON PHOTOS - West Linn's new city hall in 1937, one year after completion. This image was taken from the northeast, with the Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge in the background.

The buildings’ architects were Claussen & Claussen, a group responsible for Portland’s Heathman Hotel, and its role as the only city hall built by West Linn makes it unique.

An earlier assessment of the building reported that the structure would need significant seismic upgrades — too costly to make a rehabilitation pencil out. But historical construction documents Klatt has found seem to indicate that the structure has more reinforcement that originally thought and he feels confident that saving the building is feasible.

According to Chris Kerr, West Linn community development director, the structure is inside the Arch Bridge Area Concept Plan area, but the plan made no specific suggestions for the building in its broad redevelopment concepts for the neighborhood surrounding it.

“During the process, many alternative uses were considered but the approved plan shows the building as it is,” he said in an email.

According to Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon — a nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation and helping communities retain a “sense of place” — the best strategy for ensuring a building like West Linn’s old city hall is saved from the wrecking ball is finding out what the needs of the community are that the building may be able to fulfill.

“As long as the city can continue to maintain (the shuttered) building it seems as if there is time to come up with a thoughtful plan,” she said. A smart choice would be to have the building become part of an overall redevelopment strategy, Moretti said. “If it were me I’d be looking at what West Linn can do to work in parallel with Oregon City,” she added, referring to the redevelopment of the closed Blue Heron mill site across the river.

DRAWINGS COURTESY JOHN KLATT - Recently discovered construction documents feature this view of the front of the building, which intially had a market and butcher shop downstairs,while city council chambers were upstairs.

“What makes it (preserving a historic place) successful is finding a purpose for it,” she said. “You don’t want to create an artifact under a glass dome. You need a business plan, you need to find a way to generate income. That’s how you get the money for rehab, the grants or bank loans. They want to see you have a viable plan.”

The modest size of West Linn's old city hall isn’t necessarily a deterrent to preservation, Moretti said. Smaller means less overhead and fewer tenants needed. PHOTO COURTESY CLACKAMAS COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The old city hall was constructed next door to this trolley station, which was demolished shortly after the new civic building was completed in 1936.

“That building and that site has tremendous potential in the community and I hope West Linn is really looking at that,” she said. “With river access nearby and robust mixed use along that stretch, it would be a missed opportunity if you didn’t.”

Leslie Pugmire Hole can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 103 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you have photos or information about West Linn’s old city hall, email John Klatt at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him at 503-504-5423.

Building and surrounding area timeline

1873 Willamette Locks opens

1888 Suspension bridge built

1889 Paper mill opens

1894 Train service begins

1913 City incorporated and city council meets in trolley station

1936 Current building constructed/trolley station demolished

1939 West Linn’s first library opens in building

1946 DeJarden family purchases market on ground floor

1954 Market, now a Thriftway, moves out

1966 West Linn post office moves out

1979 Library moves out

1983 Building added to Clackamas County’s Cultural Resource Survey

1986 Elevator added to meet federal requirements

1990 Building added to West Linn landmarks list

1999 City administrative offices move out

2014 Police department moves out

(Source: John Klatt)