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KAYAK SHED: Spanning Three Centuries

KAYAK SHED, Sept. 28, after last week’s destructive fire.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
KAYAK SHED, Sept. 28, after last week’s destructive fire.

The old building bridged the downtown enterprises of three centuries. From 19th century blacksmiths through its machine shop era of the early- and mid-1990s, to the wind and water sports of the 20th and 21st century, the Schlosser family-owned Kayak Shed building had served multiple needs for more than 100 years.

It burned to the ground on the night of Sept. 27; no one was hurt, but the community feels the loss. The fire was one of the most destructive to hit downtown in more than a generation, and a significant piece of history has been lost: one of the last remaining wooden structures downtown.

The site was originally owned by Henry C. Coe, who sold it to blacksmiths Cuddleford and Snow in 1882, and the next year they built their shop. The structure that just burned was built sometime between 1905-1909.

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A 1920s photo of Oak Street, looking west, with the old Cuddeford’s/Hood River Auto Wreckers at right.

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MID-1990s: Hurricane Custom Sail loft in its heyday.

Hood River historian Arthur Babitz said, “Given that it served as a blacksmith shop or machine shop for most of its life, it's amazing it survived 110 years. While not a particularly showy building, it's always been one of my favorites, both for its rich history and working-class bones. It spoke of a day when downtown Hood River was filled with shops which supported the valley's agriculture and logging industry.”

From 1920-1940, Unger’s Machine occupied the building, transforming it from blacksmiths to machine shop. John Schlosser Sr. purchased the Cuddeford-Unger building in 1960 and operated a machine shop there until 1990, moving the family business to Tucker Road, where it still stands.

From 1990-92, the building housed an antique store and rental business. In 1992-93, Doug Van Zandt did extensive renovations and opened Hurricane.

According to the July 2, 1994, Hood River News, Van Zandt “rebuilt the front wall from inside and then removed the old one. They gutted the interior, leveled the floor, insulated the walls and ceiling, rewired, replumbed and resheetrocked everything.” The neighboring Old Yasui Building (Ground) has its own distinct history: It was the third general store built and owned by brothers Masuo and Renichi Yasui, who arrived in Hood River in 1908. Between the goods store and their real estate business, the brothers were among Hood River’s leading merchants.

(Maui Meyer and partners built the commercial building on the corner next to it in 2004, naming it New Yasui Building in the family’s honor.)

By 1942, the Yasuis, and the rest of the Hood River Valley Japanese-American community, would be forced from their homes, farms and businesses and incarcerated until 1944-45.

“A loss like this is a large community loss,” Fire Chief Leonard Damian said, thanking the volunteers from throughout the county who turned up to fight the fire, and pointing to the rarity of destructive fires of its kind.

“For a lot of people this will be their only large fire,” he said. “There is a lot of training and equipment that will always be needed, but it’s true that the volunteers of Hood River County who have been a mainstay since the beginning came when we called for help.”

The New Yasui owners opened Celilo Café as a gathering place that night for those affected by the fire.

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CUDDEFORD blacksmith interior, circa 1920, juxtaposed with the same view in November 2016 in the Kayak Shed storeroom, courtesy of Arthur Babitz.

“The business community on that one block, and I’d imagine all blocks, are tight, and to witness that first-hand is pretty amazing,” Damian said. “It speaks to the community spirit of not just the city of Hood River but the valley. There were a lot of volunteers who were there all night and next day had to go back to their jobs. The professionalism and level of community was inspiring.”

This is the history of the building from the Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties for Hood River County, courtesy of Babitz:

“Claude Cuddeford was co-owner of the earliest blacksmith shop in Hood River, Cuddeford & Howell. The land for the shop was purchased from Henry C. Coe on April 18, 1882. Cuddeford originally owned the shop with Willis Snow before going into partnership with Arthur F. Howell sometime before 1908. The shop handled a majority of the blacksmithing in the Hood River Valley. Around 1920, Cuddeford sold the shop to Hector Unger, who changed the shop into a machine shop. The shop was eventually sold to John and Frances Schlosser. More recently, the building housed hurricane Sails, Cascade Outdoor Store, and finally, the Kayak Shed.”

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SMOKE billows in a surrealistic pattern in front of the building as firefighters battle Kayak Shed blaze on Sept. 27.

Last November Babitz visited the Kayak Shed to take some photos for his "Haunted" lecture at the "Rooted" series for Livable Hood River; the then-and-now result is at lower left. Babitz also compiles the daily hoodriverhistory.org photo blog through The Hood River Historical Society.

“I spoke about all the long-dead people I see every time I walk around Hood River. Claude Cuddeford was one of my favorites,” Babitz said. “I'll still see him every time I pass City Hall, where his name is engraved on a plaque as a city councilman when the building was constructed. But I suspect this is where he really felt at home, and that home is gone.”

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