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Lore says hotel a hangout for Gable and ghosts.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

UNION - If Clark Gable didn't stay here, then Annie Oakley most certainly did.

Or at least Gail Davis, the actress who portrayed her in the 1950s TV show.

It's called the Historic Union Hotel, and if you're looking for something just a little bit different this summer - a place where the rooms don't look like carbon copies of themselves and where ghosts have been known to congregate in the third-floor windows - here it is.

Built in 1921 for $150,000, it's a classic grand hotel created in the revivalist style of the American Renaissance. Construction of the hotel was financed by local businessmen who wanted to provide an overnight stop for motorists traveling on Highway 30 between Boise and Portland, according to a 1999 story in The (La Grande) Observer.

The hotel's prosperity didn't last long, the story said. The hotel was sold for $12,000 during the Depression to pay back taxes. By the time Interstate 84 was built several miles to the west in the 1960s, the hotel was all but forgotten.

The brick building on Main Street, smack in the middle of a national historic district of old Victorian homes, was converted into apartments in the 1970s and then fell into disrepair for years.

That is, until a Springfield couple, Allen and Twyla Cornelius, bought and restored it in 1996. They sold it to two California men, Robb Saye and David Barcala, almost two years ago. Last summer, the partners built a restaurant inside and named it the Fireside Cafe & Pub, which specializes in prime rib, steaks, chicken and pasta dishes.

"It's going well," Saye says. "The summers are good and the winters are slow."

The "slow" season was confirmed on a Monday in mid-March when a Register-Guard reporter and photographer found themselves alone in the place, along with the two owners, who live at the hotel.

This provided plenty of time to wander and wonder about the past.

Saye and Barcala say the hotel had 71 rooms when it was built and that travelers from all over the world stayed there. After being remodeled by the Corneliuses, it now has 16 rooms with different themes, from the Annie Oakley Suite to the Clark Gable Room to the most-requested room, the Davis Brothers Room, named for Pete and R.B. Davis, two ranchers who, according to local lore, inherited a fortune from their parents and once lived the bachelor life in the hotel, Saye says.

The Davis room goes for $79 a night during the week and for $89 on weekends. It's a large room for one or two people with a king-size bed and a distinctive Western decor. The walk-in, pine-paneled shower is large enough for two, so keep that it mind when selecting a roommate, cowboy.

The Clark Gable Room is on the second floor, right at the top of the staircase. You'll find framed photographs of the Hollywood legend, along with "Gone With the Wind" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" posters, a fishing rod on the wall, another one leaning in a corner, and snowshoes crossed on the wall above the bed. During the week, the room is just $59 a night; it costs $65 on weekends.

Legend has it that Gable, who was known for hunting and fishing in Oregon throughout his life, stayed at the hotel when he came to fish in Catherine Creek, which runs through town.

There are no records of his visiting, however.

The Annie Oakley Suite is so-named because Gail Davis stayed at the hotel in the early 1960s during this town's annual Eastern Oregon Livestock Show. Billed as the oldest livestock show in the Northwest, the most recent version celebrated the show's 100th anniversary during a weeklong celebration earlier this month, and the hotel was packed. In fact, all 16 rooms were booked last fall, eight months in advance, Saye says.

If you're still perusing Fourth of July possibilities, there are still a few rooms left that week, he says. Saye and Barcala have begun an October tradition at the hotel, dressing it as a haunted house in conjunction with Fright Night Productions of La Grande, and some 1,700 people came through on October weekends in 2006, Saye says.

Saye and Barcala ran an American-cafe style restaurant together for nine years at the University of California-Santa Cruz, Saye says. When Saye's father became ill, they sold the business and began looking for something else while Barcala became a controller at the Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula Airport and Saye worked as a facilities and operations manager at Roaring Camp Railroads, a tourist attraction that takes visitors through the towering redwoods.

After Saye's father died, Barcala found an online ad saying the hotel was for sale. They made a visit to this town of about 2,000 people.

"We saw this and fell in love with it," Saye says.

And why wouldn't they?

Through the decades, the hotel is said to have been a watering hole for rodeo cowboys, a night club called the Skeet, and once home to an illegal card game in the back.

It's a charming place with all of its original woodwork intact and a parlor off to the side of the lobby that makes you feel as if its 1921 all over again. There are no televisions or phones in the rooms, and most of the bathrooms contain clawfoot bathtubs.

Saye and Barcala hope to remodel the third floor, where many of the rooms have been gutted. Wander around. Maybe you'll spot a ghost or two.


Where: 326 N. Main St., Union

Directions: From Interstate 84 in La Grande, take Exit 265 and follow Highway 23 about 12 miles into town

Contact: (541) 562-6135;
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 17, 2007
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