Landmark destroyed: Markum Inn owner plans to rebuild

August 2014 Posted in Business
Markum Inn owner Connie Cummings says the restuarant will rebuild and reopen.

Markum Inn owner Connie Cummings says the restuarant will rebuild and reopen.

By Brenna Wiegand

The Markum Inn was taken out of commission by a five-alarm fire in the wee hours of July 20. Julie Fitzgerald, restaurant manager and 16-year employee, arrrived at the scene around 4:30 a.m.

“We stood on the road watching,” she said. “There was a big explosion and the flames were coming up, then the ceiling collapsed and smoke started pouring out from the whole inside. It wasn’t easy to watch.”

“Oh, it’s devastating,” said Connie Cummings, who only bought the place 18 months ago. She’s got 44 years in the restaurant business.

“They’re going to have to tear the building down,” Cummings said. “I’ve got a few of the celebrity photos in the dining room that have been hanging on the walls for, oh, 20 years.” An 1895 photo of the restaurant made it, too.

“It’s a huge landmark,” Fitzgerald said. “People come from all over – Portland, Salem, Woodburn, Silverton, Molalla… There’s a group that meets for breakfast the first Tuesday of every month – they’ve got to be in their 80s – and that’s been going on forever. We have our morning coffee drinkers, lots of birthday parties and reunions – it’s huge.”

“I definitely have plans to go forward,” Cummings said. “I don’t give up easy – I’m pretty tough.”

Though initial indications are the fire was caused near the aging breaker boxes, the official cause and financial extent of the damage won’t be know for a two or three weeks, Cummings said.

Before the fire, she had made plans for the restaurant’s future including creating an outside dining area to seat up to 100 people. She wants to do cook-offs, weddings and other events. Toward that end, she just purchased a food van for mobile catering/serving.

“I still have a lot of plans and I’m still going to follow through with every one of ‘em,” she said. “In the last year and a half I have never had a paycheck and every single dime that came in here I put back into this restaurant. I could retire but I’m not going to – in 18 months I’ve tripled the business and it’s been going wonderfully.”

Cummings said her insurance company says they’ll be building a new restaurant. She’s trying to get an advance on the new equipment so she can keep cooking, whether in the parking lot or out of the nearby pole barn. Luckily that’s where the office is. Getting rolling, she estimates, could take three or four weeks; building could take six months to a year. Her two dozen employees, she said, have signed up for unemployment.

“Marquam means the world to me, and to the people around here the Markum Inn is a huge thing and I don’t see us being down any longer than we have to,” Fitzgerald said. “The community has been very supportive. Even at home I’m getting multiple phone calls from customers and friends because I’ve been here so long they’re my family. So yeah, it’s hard. It’s very hard.”

As Cummings watches poker machines, chunks of ceiling and dining tables hauled away, she is somehow comforted and inspired by her fellow survivors: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe. And when the restaurant is rebuilt, she plans to hang the celebrities back on the wall.

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