Aged Peace Portal building to be torn down

Published on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The building at 545 Peace Portal Drive awaits demolition after being gutted during renovation. Photo by Jeremy Schwartz.

A former grocery store and tavern that has stood vacant for years now faces destruction after renovation efforts revealed serious structural deficiencies.

The 4,040-square-foot building at 545 Peace Portal Drive, kitty-corner from the Chevron gas station, will be demolished as soon as landowner Ken Imus receives the demolition permit from the city.

Initial renovation work on the building uncovered rotted timbers and unstable soil under the foundation, resulting in the building being declared unfit for occupation.

“We were trying to save it,” Imus said, “but, weekly, more and more things kept coming up.” Whatcom County assessor records show the building’s current value at $137,976, a 43 percent decrease from a 2008 value of $242,200.

Imus had spent about $18,000 over the past month trying to fix the building’s numerous flaws, but to no avail. The renovations were in preparation for new tenants who were planning on occupying the space at the beginning of April.

Denise and Marcella Velasquez, who own Buy the Bay Realty and the liquor store in the Cost Cutter shopping center, were lined up to move into the Peace Portal space, Imus said. The two businesses will now be moving into vacant space next to the Black Forest Steakhouse.

The building originally was built in three phases, with the first section dating back to 1895, said Ed Onyon, who operated a grocery and deli out of the space with his wife, Blaine City Council member Bonnie Onyon, for 13 years. The northernmost section followed in 1905. The two halves were connected in the 1950s, Onyon explained.

Onyon and his wife operated the grocery and deli from 1983 to 1996. The basement was home to the Blaine Food Bank from 1984 to 1993.

“Seeing it being demolished is kind of the end of an era,” Onyon said.

The Bordertown Tavern opened up a few years after the Onyons’ grocery store moved out. The tavern enjoyed a loyal following until drug charges filed against the tavern’s owner resulted in its closure in 2005.

Imus plans to hold onto the property and seek interested parties to build on the site. Any new construction would more than likely require concrete pilings reaching down to the bedrock on the west side of the property. Imus said this is expensive but doable.

With the building demolished, Imus hopes he can bring in another high-end business, such as a seafood restaurant, to the property to complement the Black Forest Steakhouse just down the street. Onyon said he’s glad to hear Imus has plans for the property.

“In that way, life goes on,” Onyon said.

Above, right: Ed and Bonnie Onyon commissioned a line drawing of what was then their grocery store in 1986. Drawing courtesy of Ed Onyon.