Tangent City Hall office cat was the city’s landlord
Willamette Valley town's mascot was the state's wealthiest housecat; he owned City Hall along with the farm it was built on, as well as an iconic red barn. Today, you can visit Kitty Kat's grave, but his barn has been moved to a new place.
Tangent City Hall, the former residence of municipal benefactor Kitty
Kat, with the iconic red barn in the background. (Image: F.J.D. John)
By Finn J.D. John — January 8, 2012
(*EDITOR'S NOTE: See update at end of this story.)
For several years during the 1980s, if you walked into Tangent City Hall, you might catch a glimpse of a gray-and-white tomcat named Kitty Kat hiding under the furniture.
No big surprise there; Tangent is a small and homey town, the sort of place that wouldn’t mind if the staff at its city offices wanted to keep an office cat. But here’s the kicker:
Kitty Kat was actually the landlord. He owned City Hall. In fact, Kitty Kat may have been the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon.
A most unusual inheritance
Once upon a time, Kitty Kat was the beloved pet of a longtime local resident, John Bass, who’d taken him in as a stray.
Bass and Kitty lived in Tangent on a two-acre place with a historic Craftsman-style farmhouse and big red barn, right next door to the school. Bass had bought the place right after World War II, paying $40,000 for it, and lived there until he died in 1983.
This photograph of a local resident holding Kitty Kat, taken in
the mid-1980s, is displayed in the foyer of Tangent City Hall.
The man holding Kitty Kat is not John Bass — it's the caretaker
hired by the estate to take care of the furry landlord.
(Photo: City of Tangent)
When Bass died, he left the estate to Kitty Kat, along with a $70,000 fund for maintenance of the place. Since cats in general tend to be a bit limited in their executive capabilities, Bass entrusted a local attorney with the administration of his estate, with the understanding that when Kitty Kat finally shuffled off this mortal coil, the city of Tangent would inherit the property from him, to be used as a public facility.
For the most part, it worked out well for the city renting space from the office cat, although the city moved out of the building after some repairs came due on the furnace and Kitty Kat balked at the expense. City Coordinator Georgia Edwards said Kitty got a bit deaf toward the end of his long life, and she also remembers a time when he tried to pick a fight with a Linn County V.I.P.
“We had a county commissioner come over, and (Kitty Kat) snagged his pants and just kept pulling on it,” she recalled.
Kitty Kat's bequest
In 1995, Kitty Kat finally died and was buried in his own front yard with ceremony appropriate to the state’s wealthiest cat. In fact, if you go there, you can lay a few flowers on his grave if you’re so inclined. He has a grave marker and everything.
The gravestone of Tangent’s municipal benefactor, Kitty Kat,
in the front yard of City Hall in the old Bass Farm house.
Former owner John Bass bequeathed the property to Kitty
Kat in his will, and the city inherited the place after Kitty’s
death in 1995. (Photo: F.J.D. John)
And the Bass Estate became city property.
There were a few issues, though. First off, the $70,000 would have gotten any possible repair and maintenance work done for a private resident, but for a city government, it wasn’t enough. The house not only needed a few repairs — siding, paint, a little interior work — but unless altered to meet the dictates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, its usefulness to the city would be very limited.
Should they sell it?
In 2001, the city council decided (in a 3-2 vote) to sell the place. This kicked off a small firestorm of protest. A number of locals, along with the two dissenting city councilors, felt that it wasn’t right to turn around and sell an asset that had been given to the city to be used as a public resource. But within nine months, the question was moot. Mold problems at the old City Hall forced the city government out, and the only place available was the Bass House.
A month after the move, a tree fell on the old City Hall, which pretty much made the move official. Tangent City Hall is now in the old Bass house, most likely for good.
Can the barn be saved?
But that leaves the barn, which is known locally as “The Bass Barn,” “The Kitty Kat Barn” or just “The big red barn.” It’s a cavernous thing, built in the 1920s by the poultry farmer from whom Bass bought the place. It’s a picturesque red-and-white structure with a tin roof. And it might only be there for another few months.
This huge, iconic red barn may be slated for demolition if a plan to
move it to an adjacent property doesn’t work out; the city of Tangent
can’t afford the several hundred thousand dollars it will cost to repair
it. (Photo: F.J.D. John)
In 2011, the city voted to have the place torn down. The problem is, again, it needs work, and the city doesn’t have the budget. A bond levy to fix it up was turned down by Tangent voters, leaving the city with little alternative.
“The council believes it is financially prohibitive to keep it,” City Coordinator Edwards told Albany Democrat-Herald reporter Alex Paul. “It’s falling apart.”
She said it would take several hundred thousand dollars to bring the structure back from the brink. Like many other small communities around the state, Tangent has no tax base, so it has no ability to take on new financial responsibilities on its own.
A plan to save the barn?
The barn may yet be saved — according to the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, a neighboring property owner might be interested in buying the barn and actually moving it onto her land. But this scheme has the distinct feel of a long shot. As of early 2012, the big red building’s fate is still up in the air, but many of the barn’s fans have given it up for lost.
UPDATE (September 2013): Earlier this year, the neighbor mentioned in the last paragraph followed through and saved Kitty Kat's barn. She bought it from the city and it was moved across the field and placed on her property. Aficionados of the barn were relieved that it would not be torn down, although a little sad that it will no longer be on public land; but overall, the deal is a win for all involved, and no one is complaining.
(Sources: Spencer-Hartle, Brandon. “Of Kitty Kats and Big Red Barns,” Historic Preservation League of Oregon Web site, historicpreservationleague.ning.com, 7-25-11; Albany Democrat-Herald, 4-17-01, 3-16-02, 4-27-04; City of Tangent Web site)
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