Commuters on U.S. Highway 101 along the Coos Bay waterfront are aware that construction of the new Coos Historical & Maritime Center is well underway. The museum is scheduled to open in the late fall of 2014.
During the building phase, the Coos County Historical Society will provide updates on the project as well as remind readers of The World about other events that have impacted the culture and economy of the South Coast.
Here’s one such event:
In January of 1949, the Evans Products company opened a new building on the Coos Bay waterfront. Evans Products was one of the most successful wood products corporations in the United States in the 20th century. Their largest, most innovative, and most important west coast plant was operated in Coos Bay from 1928 to 1962, about where Fred Meyer is located today.
The company was ahead of its time in hiring female employees, especially during World War II when the plant was famous for producing cedar battery separators. In response to the need for post-World War II housing, the Evans Company manufactured lumber for pre-fabricated homes. Using 3,500 feet of fir lumber for framing, wall panels, cupboards, and shelves, the company claimed it could complete an "Evans House" on a poured foundation in 48 hours.
By January 1949, the company was proud to announce production of another product — plywood. This was not the first plywood plant in the area. George Ulett started the first manufacturing of plywood south of the Columbia River in the late 1930s at his Coquille mill, which later became Georgia Pacific property. But E.S. Evans, Jr., son of the company’s founder, traveled from Detroit, Mich., to witness the unveiling of the new Evans plywood plant and boasted that it had the largest single steam-powered wood dryer in the nation. The company hired 150 employees for a two-shift operation and expected to run three shifts in the future. To supply the new plywood plant, a log-boom 1.6 miles long held raw materials on the bay just outside the factory.
In the 21st century, most lumber operations on the Coos Bay waterfront have been curtailed due to market conditions, technological innovations and environmental concerns. Huge log booms on the bay, and lumber plants employing hundreds, have long since disappeared. New cultural and tourism-related industries, like the Mill Casino & Hotel, have appeared on the shoreline. The Coos Historical & Maritime Center will be an important addition to the new waterfront economy.
For county residents, the Center will connect our region’s long human history with the South Coast of today. It will be a gathering place for discussion, memorable stories, research and discovery, education, celebration and fun. For visitors to the South Coast, the center will be a point of departure; a gateway to the county’s surprisingly rich, and largely hidden, history, as well as a guide to the county’s other excellent museums and historic sites. This prominent structure, and landscaping and plaza around it, will be a source of pride for all on the South Coast.
The Miller-Hull architectural firm designed the building and local architect Mike Crow of Crow/Clay Architects is serving the historical society as their project manager. The general contractor is Scott Partney, who has built many important projects in Coos County.
The most expensive and difficult part of the project was completed last fall. Billeter Marine drove steel piles in 60 locations and foundation work was finished. The concrete floor is higher than the 100-year floodplain and has been wrapped in a waterproof membrane that will safeguard the precious artifacts and archives from flooding or excessive moisture.
About half of the steel structural skeleton framing has been erected. Observers can expect to see more vertical framing extending east towards the bay in the near future. In the meantime, a crew of about a dozen regular workers is beginning to enclose part of the structure in order to start exterior finishes.
The center has already made an impact on the local economy. About 40 local contractors, subcontractors, surveyors and inspectors have been employed on the $7-million project so far. In addition, many deliverymen and suppliers have been busy providing raw materials for the project.
Find out how you can become a member of the Society for 2014. Members and donors will be invited to be among the first to visit the new building. The historical society is continuing to fundraise to complete exhibitory for the grand opening. Everyone who donates to the project by May 1 will be honored on the Founder’s Donor Board in the main lobby of the new center. Learn more about it online at the historical society’s website (www.cooshistory.org) or by calling 541-756-6320.
Steve Greif is a member of the Coos County Historical Society. Next month the society will begin sharing monthly highlights of the region’s history and updates on construction of the new center.