A s you watch Kevin Moore enumerate the possibilities for renovation to the Electric Building, it is easy to get carried away with his dream for the 100-year-old structure with the terracotta detailing and a peppering of light sockets covering the exterior.
“He is like a kid with a new toy,” said Michele Beerbower, his girlfriend and partner in the building. She also envisions the restoration of the commercial icon of Beaux Arts/Neoclassical glory at Heron and Broadway in downtown Aberdeen.
The Harbor residents see the outside sockets — which once held 1,066 light bulbs — sparkling with hundreds of energy-efficient LEDs. Moore could cue them via computer to a veritable light show of celebration: red, white and blue for the Fourth of July; red and green for the Christmas season.
Practically, the amount of work needed to rekindle the spark for the three-story landmark will take a high voltage infusion of energy, time, and money.
The couple was driving out of town last year when they saw a for sale sign on the building. It “was sad to see,” said Moore. Looking for a new place to house Tek EaZe, his e-cycling computer repair and restoration business, he liked the $129,000 price. The mortgage payment was less than the rent he was paying at another location. Together, they bought it well in time for the building’s 100th anniversary in February, 2013.
Community Development Director Lisa Scott helped them get the building on the Aberdeen Register of Historic Places, a preamble for state and federal status. Scott also helped get the Electric Building on this year’s list of Endangered Historic Properties compiled by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
Beerbower, who leaves most business decisions up to Moore, says the city has been very helpful in guiding them. They often attend Historic Preservation Committee, Planning Commission meetings and other city meetings to keep tabs on the downtown core.
“Crowning jewel in 1913”
When the building opened in 1913 “it was the crowning jewel of its owner, the Grays Harbor Railroad and Light Company,” said the trust. As architect C.E. Troutman, who moved his offices to an upper level suite in its heyday, so Moore moved Tek EaZe into the first floor of the building in a hoped-for revival. Tek EaZe is the first of what Moore anticipates will be four-to-six anchor tenants downstairs. There is room for more than 20 offices “or lofts” on upper levels, Moore thinks.
The Electric Building first lost its luster in the wake of the Great Depression so it is fitting that Moore’s business moved in just as the Great Recession winds down. A second business, a Mexican bakery called Tres Coronas, after owner Pedro Coronas’ three children, is under construction and due to open this month at 200 So. Broadway.
The building’s current state is a cautionary tale of deferred maintenance. “(It) does not have a weather (resisting) envelope; broken glass in deteriorating window frames has been left unrepaired for years; water is finding its way through numerous wall cracks and leaks in the built-up roof; and the handsome terracotta wall cladding is failing at an alarming rate,” a May 15, release from the trust says.
On June 4, the Grays County Assessor’s Office Parcel Database listed the entire property as worth $255,000: $156,000 is counted as value of the land, $99,000 is attributed to the building. The quality of the building is listed as “low.”
Undaunted, both Moore and Beerbower profess they “fell in love” with the building. They remember shopping there as children after Walt Failor (a former mayor of Aberdeen) moved his sporting goods store there in 1963 in one of its revivals. Beerbower remembers the shoes; Moore remembers the hunting and fishing gear.
“I’m going to do this one step at a time … even if I gotta do it one window at a time,” Moore vows, blue eyes alive. He notes his first love in restoration was cars, his second computers, the Electric Building his third.
As green shoots sprout in the wake of a forest fire, so does the Electric Building bear signs of new life.
A friend of Moore’s recently refinished the flagstones out front on Heron, promising to remove the finish if Moore did not like it, he did.
The women from the Aberdeen Museum of History have a storefront window display of colorful quilts from the 1930s draped artfully over rocking chairs and other period furniture. The exhibit will change from time to time.
The walls of Tek EaZe hold parts, plugs and other supplies hung neatly from the walls that also bear a sign noting the historic designation by Aberdeen.
On a recent tour, Moore bounds from room to room, showing off past loves and present possibilities. His first love lies behind one of the glass storefronts on Broadway: a classic 1968 Mercury Cougar that so far he has refused to sell. “The motor is worth $12,000 alone,” he says. Moore drained the gas tank after it was spotted by a city fire marshal on a tour of inspection for the new bakery, he said.
“I drove it right through those doors” he says, pointing toward the main entrance to what was the First National Bank in a previous incarnation. He plans to renovate the tan and brown tiled “original floor … so straight and smooth, it’s unreal.”
Bank, jewelers among tenants
The large glass windows have reflected the First National Bank, Stieglitz Jewelers, and the Broadway Pharmacy among others over time. Today it holds an incredible jumble of used computers, televisions, and their electronic components that Moore and his team salvage, refurbish, or recycle. Also housed on the main floor is a forklift. He was glad for the room.
Tek EaZe actually brought Moore and Beerbower together. Though they met briefly through a mutual friend, a laptop accidentally fried by a grandson is what brought Beerbower to Moore and Tek EaZe. He called to ask if he could “blow it up” as a joke. He fixed it and it’s now back in the family, she said. Between them, they have 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
He and she differ slightly in separate interviews about the overall vision for the white painted structure. Moore sees a club with dining possible under high ceilings on the main floor; Beerbower thinks a lunch cafe where “healthy, good, comfort food” is served could feed downtown workers.
He shows off uneven glass doors near Broadway that he plans to plane on the weekends with his buddies, who know the place to find him on the weekends is at the Electric Building. (A pool and a foos ball table are further incentive).
Moore wants to restore a grand staircase that leads to the third floor where suites were ripped out by previous owners. A partial second floor is accessed either down from the third or up from the first toward the back of the building.
In one of several “secret” rooms upstairs, a dropped ceiling conceals both “old growth timber” and an ornate painted beam from 1928 in light gray and slate blue. “My goal is to rip (out the dropped ceilings) so the rest of the world can see it.”
Apart from the “grand” central stairs and a wooden staircase on Broadway, there is a “stairway to nowhere”and a small “hidden” alcove with low ceilings. A musician friend wants to record in one of the bank vaults. Upstairs is now used for storage for the furniture and other belongings of friends and family.
Beerbower has to limit physical labor due to conditions that have disabled her, she says. She is still game to work on it “til I am good and old.” As Moore generates rental income, Beerbower keeps a practical eye on the bottom line. She wants to pay off the mortgage in five years, when she hopes half the space is filled with tenants.
“The faster we get tenants, the faster we pay off the mortgage,” she says. Further historic designation will allow them access to low-interest loans and tax breaks. They would like to see the Electric Building restored within 20 years.
To enact their vision, they may need help from former and as well current tenants.
Asked if the Electric Building is haunted, Moore says, “Hell, yes” adding, like all older buildings it is full of strange sounds at odd times of day and night. Friends of his, who are sensitive in this arena, deemed them “positive spirits.”
Whatever the source, Moore, Beerbower, family, and city officials who help them will need all the positive energy they can generate to make the Electric Building shine anew.