Gem No. 5: Glass Sidewalk Bricks
Look down past your feet while walking through downtown Corvallis and you may see more than cement. Lining the walkways in front of some of the city’s older buildings are grids of delicate purple glass bricks.
The bricks, called “concrete vault lights,” were a common feature in buildings constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What now seems like a whimsical decorative flourish once had a practical purpose. The basements of these buildings extend out under the sidewalks, and the glass bricks contain prisms that reflect natural light below ground.
David Wright, an employee for “gifts for geeks” store Gearbox Unlimited, has experienced the bricks’ utility firsthand.
“Our basement goes all the way out onto the street,” he said. “I was expecting it to be dark in there, but it was pretty bright.”
Over the years, some of Corvallis’ glass bricks have broken—the metal grid in front of Five Star Sports has been completely filled in with concrete. But glass bricks in front of other buildings have fared better. Only a few are broken in front of the city’s first bank on 3rd and Madison, now the home of Lucidyne Technologies, Inc., an engineering firm that was kind enough to let me into their basement to have a look at the bricks from below. And the former Benton Hotel, located at 120 NW 4th Street, boasts a nearly fully intact set of bricks in front of the main entrance, letting light down into the community room and restrooms below.
The former hotel now houses an assisted living facility and a commercial printer, among other tenants. David McCarthy, who lives in the building, said his grandfather worked on the construction of the building in the 1920s. He said the hotel was supposed to be a flagship for the community, hosting visiting parents of Oregon State University students and campaigning politicians, but then the Great Depression hit and the business never recovered. Its purple bricks, along with its art deco interior, are reminders of the building’s planned opulence.
Gem No. 6: Barton DeLoach Antiques, 317 33rd Street
Tucked into a transformed garage just north of the OSU campus, you’ll find Corvallis’ most elusive antique shop.
“We’re kind of open by chance,” Brenda Schmisseur told me when I asked about their hours, laughing and adding that it “usually works best if you call ahead of time.”
Inside her shop, you’ll find a thoughtfully organized and ever-changing display of classic and modern antiques.
Brenda and her husband Ed started the shop in 1998 when their personal antique collection expanded beyond what they could comfortably fit in their house. Rather than stop collecting, they decided they could bear to part with some of the treasures.
“I love it because I love everything in here,” Brenda said of the shop. “It is beautiful.”
Brenda said that the antique business in town has changed since she got into it. Where once there were four or five stores, now there are just two. She thinks people are buying a lot more online, which she personally doesn’t enjoy.
“You can’t see what you’re buying,” she said.
When buying online you also often don’t have the option to barter, whereas Brenda offers this deal to all of her customers: “I’ll tell you the price, you tell me where you want to be, and then we will come to a decision.”
Ed, a well-loved OSU professor, has been in poor health the past few years, so lately Brenda has been running the shop on her own. Her two daughters act as buyers for her, scouring local estate and garage sales for deals. Brenda said the shop has a set of core customers, and while she knows that having irregular hours can be a turnoff for some, she’s confident in the quality of her merchandise.
“Once they’re here, then they always come back,” she said.
Just Plain Strange
Gem No. 7: Winco Sales Section
We all love a good deal, so why not look for one at the grocery store? But Winco has one of the strangest sales sections around. Smack in the middle of the pet food aisle, this two-foot slice of shelving is always chock-full of a random assortment of items. On a recent visit, an Advocate reporter found three blue-haired toy Troll flashlights next to a jar of red yeast rice supplement. On another visit, jars of ham glaze sat next to deep-dish-pizza-flavored cheese puffs and cans of baking soda.
When asked about the sales section, a Winco employee said that he thought the location was simply an attempt to optimize use of a strange shelf space that has a beam running vertically through it. When asked how the items were chosen, he shrugged and said that he thought they were just things the store was trying to clear out.
Pretty typical sales section then—except for the pricing. That baking soda was going for $1.78, which we’re pretty sure is not actually on “sale” at all. The travel size shampoo two shelves up, though, was going for 68 cents, about a 30% discount on the normal 99 cents. So you may save only pennies, but this spot is worth checking out just for the amusement of cataloguing a grocery store’s cast-offs: its jack-o-lantern cake decorations, canned yams, and cat hair brushes.
Update: Fitton Green Car Wreck, Gem No. 4
Our last set of Hidden Gems reported on a couple of old cars just inside the Cardwell Road entrance to the Fitton Green Natural Area. Why were these cars there? The Advocate couldn’t solve the mystery. Thankfully, intrepid reader Dave Bard took up the challenge and wrote in with a tip:
Don’t think there’s any great mystery here. The Cardwell Hill Road used to be the road from Corvallis to Wren before the fancy new Highway 20 was routed up Wren Hill in a more direct route through Philomath. I remember exploring the logging roads up on the ridges in that area on my bicycle in the mid-’70s, and the two wrecked cars were there then. And I doubt they were wrecked; more likely, they were abandoned and pushed off the edge of the road. I’m not surprised that they’re still there, as it would now cost more than the metal’s worth to haul them out.
Do you, like Dave, know those cars from the ’70s? Or do you have an idea for another hidden gem? Send your ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Maggie Anderson