Personal reflections by editor Matt Winters about paying off the Chinook Observer’s building mortgage:

Nearly 20 years ago in the late-1990s, as our 100th birthday approached, we at the Chinook Observer started thinking about where to be physically located.

At the time, we were in a small building at the corner of Third and Oregon streets in Long Beach, where longtime publisher Jimmy O’Neil operated the paper after moving it from Chinook in 1938. On July 1, 1984, Jimmy’s son and daughter-in-law Wayne and Francis sold the Observer to Craig and Geri Dennis, but retained ownership of the building. That arrangement continued beyond Feb. 16, 1988, when the small family-based EO Media Group bought the paper from the Dennises.

Our offices next to Midway Printery, which the O’Neils continued to own and run, were about the size of a double-wide mobile home. Whenever there were hard winter rains, we would have to sandbag the doors. Even so, the carpet was often wet. Parts of the floor were so slanted by time and settling that staff members placed bricks on the downhill side of office chairs to keep them from rolling away. The aroma of printing solvents wafted over from next door via the false ceiling.

Even so, it was a homey place, with a picnic table in the shade of the tree at the back, Possums would occasionally wander in when the doors were propped open to welcome the evening breeze off the Pacific. Although staff was packed pretty close together, our nearness made it incredibly easy to communicate and keep tabs on what we each we doing. We loved being close to the O’Neils, who were a constant source of support and community knowledge.

But we wanted to upgrade our facilities and didn’t want to invest in a rented space. We offered to explore buying the building, but the O’Neils weren’t interested in selling. So we began shopping for either an existing building to retrofit or a good site to build from scratch. After looking and considering sites from Ocean Park to Ilwaco — we even flirted with moving back to Chinook — we decided on a vacant lot at the corner of Bolstad and Washington in Long Beach. It was owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ local chapter, which bought it decades earlier, planning to build a hall. Mortality eroded interest in such an ambitious plan. When we contacted them they were prepared to sell.

We went through an exciting once-in-a-lifetime process of selecting who to design and build it. A swanky Portland architecture firm proposed a passive-solar building with a bank of operable ceiling-height windows facing south into the winter storms. Someone with local expertise was clearly called for, and we found him in Erik Fagerland, a Long Beach architect who also had a highly qualified construction crew.

We set about making our building as local as possible, hiring Peninsula subcontractors, buying the lumber and other components from Oman & Son Builders Supply, and obtaining financing from Bank of the Pacific. Long Beach’s building inspector at the time, Jim Sayce, began courting his wife, Dian Barker from the bank, when the two of them cooperated to make sure things were going as they should with our building.

We made the two-block move from old location to new on March 29, 2000. In my editorial that day, I wrote, “It’s been a heck of a run, and though we’re thrilled to bits about moving to our new place …, a few tears will be shed when we lock the doors of the old place for the last time. The old joint has seen its share of little kids swinging from door frames, laughter, temper tantrums, late nights, ink stains and paper cuts.”

Recently, years early, we paid off our mortgage. This is a comforting confirmation that we are doing well in a financial sense. This success is completely thanks to the support of our communities and our continuing close connections with the people we serve.

Our new building has aged well — though we expect to freshen it up a bit. We’re looking forward to generations more here — playing an active role reflecting and reporting on this amazing place we love.

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