FACES AND PLACES - Vision needed for historic building

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The Whiteside Building at 51 E. Main St. has embodied the hopes and plans of many dreamers. A motel. A furniture store. The Zodiac Club. Sporleders Clothing. Walla Walla Clothing Company. Most recently, the building was subject to a detailed fa?ßade restoration in the hopes of attracting investors in a luxury hotel.

Raffaele Exiana and Ron Williams, partners in a Bellevue design and development firm, first came to Walla Walla in 2006. Scoping out locations for a restaurant with friends Ceil Blaine and Daymon Bruck, they instead found the Whiteside building for themselves.

The team had seen a number of historic photos and were determined to bring the splendor of the original fa?ßade back to Main Street.

In 2006, Walla Walla's wine industry had truly exploded. Tourists flocked to our fair city in ever-increasing numbers. During wine weekends the small number of higher-end hotel rooms in town were in high demand. Ron and Raffaele saw an opportunity - a niche to be filled.

Their dream: A boutique hotel with a European aesthetic, small but elegant. An upscale restaurant on the ground floor, a lounge on the mezzanine level. A rooftop garden with event space and spectacular views.

The first step was revealing the potential beauty behind the 1960's-era plaster fa?ßade. Armed with a variety of photos and drawings showing the original details of the storefront underneath, Designer Raffaele was able to recreate the features constructed in 1895.

The fa?ßade restoration was nearly complete, and interior demolition had exposed original brick and beams when the economic crash came. Banks stopped lending money, potential investors dropped from sight, and the inevitable happened. After a long and fruitless struggle to sell the building, the bank took it.

Ron and Raffaele are still here. Ron manages not only the facility and events at Waterbrook Winery, he also oversees the Walla Walla Wine Works location on Main Street. "I'm still living the dream in Walla Walla. It's just a different version," says Ron.

Raffaele continues his design work on a residential scale across the valley.

"We are proud of what we were able to accomplish for Walla Walla and its historic center even if our dream was cut short by the economical turmoil of these past years," says Raffaele. The hope? "...Somebody will acquire this amazing property, finish the facade restoration, and give it a new life for all of us to enjoy."

For now, the building at 51 E. Main sits vacant, awaiting the next dreamer. Jennifer Northam is events and public relations manager for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

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