Building the Blair Lofts

Washougal’s historic Blair Building gets inside revamp, second-story lofts

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Mark Nichols, a Portland-based remodeler, works on framing the second floor walls of the Blair Building in downtown Washougal, in October 2016. The upper level of the historic building on Main Street has been transformed into four studio apartments with modern amenities. (Contributed photo courtesy of Heidi Kramer)

A project of historic proportions recently concluded in downtown Washougal.

Local couple Bruce and Heidi Kramer spent three years rebuilding the second floor of a nearly 100-year-old structure known as the Blair Building.

Along with Portland remodeler Mark Nichols, family members and contractors from Vancouver and Aberdeen, Washington, as well as Astoria and Albany, Oregon, the Kramers worked tirelessly to transform the upstairs of the Blair Building into four studio apartments.

The original, 1925 Blair Building consisted of seven apartments built over a meat market and butcher shop.

Today, the Chinese Cafe occupies part of the ground floor on Washougal’s Main Street in the heart of the city’s historic downtown, but no one has lived in the second floor apartments since the mid-1970s.

When the Kramers began their remodel, they discovered that former tenants had left behind furniture, toys and clothing.

“In one apartment, there was an antique rollaway bed with jeans, shoes, socks and a shirt laid out, as if someone would be coming back shortly,” Heidi said. “Another room contained a child’s toys scattered about, as if they left in a hurry and never returned.”

The apartments also contained a few treasures, like two clawfoot tubs, which the Kramers sold online, and seven gas ranges from the 1940s.

The three-year building phase of the Blair Lofts started with framing in 2016 and ended with the Kramers receiving an occupancy permit in 2019.

Constructing a ‘new building inside of an old building’

After he’d gutted the building’s second floor, Bruce Kramer said the space could have easily been mistaken for a roller rink, it was so wide open and empty.

He and Nichols spent eight months framing the walls of each new studio apartment, as well as the bathrooms, closets and roof.

“It was basically constructing a new building inside of an old building — an old building where nothing is square or level,” Heidi Kramer said.

The renovation wasn’t simple in scope or easy on the physical bodies of those undertaking the revamp. Bruce Kramer injured rotator cuffs on both shoulders while swinging himself down into a four-foot-wide space between the second floor and the Chinese Cafe ceiling. After surgery on one of his shoulders sidelined him for almost three months in 2017, he refused surgery on the second shoulder until the project was completed.

While one of Bruce’s arms was in a sling, his two cousins, Scott Sarber and Todd Lehmer, helped with finish work — installing shower doors, toilets, vanities, sinks, faucets, curtain rods and water heaters — at a time when the Kramers were getting pretty discouraged.

“We ran out of money three times during the project, and it was taking so much longer than expected,” Heidi Kramer said.

She thought the apartment renovation project would take one year to complete, and Bruce Kramer, 63, predicted it would take nine months.

Knee surgery also is in Bruce’s future. One of his legs was bumped with a glulam beam when approximately 15,000 pounds of lumber were delivered to the apartment site.

Heidi Kramer, 58, said the beams were so huge and heavy that they moved them through the second floor on skateboards.

She did not sustain any serious injuries requiring surgery or stitches, but said she did have a bad fall and a few smashed fingers during the renovations.

A hunt for historic touches

The three-year renovation process included finding unique lighting and other fixtures at Habitat for Humanity stores in Vancouver as well as throughout the Portland metro area in Oregon. The Kramers even went as far as Corvallis, Oregon and Newport on the central Oregon coast seeking adornments for the Blair Lofts.

Pulley wheels, known as barn door hardware, are installed on the bathroom doors in all four studios. The doors and knobs are from the original 1925 apartments.

The studios feature an open floor plan for versatility and potential use as live-work units. Each of the apartments has a Murphy (wall) bed with a queen-size mattress, to free up the floor space during the day.

Although the apartments incorporate many historic details, the original fir-wood flooring could not be saved.

“Once the walls were removed on the seven original apartments, it left areas that never had flooring,” Heidi Kramer explained. “Matching and filling would have been difficult. We couldn’t find a flooring contractor willing to take it on.”

Instead, the Kramers sheeted over the original floors with plywood and Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) flooring.

Since the Blair Building was added to the Clark County Heritage Register in 2018 — primarily for the intricate brickwork on the exterior — the Kramers need to keep the exterior as original as possible. Changes to the outside, such as lighting or paint colors, would have had to be approved by the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission.

Marketing the Blair Lofts

The four studios range in size from 450 to 850 square feet, and Utmost Property Management determined the three larger units would rent for $1,395 a month, based on the market rates for the area.

The first resident moved into one of the larger apartments on Feb. 8.

“It makes us feel good that people like them enough to live there,” Heidi Kramer said of the renovated Blair Lofts.

The Kramers plan to keep the smallest apartment off the market and use it while they renovate their rural Washougal home and workshop.

For more information about the Blair Lofts, visit