A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A flag, a name and the building they’re on

Written July 20th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

Wandering around downtown Albany on a summer evening, sometimes you look up and just have to take a picture.

This was on First Avenue last week, and the flag backlit by the setting sun was on what I called the old J.C. Penney Building in a recent story. Bill Maddy, a reader with a keen interest in Albany history, pointed out that it was actually the Wallace Building.

He’s right, though everybody, including the Albany Visitors Association in its downtown walking-tour guide, calls it the Penney Building because until the 1980s that’s what it was. But as the lettering on the wall below the flag confirms, Wallace is the original name.

So who was this Wallace who named the place?

Turns out it was Dr. J.P. Wallace, who went before the Albany City Council on June 23, 1915, and asked for approval of his plans for a building on a site formerly occupied by the Hamilton Store.

The month before, he had asked the council’s permission to use part of the street for his project. The basement would be nine feet deep and extend 12 feet under the sidewalk.

Then in June, the Albany Daily Democrat reported on the plans being submitted to the council. One of the decks of the headline proclaimed: “Will Be One of  Finest Structures in Albany.”

The building, the story said, would measure 77 by 101 feet and was planned to be two stories, though it would be built so another two floors could be added later. There would be a mezzanine 28 feet deep, and the basement would be fitted out as a sales room as well. Some 200,000 bricks would be needed.

The cost was estimated as “more than $20,000,” and the building was expected to be finished by Oct. 1. Fast workers, those guys in 1915.

Herbert Babb designed the building. In newspaper ads after the project was completed, he proudly reminded readers of the Albany Evening Herald: “Architect for the Wallace Building.”

For a while it was the Worth Department Store, but in August 1020 the J.C. Penney Co. leased the place and moved in. It would stay there for 68 years, long enough for Albany newcomers like me to buy shirts there, and pants.

You can look up details about the origins of buildings in small towns because newspapers reported on them, and a company called Newspapers.com now has digitized millions of pages and makes them available online. And if you look at one thing on a page from 1915, you learn about dozens of other developments at the same time. The Great War in Europe, in this case, and the Wilson administration’s demand that Germany stop its U-boats from killing Americans on the high seas.

The question that pops up is this: A hundred years from now, will our own digital reports survive in a way that gives them historical context and in a form that can be read? (hh)

11 responses to “A flag, a name and the building they’re on”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Here is another photo of the flag taken in downtown Albany in 1923.

    This is a year after Oregon elected Walter Pierce, a KKK member, as Governor.

    At the time the Wallace Building went up it is estimated that 25% of white males in Oregon were card carrying KKK members.

    And in 2017 The Cummuter (LBCC) asked a good question: Founded in white supremacy, what does Oregon’s history mean now? A tough question for lily white Albany in 2021.



    • Bob Woods says:

      Kudo’s Gordon. Something I never expected to say.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Should the Albany City Council do what Salt Lake City did and issue a resolution declaring racism in Albany a public health crisis.



        Should the Albany City Council acknowledge the wisdom of Booker T. Washington and not promote black victimhood and white guilt for their own benefit?

        “I am afraid that there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.”
        – Booker T. Washington, page 118, My Larger Education (1911)

        • Deborah Lynne says:

          We should follow the lead of Booker T. Washington and strive to meet the dreams of Martin Luther King,Jr. If an estimated 25% of white males were members of the KKK, it means 75% were not, quite possibly because the cause was as abhorrent to them then as we find it to be today. We need to ask ourselves what possible benefits we derive as a society by assuming the worst motives for our ancestors? What benefits do we receive for driving a wedge between the people who currently make up our community? My guess is that it plays into the hands of the people who use the divisions for money and political power.

  2. Dave Sullivan says:

    One of your best blog entries yet … it ends with a very thought provoking question.

  3. Richard Vannice says:

    Remember sitting down with your parents in their later years and looking at photo albums? Now they are digital and on your phone or computer and when you are gone no one is going to look at them. Probably won’t even care who the people in the photos are.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      It reminds me of the 1960 movie “The Time Machine” with the disintegrating “books” and the spinning rings for information…

  4. Kim Sass says:

    Dr. James P. Wallace was the oldest founding member of Albany General Hospital. He came to Albany in 1884 in a time when doctoring was done on foot or with a horse-drawn vehicle. He was involved in the life of Albany and an ardent advocate of street paving. It was during his time as mayor (1906-1912) that Albany saw its first ‘hard surfacing’.
    Dr. Wallace gave the $2,000 donation that furnished the surgery of the new 1924 hospital; the surgery was described as the ‘most modern’ in Oregon. It was in this surgery, while administering anesthetic for his surgeon son Russell, that JP Wallace was stricken with an illness that ultimately led to his death. He had used the surgery for just one month.

  5. Bob Woods says:

    For $60 bucks you can get a 2 Terabyte USB backup drive and store all your pictures and documents on it for posterity.

    Then your kids can toss it after you die.

    “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

    – Gen. Gorge S Patton

  6. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    J.P. Wallace was also the Mayor from 1906-1912.

    In the Jan 14, 1908 “Mayor’s Message” published in the Jan 17,1908 Albany Democrat he announced that city receipts were $22,382.94 and disbursements were $22,300.

    Debt was $116,798 (~$3.5M in today’s dollars). Evidently Wallace was a leader in getting the streets paved and that required bonds.


HH Today: A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley
Albany Albany Carousel Albany City Council Albany council Albany downtown Albany Fire Department Albany housing Albany parks Albany Planning Commission Albany police Albany Post Office Albany Public Works Albany riverfront Albany Station Albany streets Albany traffic Albany urban renewal Andy Olson Benton County Benton County parks bicycling bike lanes Bowman Park Bryant Park Calapooia River CARA City of Albany climate change coronavirus COVID-19 Cox Creek path Crocker Lane cumberland church cycling Dave Clark Path DEQ downtown Albany Edgewater Village global warming gun control Highway 20 Interstate 5 Kitzhaber Linn County marijuana medical marijuana Millersburg North Albany North Albany Road Obama ODOT Oregon coast Oregon legislature Pacific Power Portland & Western Republic Services Riverside Drive Santiam Canal Talking Water Gardens The Banks Tom Cordier Union Pacific urban renewal Water Avenue Willamette River

Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. Hasso Hering.
Website Serviced by Santiam Communications
Hasso Hering