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General Manager Tobias Colvin explains that this artwork in the lobby of the SCP Redmond Hotel in Redmond, Oregon, is fashioned from chain that has been imprinted with the painting of the hotel’s logo “muse.” SCP stands for soul, community, planet and signifies the hotel’s commitment to sustainable practices. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Putting old buildings to good use in Oregon’s High Desert

It’s dark, I’m on foot in downtown Bend, Oregon, and maybe it’s just me, but I’m having  difficulty finding the front door of McMenamins Old St. Francis School. As a Catholic-school alum several times over, the name of this restaurant intrigues me.

I finally take a right through a gate, wind through the maze from a courtyard to the building’s interior, and somehow come upon the restaurant. It’s just one feature of this former Catholic parish complex, which includes four adjacent houses.

Besides the restaurant, the property now includes a boutique hotel; a Persian-themed, warm-water soaking pool; a bar; a pub; movie theater; courtyard; and even a secret broom-closet bar.

And every entryway, wall, niche, nook and cranny has become exhibit space for historic photos of Bend and the old school, its students and staff, and artwork by employees and local and Pacific Northwest artists.

The patio at McMenamins’ Old St. Francis School is just one of the several communal spaces at the restaurant/hotel/bar/theater in downtown Bend, Oregon. The venue is a renovated, repurposed Catholic school that operated from 1936 to 2000 before it relocated to a more modern facility. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Thank goodness I have server John Riordan Oak as guide and navigator through this out-of-the-box labyrinth of artistic treasures.

The school was built in 1936; the parish sold it and the houses in 2000. (The parish, now in northeast Bend, still owns the church.) The McMenamin brothers “spent four years restoring and renovating the old school,” Oak says. “Many of the photos were donated by people who went to the school or live in the community.”

And the artwork? A dizzying, delightful, eclectic collection of paintings; carvings; light fixtures; works in wood, stained glass, tile and wrought iron; repurposed doors and wood panels; light fixtures; carvings; and Indonesian, African and Celtic pieces.

McMenamins is a familiar name in the Pacific Northwest: The brothers own nearly 60 breweries, restaurants, hotels, pub and theaters throughout Washington and Oregon.

They began building the empire in 1985 with the origin of Oregon’s “brewpub revolution,” made possible by a new law that allowed breweries to sell their beer on site.

“Most of the McMenamins properties have a historical element,” says General Manager Freestar Yost. “Old St. Francis School is so intertwined with the history of Bend and the growth of the town. When you come here, you visit a historical place but you are feeling a fresh vibe.”

This mural near Downtown Bend, Oregon, was painted by Gretchen Leggitt and includes many sights in and around the Central Oregon city. Numerous murals can be found throughout Central Oregon’s towns and cities. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

On what seems like another food-and-lodging planet is the Provisions Market at the SCP Hotel, in downtown Redmond. The fast-growing city of 36,000 sit at 3,000 feet and about 25 minutes north of Bend. SCP stands for “soul community planet,” which denotes that the hotel is dedicated to “sustainable practices, next-level wellness amenities, modern gathering spaces and healthy food and drink options.”

“The High Desert is really a hidden gem,” says General Manager Tobias Colvin, as we enjoy lunch on the rooftop terrace, which features an herb garden, fruit trees and expansive views.

Tobias, whose background is in national resource management, and his wife settled in Redmond after traveling the country for about four months because “it checked all the boxes.”

The SCP typically renovates historic properties to “keep the history but bring the hotel into the present,” Tobias says.

This one was converted from 72 rooms to 49. Now a boutique hotel, the warm, welcoming, uncluttered lobby offers soothing gray and brown tones, contemporary furniture, immaculate hardwood floors, dark wooden ceiling beams and a sizable stone fireplace.

At one end of the lobby is a portrait of the SCP chain’s “muse” — a wall-sized, soft-color image re-created with small-link chains.

Around the corner is a deli-style restaurant “that offers local products, which is better for the planet,” Tobias says. “Keeping it green and lowering our footprint.”

Somewhere out back is a compost pile for leftovers that “we use for our own stuff or give to others who can use it. Our goal is to be healthy, kind and green.”

The minimalist design style carries through to the guest rooms, and a meditation room provides “a space to get away.”

Nonstop flights to Bend/Redmond are available on Alaska Airlines from San Diego, Palm Springs and Burbank.

For more, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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