Retail, living space envisioned for classic downtown building

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WALLA WALLA -- Memories of the Whiteside Building flooded back to Ron and Dana Dunning with every sweep across the facade on a recent afternoon.

"I used to dance there when it was The Zodiac," Dana reminisced as she stood across the street from the 1890 property watching workers on a lift apply a new face on the building.

In the '60s, her husband added, scores of drivers would pass the Main Street building while they "cruised the gut." National and regional retail chains speckled the downtown landscape back then, he said.

The Dunnings' vision for the property's future is in some ways not so different. They see the building at 51 E. Main St. as a potential hub of downtown activity with retail on the main floor. But they also see a place for downtown residents on the upper level.

For a building that has been out of commission for several years, both facets are a major undertaking.

Gutted inside, the building's renovation has resumed after a quiet couple of years.

Long known as the home of Sporleders clothing store and, in more recent history, Walla Walla Clothing Co., it was virtually empty after the relocation of the latter. By 2004 after Walla Walla Clothing moved farther east of the property, the building housed seasonal retailers.

That happened until 2006, when a couple's plan for a boutique hotel, an upscale restaurant, rooftop garden and event space crumbled after the economy crashed.

The building then sat empty and without an owner for more than a year.

The Dunnings, who also own Dunning Irrigation Supply in Touchet, drove by it and wondered about the possibilities.

It took nearly a year to work out details, Ron Dunning said. According to the Walla Walla County Assessor's Office the Dunning's purchase price was $700,000 -- almost half a million dollars less than the building sold for in 2006.

The transformation of the facade with stucco work and fresh colors will be key to marketing the property, said USKH Inc. architectural designer Alex DeMambro, who is working with the Dunnings on the project.

"What these guys are doing is really a service to downtown," DeMambro said. "It's saving a piece of architecture.

"It's going to be elegant. It's going to be the building."

Dunning said he'd like to have work complete and tenants in place by June.

With work on the outside of the building nearly complete, general contractor Terry Brown of Brown's Construction can continue interior work through the winter months, Dunning said.

The next step will be finding a retailer for the roughly 4,500-square-foot main floor.

They will also determine how many units can be used for upper-level residences. Numerous details have yet to be determined, but that's the exciting part, the couple said.

"I like creating," Ron Dunning said. "I like seeing something happening. It's a nice challenge."

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