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About East Oregonian : E.O. (Pendleton, OR) 1888-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 13, 2018)
WEEKEND, JANUARY 13-14, 2018
Back in the day
Staff photo by E.J. Harris
The RoeMarks building has been a fixture on Hermiston’s Main Street for years dating back to the time when it was the Union Club. A group of investors is planning to
return the building back to its former glory days as a bar.
Memories of former Union Club inform its rebirth
By JADE MCDOWELL
A fixture of Hermiston’s Main Street in the
1940s and 1950s is about to be restored to its
Longtime residents remember it as the
RoeMarks building, but those who have been in
Hermiston for a really long time might have a
story or two about drinking in the Union Club.
A few of them gathered in the space — a
two-story red brick building on the corner of
Main Street and Northeast Second — to share
their memories of the bar with a group of part-
ners planning on turning it back into the Union
Club, re-imagined for a new generation.
Those memories might be taken with a grain
“In the men’s bathroom there was a sign in
there that said ‘Please flush the toilet, Umatilla
needs the water,’” Bill Meyers said as he ribbed
Sam Nobles about growing up in Umatilla.
“Now that’s fake, B.S. news!” Nobles said.
“It was in there for a while,” Meyers insisted.
That particular debate was never settled, but
Nobles did say despite being from Umatilla he
has fond memories of time spent in the Union
“They had a poker room and it was down-
stairs,” he said. “I could go down and play poker
when I was 18 even though I couldn’t drink.”
Meyers said Umatilla boys like Nobles
used to come into town and “try to steal our
girlfriends” before being chased back home. The
running rivalry between the two towns, which
has since faded somewhat as Hermiston has
grown, was the subject of some discussion on
Wednesday. Meyers remembers an old chamber
pot — known by its slang term “white owl” —
that a schoolmate found and tied to the back
of his truck. Umatilla students stole it (Nobles
claims to have had no part in the heist, although
he knows who did), and for a while stealing the
Staff photo by E.J. Harris
Sam Nobles of Hermiston gestures while recounting a story about the old Union Club on Wednesday
during a gathering in Hermiston.
chamber pot from the other town was a frequent
target of weekend teenage hijinks.
The Union Club started in the 1940s as
hundreds of men from various trade unions
flooded the area to work first on the igloos
at the Umatilla Chemical Depot and then on
the McNary Dam. Its exact closing date was
unknown by the group but they guessed it was
in the mid-1960s.
Photo contributed by Steve Mills
The Union Club tavern in 1961, located in what is now commonly referred to as the RoeMarks building on
Main Street in Hermiston.
When asked if he had ever gotten kicked out
of the Union Club, Meyers said he might have a
time or two.
“Sammy knows, we’d get in here and
everyone would get louder and louder,” he said.
“Every beer you’d drink, you’d get louder, and
they’d say you either quiet down or get out.”
Butch Shockman said he remembers the
Union Club, but he wasn’t old enough to be
drinking there during its heyday.
“I was too young,” he said. “I was just looking
in the window.”
His brother Don was
old enough to go there
“We want to
but preferred to spend
his time at Hale’s, which connect more with
predated the Union Club
the heartbeat of
and outlasted it too.
plenty of other Herm-
— Justin Doyle, one of
iston history that came
the partners in the project
up during the luncheon,
however. That included
the “rabbit drives” that Hermiston used to
encourage people to kill hundreds of rabbits that
were eating the crops, and memories of “Pop”
Swayze, who ran the First National Bank of
“He was a pretty progressive guy,” Don said
as the group remembered how Swayze would
“repossess” mules, buildings or even entire farms
during the Great Depression but would allow the
farmers to keep working “his” property, setting
the groundwork for families to have a way to pay
off what they owed.
“I think everyone on this street owed Swayze
money,” Butch said.
The purpose of all the memory-sharing that
went on during Wednesday’s luncheon was to
help inform a project to turn the space into a
coffee-by-day, bar-by-night establishment called
See UNION CLUB/4C