The building in downtown Oakville that last housed the Only Tavern was touched but not burned down by a fire that claimed three adjacent structures in July 2017. Depending on the next steps taken by owners of the 19th-century edifice, it may soon meet the same fate that befell the former Oakville Hardware building 15 months ago.
The Oakville Fire Department and possibly more fire agencies were set to use the building as a training opportunity via a controlled burn on Nov. 17. The historic structure had housed a hotel and pool hall prior to becoming a tavern about 50 years ago.
Oakville Fire Chief Bill Rodocker said this week that the training plan is on hold after asbestos was found during an inspection of the building.
“We’ve been in touch with the owner, but it’s going to cost a substantial amount of money to remove the asbestos,” Rodocker said. “We were contacted by the owner about two months ago and were looking into it, but needed to get abatements done, which is when (asbestos) was found. So I don’t know if it’s going to happen at this point.”
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A vacant house, another commercial building, a shed, car and trailer were destroyed in the fire that claimed the Oakville Hardware outpost. Witnesses reported seeing fireworks land on the roof of one of the buildings that burned down.
Diana Merseal, who is listed on the state Department of Revenue website as the last owner of the Only Tavern, said only that “a lot of things need to go through at this time,” when reached for comment. She then declined to answer additional questions.
Ron Shank of Oakville recently purchased the parcel of land that includes the Only Tavern building. Shank owns and operates Auto Sales Unlimited and CTM Unlimited Auctions.
The Grays Harbor County Assessor’s Office lists a market value of $27,000 for the land and about $67,000 for the building. Blueprints show about 3,000 square feet of apartment space on the second floor above the tavern.
Sam Jennings, 88, of Centralia, said the second floor was where guests of the hotel stayed when he worked as a dishwasher at the restaurant for three years beginning in 1942.
Jennings remembers military members filling the restaurant at night after days spent training along the Chehalis River prior to World War II.
“There was one big room on the lower floor that used to be a kind of dining room when the restaurant was there,” Jennings said. “The restaurant would run for awhile, then someone else would buy it. You never knew who your boss would be when you came into work.”
Don Terry, chief building official for Oakville, said he last heard from Shank a couple weeks ago when Shank told him the asbestos abatement process had begun and that he “hasn’t shared his bright ideas (for the property) with me at this point.”
The building is still owned by the BRM family trust, according to the county assessor’s online database, but Shank said the transaction has been completed.
“It would have been a great building (to save) with a lot of history to it,” Shank said. “Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s another piece of history that’s going to go by the wayside. It’s too bad.”
Jim Vosper, a 1964 graduate of Oakville High School, remembers the tavern as one of the more lively spots during the 1970s. It went by a few names during its more than 50 years as a watering hole, but was eventually dubbed the Only Tavern because it was indeed the only tavern in Oakville.
Vosper is a distant relative of Thomas Glover, who moved his family to the Oakville area in the late 1800s and established the Glover Hotel in the same building that would later become the Only Tavern.
According to Vosper, his grandfather knew the Glovers in Pipestone, Minnesota prior to their move out West. His family followed in 1890, originally settling in Centralia before relocating to Oakville.
“It’s kind of sad to see it come down in one sense,” Vosper said. “It does represent a lot of the history of the town, and a lot of connections were made there. Certainly during the years it was a tavern, it was one of the focal points of the community.”