Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
Audio version: Download MP3 or use controls below:
He was replaced with judge Robert Bunnell — who, it soon became clear, had fallen in love with the grandeur of the Parthenon-style Hot Springs building. Immediately Bunnell set to work refocusing the county on the task of getting that finished so he could move in.
But the cat was out of the bag. Dougan had been paid a $41,548 advance and was already pushing dirt around on the downtown site. And he absolutely refused to stop. Despite the county’s increasingly desperate efforts, he carried on with the project as if nothing were happening. Why would he do otherwise? He had a legally binding, non-cancelable contract to build it.
Of course, he burned through the 41 stacks fairly quickly. Luckily, city boosters were happy to loan him the funds to keep going, knowing he would collect it from the county with a lawsuit later. The county was stuck: it was going to have two new courthouses, whether its citizens liked the idea of paying for them or not.
The county tried selling the land out from under Dougan. This had the unintended consequence of bringing the whole sorry spectacle to the attention of judge F.N. Calkins at the circuit court in Medford. Calkins promptly issued an injunction preventing the sale — and another one stopping all work on the Hot Springs courthouse.
Dougan finished the downtown courthouse in 1919, and the county, of course, refused to pay for it. Dougan, of course, sued; and in 1920 the Oregon Supreme Court (which was surely a bit tired of being dragged into Klamath County’s drama by this time) declared Dougan’s courthouse the official county courthouse and ordered the county to pay its bill. So Dougan got his money, and, one assumes, shook the dust of Klamath Falls from his feet as he left.
At this point, it was checkmate. But like a bad chess player who insists on going on to the bitter end, Judge Bunnell stubbornly moved forward with plans to finish the Hot Springs courthouse. The county approved the final plans and budgeted $50,000 to implement them. Angry taxpayers, who were for some reason averse to the idea of lighting another giant pile of tax money on fire, got on the phone to Judge Calkins in Medford, and out came another injunction blocking the plan to spend any more money on duplicate courthouse facilities. The county then moved to sell the brand-new courthouse and use the proceeds to finish Hot Springs. Calkins — finally overstepping his bounds a bit — issued yet another injunction to block that scheme.
Then the county made another bad mistake. Perhaps thinking it could move to the Hot Springs building one department at a time, the county budgeted $15,000 to get the Hot Springs courthouse jail ready, to relieve the overcrowding in the basement of the old 1888 courthouse.
Well, that plan went over with a dull thud in the Hot Springs neighborhood. The development company that had given the city the land had given it to be used as a courthouse. Now it appeared the city was going to use it for a jailhouse. Many people liked the idea of living in a neighborhood with a courthouse, but nobody wanted to be next door to the drunk tank on Saturday night. So the developer exercised his option to get the land back if the courthouse wasn’t built on it.
The county now sued the developer to prevent this. Naturally, the minute it appeared before a judge, it was toast — a deal was a deal; but the county, game to the last, appealed it all the way to the state Supreme Court for a fourth and final time.
The Supreme Court, to no one’s surprise, said no.
That was in September 1923. The struggle had dragged on for 17 years.
The county now finally and grudgingly moved into the Dougan building downtown, and the Parthenon courthouse escheated back to the developer. Naturally, there were not many possible uses for a half-built courthouse; so the developer, in 1927, demolished it to make room for other buildings. Historian David Braly reports it took a whole month to do the job, and half a ton of dynamite.
The downtown courthouse served Klamath County faithfully and well until the twin earthquakes of 1993, which split the building in half and inflicted irreparable structural damage. It was demolished and replaced with the modern courthouse that’s there today.