Nearly a year after the closure of the Cameo Main Street Loan and Pawn Shop, the central wing of the downtown Vancouver Schofield Building is showing new signs of life.
The front windows and doors have been covered with plywood, masking a large-scale and long-awaited renovation project taking place inside, intended to overhaul what is — at least in part — the oldest commercial building in downtown Vancouver.
But while the project aims to modernize the building’s structure and uses, it also seeks to emphasize the building’s legacy and preserve its historical value. When the restoration is completed, the goal is for the building’s exterior to look just like it did in the early 1900s.
Restoration in phases
The restoration is being led by Robert Aschieris and other members of the Schofield family, who collectively own the building through Schofield Properties. Aschieris serves as the general manager of the company, representing the fifth generation of family ownership; he says he can remember his grandfather taking him on a tour of the building when he was just 5 years old.
The Schofield Building has technically been under renovation for four years, but that’s because the term “Schofield Building” refers to the entire contiguous block of single-story storefronts along the north side of West Sixth Street from Washington Street to Main Street, as well as the two-story building that wraps around the corner and continues halfway up the block on Main Street.
The two-story portion of the building is the older half — the single-story Sixth Street wing of the building was added in 1936.
Aschieris says his family embarked on the large-scale restoration project back in 2015 with assistance from the city’s adaptive reuse program, which helps building owners navigate the sometimes labyrinthine permitting and architectural processes for restoring old structures.
“It can be daunting,” he says. “With these old buildings, there’s always a surprise around every corner.”
The project was initially going to focus on the two-story half of the building, but preparations were interrupted by the unexpected closure of the Vancouver School of Beauty, which had occupied the majority of the single-story portion of the building for decades.
Restoring and filling in those storefronts became the immediate priority, Aschieris says, so the original two-story building project was put on the back burner while the company spent several years making improvements to the Sixth Street portion, which has resulted in the addition of four new businesses: Little Conejo, Nonavo Pizza, Believe Boutique and Beerded Brothers Brewing.
With that block shored up, Schofield Properties has turned its attention back to the original structure. The work so far has been mostly focused on the ground floor, Aschieris says, with the upper floor likely to be finished later.
Aschieris says he’s talked with some potential tenants for the space, but no plans have solidified beyond a general goal of retail or restaurant space on the bottom floor, and possibly office space on the second floor.
“We really are (being) careful,” he says. “We want to make sure we get businesses that complement each other.”
The two-story portion of the Schofield Building is actually two separate structures. A clear dividing line between the two distinct architectural styles can be seen from the outside, running like a seam down the front of the building.
The differences persist right down to the internal structure, Aschieris says — the older half is built entirely from square nails, while the newer half switches to rounded.
The original building — the part that claims the title of oldest commercial building in Vancouver — is the section at the corner of Main and West Sixth streets, which dates back the 19th century. It was built as 600 Main Street around 1880 by Nicholas and Mary Schofield, who lived on the upper floor while running a storefront on the ground level.
The rest of the building was added in 1907; at that point, the upper floor of the original building was renovated and connected to the new wing for use as commercial office space.
“We call (the 1907 addition) our new section,” Aschieris says. “It’s really two buildings, but it’s interconnected upstairs.”
According to the Clark County Historical Society, Nicholas Schofield arrived in Vancouver around 1861 and two years later married Mary, who had been living in Vancouver since 1855. They had a son, Edward R. Schofield, in 1864.
Mary Schofield had been operating a general store at 602 Main St. since at least the 1860s, according to records at the Clark County Historical Society Museum, and the couple later expanded into other businesses, including a brickyard south of Fort Vancouver, near what is now part of the BNSF Railway line.
Mary Schofield made her mark on Vancouver’s history in other ways, as well. She kept a dairy cow on the land behind the Schofield Building — roughly where Beerded Brothers Brewing is located today, Aschieris says — but it was often allowed to roam free.
“The cow used to graze at Esther Short Park,” Aschieris says.
The cow eventually ran afoul of an 1876 ordinance that restricted free-roaming livestock and was impounded, which prompted Mary Schofield to file a lawsuit that led to the cow being released and the ordinance repealed, according to the Historical Society.
Nicholas Schofield died in 1897 and Mary Schofield died in 1902, according to the Historical Society, and ownership of their business portfolio of downtown properties passed to Edward R. Schofield, who built the additional section of the Schofield building in 1907 using bricks from the family’s brickyard. His wife — also named Mary — became the first female director of a bank in Washington.
The careers of both Mary Schofields were significant in an era when women rarely owned property or businesses — in the modern Schofield Properties office, Aschieris proudly retains a 1933 Oregonian clipping with a headline proclaiming “WOMAN BUYS BUILDING,” in reference to the second Mary Schofield’s purchase of a building on 11th Street.
The Schofield Building has amassed a lengthy list of storefront tenants throughout its nearly 140 years in operation. The Cameo Main Street Loan and Pawn Shop sign has dominated the building’s front since 1982, and Top Shelf has operated in the original building’s ground floor since 2005.
Veritas Guitars sits in the building’s northern storefront, which was previously occupied by the Magenta Theater before it moved to a new home farther up Main Street in 2016.
Earlier tenants include the Schofield’s general store, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a shoe store and a men’s clothing store called Padden’s, among many others.
Past and future
The list of future tenants is still up in the air, but when it comes to the Schofield Building itself, Aschieris has a clear direction in mind: celebrate and preserve the history. That’s why one of the ideas for the upstairs is to turn a portion of the space into a museum.
The Schofield family has built up a sizeable collection of vintage furniture and antiques from former businesses at its various properties, including many with historical significance.
One of the most notable items: a vintage couch from a former saloon in a Schofield-owned building, which bears an interesting connection to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. According to Aschieris, when the future president and then-Army lieutenant was stationed at Fort Vancouver in the 1850s he often visited the saloon, and then crashed on the couch to sleep off the drinks.
The restoration of the building’s interior structure is especially complicated, because the more than 100-year-old building somehow needs to be brought up to modern standards for seismic resiliency — a tricky challenge for a building made mostly of brick.
Part of the solution will lie in a separate upgrade, Aschieris says. An elevator will be added for the second floor, and the shaft will be a self-supporting structure — which in turn will give the builders a sturdy anchor point for new structural components.
The restoration of the single-story section took all the attention for the past few years, but it also gave the Schofield family an important head start on the two-story portion: all of the building’s electrical wiring had to be upgraded, including the installation of a new transformer for the block. The added power will future-proof the whole building, Aschieris says, allowing it to meet the needs of any tenants.
The electrical renovations added exterior outlets in the alleyway to the north of the building — once the site of a furniture shop, Aschieris says, until the building burned down decades ago — which raises the possibility of turning it into some sort of pedestrian-friendly event venue, although Aschieris says that’s still just an idea at this point.
But while the uses will be modernized, Aschieris says the goal is to return the building’s exterior to its classic appearance, using a 1910 photo as a guide. That includes preserving the original Schofield bricks in sections where the walls need shoring up, by carefully removing the original bricks and re-laying them with new mortar.
Aschieris foresees a revitalization of the lower Main Street area, and he says the restoration of the Schofield Building will play a major part in that change. Vancouver is rapidly growing, with new buildings going in at the waterfront and elsewhere in downtown, but Aschieris says that gives the older parts of downtown a chance to differentiate themselves with their classic brick exteriors.
“We corner the market on charm,” he says.