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The Antlers, Absolutely Modern | by A.Davey
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The Antlers, Absolutely Modern

For our 28th anniversary, we decided to break the trip from Portland to our place in Idaho (9 hours, give or take, less if you're the one who gets to sleep) by stopping at Baker City in far eastern Oregon; booking a suite at the magnificent 1889 Geiser Grand Hotel; enjoying a fine dinner at the hotel; and taking a carriage ride through Baker City's quiet neighborhoods as dusk turned to evening. Our stay was everything we'd hoped for, and more. Thank you, Frank!


Baker City boomed at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th. A gold rush in the Blue Mountains (seen here in the background), farming and ranching all contributed to Baker City's prosperity. Then the town entered into a profound economic decline.


Today, Baker City's again a thriving regional business center. Isolated as they are from cities in Oregon and Idaho, people in and around Baker City come to Baker City's downtown to shop. Consequently, there's a welcome variety of merchants, something you don't find in small towns closer to cities such as Portland. Last but not least, as far as I could tell, the Big Box retailers (you know who you are) have passed Baker City by in their relentless quest to suck the life out of small-town America's historic downtowns. A hex and a pox on all of you!


What does that mean for the traveler? Well, for anyone who's interested in period architecture and/or Small-Town America, the downtown has an abundance of virtually pristine period storefronts of brick, stone, or brick and stone. There are also a few examples of 20's brick-and-terra-cotta architecture, and even an Art Deco high rise, probably commercial construction's final grand gesture as prosperity trickled away.


With a few exceptions that aren't nearly as bad as they could be, the storefronts on the High Street escaped the weird and disfiguring facelifts that were so popular in the middle decades of the last century. The central business district is unusual also in that there are relatively few vacant lots, the bane of most "old towns."


The large brick building that dominates this photo through a gap in our suite's curtains is The Antlers. Long abandoned, the former hotel still bears its name proudly and in a lovely period font. Frankly, "The Antlers" is such a perfect name for a western hotel that, if it didn't already exist, someone would have to invent it.


I'd hoped our traveling companion, Dot the Cat, would take to the suite at the Geiser Grand like Eloise at The Plaza, but it just didn't happen. I can't say Dot the Cat actively disliked her stay at the Geiser Grand but, unlike our late cat Lucy, Dot wasn't able to sack out for the duration on one of the hotel's comfy chairs after doing a thorough perimeter check (it was a always kick watching butch old Lucy march methodically around the room until she was satisfied it was clear) and having a snack.


Sure, Dot enjoyed lolling about in the sunshine on the the carpet during the late afternoon and, busybody that she is, Dot was fascinated by everything - animal, human and mechanical - she saw through this window. To her credit, Dot didn't have a crying jag while we were out, or order room service or pay-per-view.


I think the reason Dot couldn't settle down was she sensed the suite's previous canine and feline occupants in some form of cat Technicolor I'm very glad I don't have. I bet Dot stayed up most of the night pacing the room so she wouldn't be caught sleeping if that terrifying Malamute or difficult Siamese who overnighted there last month decided to make a sudden return.

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Taken on August 12, 2009