- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - Albertsons stands empty as of last month, the building’s windows covered with particle board and the parking lot deserted. The distinctive blue letters have vanished and only a grimy remnant of each remains.

If Albertsons has immediate plans for the building, the company isn’t saying much.

Land and improvements don’t belong to the corporation, which has a lease agreement, but rather to six cousins who own the Pendleton property. One of the cousins, Richard Cook, said last month’s closure caught the family by surprise.

“There was no advance notice,” said Cook, a retired Walla Walla educator. “We thought the property was locked down until 2021.”

He said a family member contacted the company informally a few weeks ago and learned of the plan to sublet.

“The lease has been in existence for 42 years,” Cook said. “The agreement runs through December of 2016 and then Albertsons has an option to continue that for another five years.”

Continuation seems unlikely now that the grocery chain has pulled up stakes in Pendleton. Albertsons spokesman Dennis McCoy said the company is looking to sublet.

“The property is being marketed,” McCoy said. “We’re trying to bring in a new tenant.”

Albertsons parent company Cerberus recently purchased the nation’s second-largest grocery chain, Safeway, for $9 billion in cash and stock. McCoy said the merger didn’t trigger the closing of seven Oregon and Washington Albertsons stores, including those in Pendleton, Albany and Vancouver, Wash., all announced in January. Nationally, 23 stores closed this year so far. Joe Albertson started the first store 75 years ago in Boise, Idaho.

Cook’s grandparents, Cash and Ester Dove, signed the lease in 1971 with Buttrey Food Stores, purchased by Albertsons in 1998. The lease included six extension options of five years each to start in 1991.

The Dove family originally owned a different property bordering the current lot. The family and Pendleton Grain Grower negotiated a swap in the late 1960s.

The original property, directly across Dorion from the PGG main building, was the site of one of Pendleton’s first motels, the Pendleton Motor Park. Built in 1934, the motel featured 10 cabins and several other units.

“I grew up at that motel,” said Cook, whose grandparents operated the business with their three daughters.

Cook said the motel was featured in Vogue Magazine as one of the 60 best in the nation. The lodging was torn down three decades later after construction of Interstate 84.

“At one time, Court and Dorion were the main thoroughfares through Pendleton,” he said. “After the freeway came in, motels were setting up at the freeway exits.”

He said some of the motor park cabins still exist, after being moved to other locations.

“A farmer in Hermiston bought quite a few to house his harvest workers,” Cook said.

Eventually, the family swapped the motel property for the current property and entered into an agreement with Buttrey’s and then Albertsons.

Cook, a retired Walla Walla Community College administrator, said his grandparents deeded the property to their daughters Peggy Seymour, Dorothy Cook and Mary Hodgen. Hodgen, the last living sister, died in February. Cook and the Doves’ other five grandchildren now share ownership.

Cook said he and his cousins will wait just like everyone else to see what happens with their property.

According to a 2013 Umatilla County assessor’s report, the land and improvements have an assessed value of almost $1.8 million and real market value of about $2.3 million.

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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