Should city seismically retrofit City Hall?

At 9 in the evening of Jan. 26, 1700, a monster earthquake of 9.0 ripped Oregon and neighboring states. Its epicenter was off Newport, which didn’t exist at that time. Nor did much else.

A so-called megathrust quake, it caused a 66-foot rupture that would have been a major city-smasher — and the bad news is that it’s coming back, because we live next door to the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the San Juan de Fuca plate is perpetually pushing under our coastal landmass.

It will come without warning and will level vast numbers of old brick-and-mortar buildings, such as Ashland’s 125-year old City Hall on the Plaza.

It’s possible to do a seismic retrofit on the nostalgic old two-story building, but at a great expense. This re-do gives workers time to get out of the building, which still may not survive the temblor. It’s cheaper to start over and build a structure right. This would mean letting go of our town's affection for charming historic buildings, which are at the heart of our significant tourist draw.

But let’s face it. Our Oregon has been sitting there, politely doing nothing for 316 years, so it’s easy for us to deny it. After all, let’s wait for the crisis to happen before we do anything about it. Such is human nature. We’re also advised to have two weeks of food and water stashed away, but how many of us do? It’ll all work out, we think, just like global warming.

But enough sarcasm. If the city didn’t do anything about its seismic liability, it could, of course, get sued out of business. So, the city must do something. It is. It’s also combining the seismic upgrade with a request for bonding to increase City Hall space, possibly adding a floor or two to City Hall of the nearby Community Development Building or creating a new building on the parking lot at Pioneer and Lithia Way.

This brings up the big issue of government expansion and spending, always a trigger-point for taxpayers.

We asked Ashlanders, “Should City Hall be seismically reinforced, even if it costs more than moving it elsewhere downtown?”

J. Elder (declined photo) — If it saves taxpayers money to move, then I’m sure someone else can utilize this building. It’s not necessary for city workers to be downtown. It’s an important building historically and it’s not necessary to be here on the Plaza. If it can be saved, it is a highlight of the area.

Les Addison — It’s expensive to seismically retrofit, so relocate City Hall. We can then think about looking forward to this big earthquake. No, I’m not attached to the history of it.

Joe Cohoon — I like the idea of it being a Mayberry concept (small-town charm, like in the '60s TV series). The question is: is this location and building working for the city? Are they happy doing their work here? I’m not attached to it, historically. I’m indifferent towards it. I like the shiny new place around the corner (Community Development Building), though I also appreciate things that harken back to an older downtown. I’m curious what would become of this. I’m uncomfortable with empty storefronts. I like the appearance of a thriving downtown.

Jeff Miles — While I value the importance and credibility of the Register of Historic Places, it sits on a highly valuable piece of property, centrally located in the heart of downtown. I think they could find a better use for the land where it’s located. It’s a tough call.

Dana Smith (employee in city recorder’s office in city hall) — I don’t know which is less expensive. I’m sure they will choose the least expensive version. I’m from a quake city, Seattle, so seismic retrofitting is important to me.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at





Share This Story