Keadys uncover a few ‘artifacts’

by Samantha White

Burns Times-Herald

Forrest and Jen Keady  are busy refurbishing the former Masonic Lodge in Burns. (Photo by SAMANTHA WHITE)

Forrest and Jen Keady are busy refurbishing the former Masonic Lodge in Burns. (Photo by SAMANTHA WHITE)

“This has been a dream of mine forever,” Forrest Keady said over the cacophony of construction and amid the smell of sawdust.

Standing at the site of their future living room, Forrest and his wife, Jen, explained that they have been looking for a fixer-upper in the heart of downtown Burns since they moved back to the area with their sons, Travis, Jake and Will.

Jen said Forrest is a “big city boy” who likes listening to the sound of traffic. Forrest added that he’s always wanted to renovate the upper story of an industrial building to resemble the lofts found in metropolises like Manhattan.

“In moving back to Burns, we knew we wanted to take on a project like this,” Jen said, adding that they wanted a “two-story on Main Street,” and they liked the industrial loft concept.

After searching for more than a year, the Keadys closed the deal on the building that sits squarely at the intersection of West Washington Street and North Broadway Avenue (which is commonly referred to as “Main Street.”)

In addition to receiving warm beams of natural light, the building’s giant, 104-year-old windows provide a prominent view of downtown Burns, and their arched architecture adds to the building’s antique ambiance.

“The more we looked at it, the more we loved it,” Jen said regarding the building.

Forrest added that they were drawn to its location and character.


A bit of history

 This photo of the Masonic Lodge building was believed to have been taken in the 1920s. (Submitted photo)

This photo of the Masonic Lodge building was believed to have been taken in the 1920s. (Submitted photo)

Forrest, who has been researching its history extensively, said the building was built in 1910 as the Masonic Lodge. He added that, over the years, a number of businesses have occupied the building’s bottom story, including a dealership, drug store, hardware store, and, most recently, a quilt shop (Country Lane Quilts). He said it is also rumored that the bottom story was once a speakeasy, and there was a still upstairs that ran whiskey down to the bottom floor. Forrest said, in the past, part of the top floor was used for offices, while the other part served as the Masons’ meeting room. Known for their secrecy, the Masons only let approved members into that room.

In an effort to restore the building to its original design, Forrest has been working with current members of Robert Burns Masonic Lodge No. 97 to uncover some of the building’s history. The Masons provided the Keadys with the building’s original contract and blueprints, and Forrest is in the process of making copies of them.

The Keadys have found a few surprises in the renovation process. For example, they discovered that the building has a mezzanine that was not included in the building’s original blueprints. Forrest said he is not sure why this mysterious middle story was built or what it was used for. But Jen said she plans to use it for storage.

Forrest said the blue prints did include a skylight, which he uncovered during the renovation process. Other “uncovered treasures” include some old Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and a “dirty magazine” that is probably from the 1950s. The building also contains a time capsule from 1910. Forrest said he knows where it is, but he hasn’t taken it out yet.


Elbow grease

The Keadys hope to restore the building to as close to its original design as possible, while ensuring that it functions as a living space for their family.

They are tackling the renovation on their own, with help from friends and Lee W. Davis Construction. Forrest has quite a bit of renovation experience, as he has remodeled about five homes to varying degrees.

“He is very good at demolition,” Jen said with a laugh, adding that the couple has enjoyed learning new skills from their friends.

Jen said Sue Kovar, who lives in the The Old Bakery building down the street, has been “a huge inspiration” and very helpful and encouraging.

The Keady children have also been very involved with the renovation.

“The boys are learning a lot,” Jen said.

Forrest said that, although the demolition phase seemed to take forever, it actually went faster than he thought it would, and they are “way ahead of schedule.”

However, it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake.

“The flooring has been brutal,” Forrest said, explaining that layers of carpet and tar paper had to be removed in order to reach the building’s original wood floors.

Another challenge was removing the building’s drop ceiling, which was a necessary step toward restoring the building to its original design.

Forrest said they are now starting to rebuild, and they are currently working on framing the bedrooms. He said they plan to move forward with the electrical and plumbing aspects of the renovation after they meet with the city to discuss their plans.

Jen said a picture, which she thinks was taken around 1920, shows that a series of small windows used to line the front of the building. She said she hopes to obtain a Diamonds in the Rough grant in order to replace them.

As part of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office’s Preserving Oregon Grant Program, Diamonds in the Rough grants are used to restore and reconstruct the facades of buildings that have been heavily altered over the years. The goal is to restore them to their historic appearance and potentially qualify them for historic register designation.


Looking toward the future

If everything goes smoothly, the Keadys hope to inhabit the upstairs this summer.

In addition to providing a home for the Keady family, the building will house Family Eye Care of Harney County, which is Jen’s optometry practice. Jen said the practice will occupy about two-thirds of the bottom story, and the remaining third will be available for rent as a commercial space.

“Hopefully, with any luck, we will move my practice by the end of the year,” she said.

But if that doesn’t work out, Jen said her ultimate goal is to set up shop in the new location by 2015.


New life

Jen said she and her family want to be part of an ongoing effort to revitalize Main Street and “bring life back” to the buildings downtown.

She and Forrest joked that they are pushing all of their friends to buy property on North Broadway Avenue, and Forrest even offered to help them with demolition.

But the Keady family is still plenty busy with their own project. Although they’ve accomplished a lot already, they recognized that there is still a lot of work to do.

For now, Jen is encouraging everyone to “stay tuned.”

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