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Abandoned Buildings List May Get Longer

A local specialty is to let our finest, prettiest, most historic buildings be purchased by strangers and then allowed to sit and rot. Encouraged to sit and rot, even.

Almost 40 years have passed since our downtown jewel, the Palace Hotel, closed its doors, seemingly temporarily, only to be purchased by a confused woman of modest means from Marin County. Many forget that until the day doors were locked for the last time it was a high quality hotel with an excellent restaurant and two beautiful bars.

But shut down it did, and though we all thought it would soon reopen, it never will.

The downtown Post Office, a block west of the Palace, was sold to out-of-towners six or eight years ago. The U.S.Postal Service abandoned the classic building so it could relocate to a cheap storage unit near the freeway. It was a stupid move that cost taxpayers many millions of dollars, and cost Ukiah one of its last architectural gems.

The new owners of the old Post Office turned out the lights, locked the doors, put a chain link fence around it and disappeared. Six or eight years ago, mind you.

The bowling alley and skating rink, although (barely) outside the city limits, await gloomy fates none of us will want to watch when the day comes. On South School Street, right downtown and straight across from the Ukiah Conference Center, the video arcade just went dark.

Long before the Palace died, the old Mendocino State Hospital shut down. The beautiful Talmage grounds were offered as home for the brand new Mendocino College at a price of . . . One dollar ($1).

But instead of acquiring what would immediately have been the loveliest college campus in the state, county officials declined.

The school chose instead to operate for many years hunkered down in used trailers at the fairgrounds, then moved to a collection of dreary, cookie-cutter buildings north of town.

Today the JC boasts as cheap and stark a campus as the shabby, pre-fab County headquarters on Low Gap Road, but with a bigger parking lot.

Meanwhile, back at the old hospital, foreign investors bought the grounds and it functions as a school, running some classes in a few buildings.

What takes place throughout the rest of it is unknown. If you asked a thousand Ukiah residents to explain what goes on at the old hospital you wouldn’t learn a thing. We know nothing.

Such as: How many people live there? What do they do? How do they pay the mortgage? Where do they buy their groceries? Who tells them what to do?

More recently the old Trinity School on Ukiah’s west side was purchased by who-knows-whom. The multi-building complex has been a-moldering ever since.

Oh sure, improvements have been made. A few more broken windows have been added to the building at the western edge of the campus for example, and a few years ago some trees got chopped down, one of which collapsed atop the baseball backstop and crushed it.

The ball diamond itself has been converted to a thriving vacant lot.

No one has any more idea what goes on at the old Trinity School than they do the old hospital. The pair occupy hundreds of thousands of square feet in highly desirable sections of Mendocino County and I’d bet no one at either city hall or in county government could even guess what happens in all those rooms down all those hallways.

Allowing buildings to fall apart and become useless and / or dangerous indicates lack of local leadership. It turns a fine, livable city into a trashy, irretrievable mess.

Drive around. Look at boarded up shops, decaying motels, an utter lack of vitality in once-prosperous parts of town and ask yourself who is in charge? Why doesn’t anyone at city hall care, or even notice?

It’s poised to get worse. Ukiah is staring at an incoming wave of failing businesses and empty buildings. Curry’s Furniture recently closed after more than 100 years. What will happen to its massive downtown property?

Will JC Penney’s reopen? Kohl’s? Will the Ukiah movie theater stay afloat? What does a town without a bowling alley, skating rink, movie theater or downtown arcade have to offer kids and families?

Maybe city officials yawn and roll their eyes when sheets of plywood appear in State Street windows. Maybe they shrug at what they think are other peoples’ problems. But when businesses go under and citizens lose their jobs, perhaps the only tragedy city bosses actually care about inevitably follows: Tax revenues decline.

We chase after grant money so we can extend the Rail Trail three more miles, and we fast-track cannabis operations as if a dozen more pot dispensaries might improve our economy, the town’s appearance and the average citizen’s quality of life.

(Hint: They won’t.)

(Tom Hine lives in Ukiah along with his writing partner and pet inflatable doll, Tommy Wayne Kramer. The ‘Assignment: Ukiah’ column has appeared weekly since 2006.)

11 Comments

  1. Nanette July 29, 2020

    Totally agree! (Curry’s wasn’t failing, just retiring as had been planned for 10 years. )

    • Joan Nelson July 30, 2020

      You deserve to enjoy retirement👏👏👏🌈‼️

  2. Donns July 29, 2020

    It cause more destruction from our kids of the town! They have nothing to do, no where to go, therefore they get it trouble, vandalize, etc! I’ve always said we need a scandia like in Santa Rosa with more than just video games! We need another drive in movie theater especially this day and time! More shopping options like the mall that was supposed to be built on the masonite property! Designed by New York architect our town is going to hell! And raising further issues for safety, crime etc.

    • Joan Nelson July 30, 2020

      I agree. I was born and raised here, as was my father and grandmother. My father built Masonite. I have watched many changes in Ukiah since I grew up here. I have been very concerned about the decisions made by those who are in charge of our community, and continue to be.

  3. Scott July 29, 2020

    Your town is evidently run by Socialists as this is what they want ie. make America into a third world country. They hate the American Dream. Just look at what is happening in our large cities around the country. Destroy and burn. They’re hurting the very people that they are “protesting” for.

    • Eric Sunswheat July 29, 2020

      Ukiah was a great little town, with its own electrical utility system, seemingly unlimited water, and money in the bank. Then it moved its Convention Center and City Council, into windowless meeting rooms. Decisions by proxy to fat cats became the norm, and comprehension of the social fabric, fell by the wayside or were drunk into oblivion.

    • Bruce Anderson July 30, 2020

      Wrong, Scott! What happened to Ukiah happened to towns all over America in the post-war period when the country was outsourced, then came the big boxes and what were once graceful town cores with small, local businesses dominant were hollowed out. It was death by a million bipartisan cuts with nary a socialist in sight.

  4. James Marmon July 30, 2020

    RE: UKIAH, WHEN IT WAS A WORKING MAN’S TOWN

    Ukiah was once named California’s best small town, and the sixth best in the entire country. That is until we ran out the working man and let the west side soccer mom’s take over and the push for big box stores. Of course then they needed a bunch of homeless people and immigrants so they can show everyone they really care. Now they’re trying to spruce up the street in front of the old Palace and soon to be empty Courthouse. Visit Ukiah, far out and nearby.

    James Marmon
    Born and raised in Ukiah

  5. George Dorner August 1, 2020

    My previous suggestion in these pages was for condemnation of the Palace Hotel, to be followed by building the new courthouse on the site. It has been roundly ignored.
    So, for a followup suggestion, how about the county acquiring the Palace, preserving the exterior, and renovating the interior into a courthouse annex?

  6. izzy August 2, 2020

    An accumulation of wishful thinking and poor decisions over decades. The ironically named Pear Tree Center, soon followed by so-called Orchard Plaza. Then the local brouhaha about bringing in Walmart, which put a stake in the heart of that formerly productive agricultural area. The old downtown has been hanging on by a thread for many years. Economic fallout from the virus drama will probably cap it off. I remember when Ukiah was anointed some sort of Best Small Town, which seemed a bit of a stretch even then – “UKIAH: U Know It’s All Here”
    Where did it go?

  7. Jeff DeVilbiss August 4, 2020

    I remember Ukiah before the Freeway, that was as the first nail in its molding coffin, then the pear orchards turned to Grapes, , lotta nails there, A new reservoir, for others, and greedheaded corporations grabbing the Freeway
    iewed properties, all the mill and woods jobs disappeared as did the remaining few’s ability to pay for what was being peddeled Oh Well, Maybe a new drive-in movie with Old movies of old Tree-lined Towns and happy people???????????? Jeff DeVilbiss

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