Medford 'Alamo' surrenders

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBen Jennings walks with his 11-year-old son Wyatt down the sidewalk in front of the Sam Jennings building in downtown Medford. It was recently sold to Lithia.

A Medford icon for almost a century, the historic Sam Jennings building, known as the “Alamo” by locals, will be demolished to build a parking lot.

“It’s the oldest place in Medford operated by the same family,” said Elaine Reisinger, daughter of Sam Jennings, who started the business in 1923 and moved into the building after it was built in 1927.

Lithia Motors bought the 0.57-acre lot at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Fourth Street Feb. 8 for $1.2 million, and Reisinger’s extended family cleared out all the machines and parts and vacated April 8.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Reisinger, 76. “Some of us are getting up in age with health problems. If we had the energy or money or something, it would have been nice to make it into another brewpub or restaurant.”

Over the past five years, the family has fended off code violations and other problems at the aging building. Lithia has made several attempts to purchase the building.

“Some people have said that we would never sell to Lithia,” Reisinger said. “That’s not true.”

Before its closure, the Sam Jennings business had eight workers who made deliveries, repaired heavy equipment and specialized in fixing brakes, clutches and hydraulic systems.

According to an analysis of the demolition request from Lithia, Medford officials noted the historic significance of the building.

Lithia Real Estate Inc. wants to use the parking lot with about 50 spaces for adjacent businesses, and it plans to build sidewalks, light poles and landscaping to match improvements made by the city around nearby Pear Blossom Park.

“Arguably no other property owner has been more impacted than Lithia by the unsightliness that has characterized the subject site for years,” Lithia stated in its application, which was written by Richard Stevens and Associates Inc.

In the future, Lithia hopes to develop the property with a commercial or possibly residential building.

Reisinger wrote a letter to the city supporting the demolition of the building. She said the family still owns two lots to the north of Sam Jennings.

Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director, said the Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission agreed to allow the demolition.

“It is one of the most historically intact buildings in the downtown,” Brinkley said. “It would be great if someone came along and wanted to put something interesting there.”

He said Lithia was willing to do something to commemorate the building.

On Wednesday, workers were attaching plywood to the side of the building so the distinctive shape that some have likened to the Alamo Mission in Texas can be recreated.

A representative from Lithia could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

Ben Jennings, the 35-year-old grandson of Sam Jennings, said it was sad to see the end of an era.

“I worked here in high school and middle school,” he said. “It’s a cool, old building.”

He said the entire family has worked at the building.

“I remember getting off school and chopping wood out in front,” he said. “I just came here after school every day.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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