They've ripped up the floor, torn out partitions and are excavating down 8 feet in the cellar. The Oregon General Store, a northern Baltimore County landmark since the mid-19th century, is being reborn -- again.
Its new incarnation, the second in a decade, will be as a restaurant, the Oregon Grill, at the entrance to Oregon Ridge Park and operated by Theodore W. "Ted" Bauer, 43, owner of the well-known Mount Washington Tavern.
After more than a year's delay, renovation of the white-painted, two-story stone and masonry building began about two weeks ago and probably will take the rest of the year, contractor Mark Morrill of Parkton said.
The cellar is being excavated for the kitchen, while the interior of the two upper floors is being re-worked and opened up for dining and bar space, he said.
"Structurally, the building is in pretty good shape," Morrill said.
"I think it's great that they're not going to let it fall down. It should have been a restaurant in the first place," said Victoria Salvano, whose family was among the last to occupy the building as a dwelling, leaving in 1968.
After an estimated $800,000 face lift reversed years of neglect and vandalism, the store opened with great fanfare in January 1986 as a specialty retail outlet. By 1990, however, its shops were closing; in 1993 the building stood empty and again deteriorating.
As a restaurant, it will seat 160 to 170 diners inside and 120 on an enlarged patio, Bauer said.
The interior will be finished in fine woods with the wall stones showing in some places, to take advantage of the building's historic nature, he said.
Built in 1849 as the company store for Oregon Furnace Works, later known as Ashland Iron Co., it is the last remnant of the iron-mining community that thrived at Oregon until the end of the last century.
The store is listed on the national and state registers of historic buildings, which imposes stringent restrictions on exterior changes. Morrill said none is being made.
Baltimore County bought the building, at Shawan and Beaver Dam roads west of Interstate 83, in 1969 along with 557 acres of the old Ashland ironworks for Oregon Ridge Park. The county never invested money in the store, however, and it became an eyesore.
The deterioration continued until 1985 when, in the county's first public-private partnership for historic preservation, developer Martin P. Azola Jr., whose firm restored Rockland Village at Falls and Old Court roads, received a 25-year lease at $5,000 a year in exchange for restoration.
Azola said he proposed converting the old store into a restaurant in 1985 but could not overcome opposition from the Valleys Planning Council, the nonprofit watchdog of the county's rural north and northwest, and settled for the shops.
Bauer said he also proposed a restaurant in 1985.
About five years ago, when the shops began to fail, Bauer said he started to renew his plan and approached the Valleys council and store neighbors to win their support before meeting with county officials.
Margaret Worrall, who was executive director of the Valleys Planning Council at the time, said Bauer was "very cooperative." The primary neighborhood concern was that there not be any loud outdoor activities, particularly in the evening, and Bauer agreed, she said.
After several hearings, county officials approved the project in December 1994. The partnership obtained a deluxe-restaurant liquor license. It was the last one available in that limited category created for the county by the General Assembly in the 1980s to help attract large-investment restaurants that otherwise could not get a liquor license.
Bauer had expected to open the restaurant more than a year ago but encountered delays. He said he expects to invest more than $800,000 in the overhaul and is hoping to open by 1997. He took over the amended lease, which calls for the same $5,000 annual rent and has options that could extend it to 2034.
"A restaurant is probably a better use [than the shops]; it will get repeat business," said John W. McGrain, county historian and executive director of the county's Landmarks Preservation Commission. "We want to see adaptive reuse to save buildings that couldn't support themselves in a 'museum setting,' " he said. "There's lots of life in old buildings."
Salvano, the former resident whose framing business, the Butler Gallery, was the first to move into the newly restored general store, four years later was the first to leave. She said she had "a big success" but left in a dispute with Azola.
"I think these people are real businessmen," she said of the new project. "They're going to do it right, and they're going to make money. It's of special interest to me because I go back a long way with that building. I still live nearby, and I pass there every day and see it."
Pub Date: 8/12/96