Ashland looks at ways to protect historic downtown in major earthquake

Many of the charming brick buildings in Ashland's historic downtown would be severely damaged or destroyed in a major earthquake.

City officials are pondering whether they should adopt laws requiring owners of historic buildings to make seismic upgrades when they undertake major renovation projects or switch to a higher occupancy use, such as changing a retail shop to a restaurant.

Medford and Portland require seismic upgrades under certain conditions.

Unreinforced brick buildings are common in the historic downtowns of most Southern Oregon cities, including Ashland. They are not supported by metal that would help keep the brickwork in place.

"Old red brick buildings are charming, but they're very vulnerable to earthquake. They will crumble," said city of Ashland building official Michael Grubbs, who is researching potential seismic upgrade requirements for future consideration by the Ashland City Council.

Buildings at risk include Ashland City Hall and most historic downtown buildings, such as those housing Mix Sweet Shop, The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, the Elks Lodge and the former Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar, Grubbs said.

The Pacific Northwest is facing a massive 9.0 or higher earthquake caused by a buildup of pressure from an oceanic plate plowing beneath a continental plate in the Cascadia subduction zone.

The last massive earthquake occurred in 1700, with another 9.0-plus quake predicted anytime from today to 300 years from now, according to geologists.

"At some point in the future, it will happen again. We're rolling the dice," said Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns.

He said the majority of downtown buildings would not do well in a major earthquake.

Rescuing people in collapsed buildings is a time-consuming process, with rescuers having to shore up structures before they can enter, Karns said.

He said he believes seismic upgrades of at-risk buildings should be mandatory wherever there are employees and patrons.

"They have a reasonable expectation to be in a safe structure," Karns said.

— Vickie Aldous

Read more in Tuesday's Daily Tidings.

Share This Story