A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

In 1932, this had ‘the pleasant atmosphere’

Written November 15th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

This building, at 129 West First Ave., has a long past and an uncertain future.

Once again this week, on Sunday, I leaned the bike against the corner of 129 West First Ave. and wondered what if anything was happening with this old Albany structure.

The building has been vacant since 2016, when part of the front wall failed during an attempt at remodeling and had to be propped up.

You would not think so by looking at it, but the building is listed as “historic contributing” on Albany’s inventory of historic buildings.

That’s because it was designed by Charles Burggraf and constructed a century ago. In recent decades it had been a tavern with names such as the First Round and the Westerner.

The city’s historic inventory lists as construction date of circa 1919, but this is wrong. Based on one of the comments below, I checked the online archives and found that the Burggraf Building was completed in 1923, as the commenter says.

In 1932 it was the home of McAlpin’s, which gave its address as 127 West First and advertised itself as “The place that has the pleasant atmosphere.” (There is no 127 address there now. I’m guessing 127 then and 129 now refer to the same building.)

If you read McAlpin’s ad in the paper that year, you were invited to “drop in and enjoy yourself.” And you could have the “special mechants lunch every day.”

And if you wanted to know what was for lunch, you could call. The number was 140.

The proprietor, Malcolm McAlpin, bought the Burggraf Building in late 1932. In December that year, reporting the purchase, the Democrat-Herald described him as the owner of the “McAlpin confectionery and pool hall.”

Thirty years before that, McAlpin had his confectionery and cigar store across the street, in what was known as the Peter Paulus Building at First and Ellsworth. He sold that in 1918 to move his business to Vancouver, Wash., but evidently returned later.

(Peter Paulus is a story for another day. The building holding his tailor shop was one of Albany’s oldest and was razed in the 1920s. It made way for the Bikman Building, which remains.)

So what about the shell of the place where you could get the merchants lunch every day, some 90-plus years ago?

The place is owned by a Salem-based church, the Jesus Revival Association. The last year taxes on the property were paid was 2018.

Now both Linn County and the City of Albany have begun foreclosure proceedings. The county says the unpaid property taxes amount to about $26,000. And the city is seeking to collect on liens totaling $567,000. The amount is based on what City Attorney Sean Kidd says were “years of code violations” plus expenses in boarding the place up.

What will be the outcome of the foreclosures, if they go through? Who knows, but it would be nice if somehow this building could be fixed up and returned to use.

We can’t revive history — “special merchants lunch every day” — but downtown Albany can always use another place “that has the pleasant atmosphere.” (hh)

11 responses to “In 1932, this had ‘the pleasant atmosphere’”

  1. Katherine says:

    Maybe Lepman Property’s will buy and renovate it though they have their hands full with projects these days.

  2. Cap B. says:

    Charles Burggraf designed Central School and many other buildings in Albany. I can’t see any remnants of Burggraf design in the old First Round Tavern building. At some point, it was made into an ugly “box” of a building. Tear it down. Maybe the theater (Albany Civic Theater) next to it will acquire some parking space when it is torn down. They will need it when Obie from Eugene (CARA’s new darling!) builds fancy, gentrified shops on the parking lot theater goers now use.

    • D K says:

      Tearing it down isn’t really an option as it is 2/3 of a building and it would be very difficult to tear it down without damaging the adjoining portion that is owned by needed by ACT. It is also a historic building in a historic district. The best option would be for it to be fixed up and used.

  3. James Engel says:

    Hey….when I joined the PD in 1971 I was “told” to not go around to the back of the building. There was an upstairs room there where some high stakes poker games went on. The place has a history!

  4. D K says:

    The building was completed in July of 1923. There are articles in the June 3 and July 25th 1923 issues of the Albany papers stating it would be ready for tenants Aug. 1. The first inhabitant of the currently vacant portion of the building was the Barrett Brothers Hardware store. They needed a new location because their old building (the 1872 Goltra implements building) was being torn down to build the Ellsworth Bridge. The Eastern 1/3 of the building (owned by ACT) was initially an extension of the Horsky brothers sporting goods store that principally was located next door in the western half of the building that today houses Albany Civic Theater.

    The parking lot west of this building was a Union Oil (and later Signal) gas station from 1923-1962. In 1929 the Barretts moved to the nearby Baltimore building east of ACT where the small Burkhart Square park is today. The currently vacant space was a Chevrolet dealership from 1930-32 before converting forever into a series of restaurants and taverns.

    • Cap B. says:

      I don’t want ACT torn down, so I guess we have to put up with an eyesore next to it. If the eyesore half was torn down, the person doing that could hopefully also do the repairs to save ACT’s building. Albany Civic Theater is a non-profit so the contractor could get a tax write-off for shoring up ACT’s building, I would think. (Oh, I was told that the ACT building was a blacksmith shop at one time.) Too bad some of the unnecessary spending on tearing up Monteith Park and Dave Clark Path couldn’t have been used to fix the old First Round building and thereby shore up ACT, too.

      • D K says:

        The primary ACT building was built in late 1904 after a fire cleared out all the small wooden structures that were previously there. Local merchant JJ Horsky bought the lot and had the two storefront brick building erected. The eastern half (home of the ACT auditorium) was first an extension of the Pratt & Co. furniture store in the adjoining 3 story Baltimore building to the east. The furniture business was sold in1912 to Fisher-Braden Furniture and Undertakers (soon they moved out but eventually became Fisher Funeral Home). After that, it was the Hub Theater for ~4 years before changing into a Willys-Knight and Overland car dealership. In 1922 it became an auto wrecking and auto parts business. In 1933 it became the Rialto Theater. Business waned in the early 1960’s and it was sold to ACT in 1968. The Western storefront was the new home of the Horsky Harness shop. There may have been some blacksmithing of horseshoes as part of this, but it was never primarily a blacksmith shop. The business evolved from harness and buggies to become a top shop for cars. Later they added sporting goods. From 1928-47 it was the JH Allison auto parts store. It was then sold to Service Auto Parts and eventually Napa. ACT bought it in 1981.

  5. chris j says:

    Geez, what did they base the taxes on for an old unused building. $26,000 for 5 years! Plus 567,000 in fines! Well, that is one way to fund a city that makes so many financial faux pas! Gratis money is even easier than trying to get grant funds to cover their backsides. Their not even as polite as vultures. They do not even wait until you are dead to gobble you up.

  6. Brandon says:

    I would love to see them knock that area down and rebuild a larger and better Albany Civic Theater. If they had enough donors then they could make a really state of the art facility for more shows down there. They do an amazing job.

  7. KR says:

    Oh I have many memories in that building during its incarnation as “The First Round” & I suspect many others do as well… from decades prior! It should be preserved no question! Just my .02

  8. Fred D says:

    Prior to the First Round,it was Lewis and Browns.The Union Oil gas station was owned by Emil Carpenter.


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