Above: Long shadows are cast across the Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191 on Thursday morning. The Tumwater City Council passed a rezone for the property, which stands at the crossroads of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard. Owner Tom Schrader is now looking for a suitable local business that will honor the spirit of the rezone, and accommodate a community service in the 106 year old building.
By Janine Gates
“Within Grangers, ideas are born, and in the Grange, they become a reality,” reads a slogan in a vintage Washington State Granger’s guide.
That slogan takes on special meaning now as Tom Schrader moves closer to his dream of converting the vacant 106 year old building into a vibrant place of community once again.
Schrader and his wife, Tiffany, purchased the property last year and have worked with neighbors to address their concerns regarding its future use and traffic.
City of Tumwater council members passed a comprehensive plan amendment at their October 25 meeting, changing the zoning of the Chamber Prairie Grange, located at 1301 Yelm Highway SE, from single family low density (SFL) to community service (CS).
Under the SFL zoning, the former Grange could have been torn down to build four to seven homes or duplexes, among other uses. The zoning change to community service limits how commercial the site could be developed and protects the property from becoming a gas station, a mini-mart, or a five story commercial building.
Several spoke in support of the rezone, including Dave Nugent, president of The Farm homeowners association, an adjacent subdivision.
Nugent addressed the council, saying The Farm board is so confident in Schrader’s dedication to the Grange’s future that a developer agreement is no longer needed. To determine the project’s impact, Nugent asked for the city's assistance in monitoring traffic patterns before and after completion of the project.
Lloyd Flem of Olympia, a retired professional planner who served on Olympia’s planning committee in the 1990s, said the rezone was a perfect example of adaptive reuse to preserve an important piece of the community’s history.
Schrader announced at the meeting that he and his wife would most likely not sell the property as planned, but select and help manage the business that ends up there.
“We are really happy for everyone - neighbors, friends, family, and community - that we can now do something on that corner that will be a place for the community!” said Schrader after the meeting.
Schrader has tried to garner the interest of local businesses in his idea to convert the building, while retaining its historic character, into a coffee and sandwich shop and meeting place, but has found it to be a tough sell without knowing whether the rezone would pass.
“I have spoken with a lot of local businesses - Batdorf & Bronson, Meconi's, Vic's Pizza, Olympia Coffee Roasters, Budd Bay Cafe, Dancing Goats, Starbucks, Cutter's Point, and Royal Bean Coffee. I have also been contacted by Wendy's, Carl's Jr., Taco Time, and Chipotle too,” says Schrader, who quickly added that he is not interested in those latter fast food businesses.
“There wasn’t much teeth in my sales pitch or delivery before, but now I can move forward,” he said.
Before any further physical change to the building can take place, such as putting on a cedar shake roof, Schrader needs to have a tenant in place, so that changes are made to fit the specific requirements of the new business.
“In the next few weeks, my wife and I will decide the best fit for the property and our community. It's an important corner, and I want to be known as a responsible and sensible person. I want to see people there, and have it be a happy place!”
The Washington State Grange came into existence Sept. 10, 1889 as a protest by farmers against intolerable conditions – against poverty, extortionate taxes, freight rates and mortgage interest, and government control of state government by selfish interests.
The Chambers Prairie Grange, No. 191 Patrons of Husbandry principal place of business was the hall, located on what was then called Route #2 in Thurston County.
According to its nonprofit articles of incorporation, the Grange’s purpose was to “educate along the lines of social, moral, and educational betterment,” and “to inculcate into the minds of the membership the benefits of cooperation.”
Little did Grangers know that decades later, Tom Schrader, with his infectious energy and enthusiasm, would be saving their most treasured asset - their building - to become a place of community, cooperation, and commerce once again.
For more photos, history, and current information about the Chambers Prairie Grange, Tom Schrader, the rezone effort, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.comand type key words into the search engine. Previous stories are dated November 29, 2015 and May 28, 2016.
Above: Tom Schrader holds a Grange piece of history: an old Olympia Federal Savings and Loan Association check register, found in the Chambers Prairie Grange building after he took ownership of it last year.