By Pat Caldwell
VALE – Distinctiveness radiated from the Golden Slipper.
A big buffalo head adorned a wall in the bar.
The exoskeleton of a giant king crab decorated another wall. A large, golden sign in the shape of a high-heeled shoe adorned the outside of the building.
A person could get a good rib eye steak and the best calf fries around at the Welcome Inn, the restaurant next to the Golden Slipper.
And occasionally – and depending on the level of celebration – a cowboy would ride his horse through the bar.
There was red carpet and a banquet room and the dance floor boasted walls made of recycled barn wood.
“It was just a good, small-town place to meet,” Hal Harris, who owned the Slipper and the Welcome Inn in the 1980s with his wife Kathryn, said.
Last week the building where a million memories were made became another casualty to the fierce winter weather that gripped the region since December. In a flash, the roof and the walls of the structure collapsed Monday.
Yet if a place can hold memories, surely the bricks and wood debris that now stand behind a chain link fence on A Street ooze nostalgia.
Vale resident Debbie Scott, for example, remembers class reunions and weddings when she worked at the Welcome Inn and the Slipper.
Jim Bashford’s father, Dick, owned the Slipper and he remembers the band that entertained every weekend. Harris remembers a lot of hard work on the road to a dream that never came true. Billi O’Connor recalls doing homework by candlelight in the banquet room while she waited for her mom, Betty Murphy, to finish work in the Slipper.
“She was a bartender and filled in at the restaurant. Mom was famous for making the calf fries at the Slipper,” O’Connor, who now lives in Arizona, said.
Alvin Scott remembers how he began work at the Slipper when he was a boy.
“I started working their when I was 14. Worked for almost every owner that was there,” said Alvin Scott, now the Malheur County planning director.
Jim Bashford, who lives in Wisconsin, said his dad was a people person who mixed freely with the customers.
“Dad was an extrovert who either knew, or got to know, nearly everyone who visited the Slipper more than once. He worked every job in the restaurant and the bar when necessary and seldom relaxed till closing time,” Bashford said.
The Slipper was a happening place.
“It was a real growing concern,” Debbie Scott said.
During the Fourth of July, the Slipper attracted large crowds of rodeo fans and contestants.
“We’d do the (Vale Fourth of July) Queen’s Banquet, the grand marshal barbecue, we catered that,” Alvin Scott said.
The building opened by the Odd Fellows in 1908, the same year the Hotel Drexel opened across the street. The same architect, Herbert Bond, designed both. The lodge was the scene for community Christmas parties, dances and in 1919 the celebration of the Armistice.
The Odd Fellows, suffering declining membership, sold it in 1937.
While it showcased several owners over the years, the Bashfords owned it the longest, buying it in 1947
Jim Bashford said the people who worked at the Slipper enhanced it.
“Jimmy Kurata and Hazell Jenkins working on the bar side were very smooth, efficient and added greatly to the relaxing feel,” he said.
The band helped provide the atmosphere in the 1960s, Bashford said.
“And then there were the Desert Rats, including Gary Rumsey and Dennis Paige, who knew how to interact with the crowd and played western music that would bring people to the dance floor back in those days,” he said.
The calf fries, known other places as Rocky Mountain oysters, are another memory for Bashford.
“The Slipper was the first place in Oregon to have them on the menu,” he said.
Harris and his wife bought the building in 1981 from Dick Bashford with high hopes.
“I was going to restore it,” he said, investing and renovating over the years.
“I rebuilt the kitchen. I put the Welcome Inn café into it. Put a new boiler system into it,” he said.
Harris, retired and now living in Weiser, also created an apartment upstairs where he and Kathryn lived.
“I paid a pretty buck for it. I put a tremendous amount of money into it. About everything I had,” he said.
Yet Harris said after a time it was clear that maintaining the building was going to be costly.
“It was just so massive. The overhead on it, trying to keep it afloat, there just wasn’t enough there to keep it going. It was very challenging to keep it,” he said.
Eventually Hal and Kathryn divorced. Kathryn Harris operated the Slipper and the Welcome Inn for a few years before she closed it.
“To keep it open, why, it wasn’t in the cards,” he said.
Harris said he was sad when he learned the building collapsed.
“But I had the same problem when I owned it. I don’t know how many times I shoveled that roof off when we owned,” he said.
Alvin Scott said he had mixed emotions when he learned of the building’s demise.
“The building had fallen into disrepair. I don’t think anyone who had enough money would do it (renovate it),” Scott said.
Then he paused and you could sense the decades of voices and music and laughter he was recalling.
“I tended a lot of bar and cooked a lot of food there. We had a lot of good times,” Scott said.