Gates School: Oregon’s Newest Most Endangered Place

Gates Oregon (1923)

Restore Oregon began working closely with Upward Bound Camp (UBC),  a local non-profit owner of the Gates School shortly before the 2020 Labor Day fires. UBC, which provides recreational and educational camp experiences for persons with disabilities, asked for our assistance with historic designation and planning for critical repairs and rehabilitation needed in order for UBC, and the public, to use the building. To everyone’s astonishment, we were able to resume preservation planning work shortly after the fires, though the project is now much larger in scope. It became clear that designating Gates School as an Oregon Most Endangered Place was necessary for crystallizing the response to the building’s fire damage, to dedicate our time and resources to supporting fundraising efforts, and to provide ongoing technical assistance for rehabilitation.

On September 21, 2022, we jointly announced Gates School as our 59th MEP with the UBC leadership and the local community to bring attention to rural resources in fire-damaged Oregon and support their ongoing needs to recover and focus attention on issues surrounding historic preservation and disaster planning and resilience. 

On the Friday before Labor Day 2020, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a warning to Central Oregon for the following Monday urging “extreme caution with fire” in anticipation of strong east winds. Within a matter of days, five simultaneous “megafires” destroyed more than 1 million acres, more land than the entire state of Rhode Island. 

Calls to 9-1-1 from the Santiam Canyon poured in with reports of power line ignitions, blown transformers, and the rapid spread of fires throughout the canyon. Fanned by extreme winds, the fires quickly overwhelmed firefighters and their resources. Within a few hours on Sunday night, the community of Gates escalated from no evacuation warnings to a level 3 “go now” order to evacuate. Meanwhile, firefighters with the Incident Command Team 13 for the Beachie Creek Fire called in a report that downed power lines had started a fire near Gates School on the Upward Bound Campus where they were stationed. Wildfire quickly surrounded the campus, and firefighters were forced to evacuate to Salem immediately.

In the aftermath, Upward Bound Camp lost nearly its entire built campus including the gym, bunkhouse, activity building, and storage facilities, which were all housed on the 18 acre property. However, its oldest and most historically valuable asset, the 1923 Gates High School building, survived with minimal fire damage. The existing metal roof is directly credited as the reason for the survival of Gates School, now surrounded by scorched earth and remnants of the razed campus.

Gates School served the community for 89 years as a school building. It closed in 2012 and was sold to Upward Bound in 2014, but has only served as their office location thus far. The school building continues to serve as a fixture of the Gates community and Santiam Canyon, and will be repurposed for camp use and as a publicly-accessible community center. The 99-year-old building has fulfilled many roles over the past century, and its original structure remains largely intact, except for the roof and electrical system. Asbestos abatement and interior renovations are also needed, including retrofitting for access by people with disabilities. Upward Bound, through Restore Oregon’s technical assistance, has contracted with Sue Licht, an AIA Historic Architect based in Corvallis, to complete a multi-phased comprehensive preservation plan that has already been put in motion. Their focused efforts in this massive undertaking are notable and inspiring!

Gates School is a National Register of Historic Places-eligible resource, and Restore Oregon will assist Upward Bound in their pursuit of official listing. This rare resource — even more so since the overwhelming loss of historic places in the Santiam Canyon thanks to 2020 wildfires — will serve as a case study for resources threatened by climate change, and is an inspiring example of grassroots preservation in rural and underserved communities. 

As a member of the Most Endangered Places program, UBC will receive dedicated technical advice and support, access to Restore Oregon’s statewide network of professionals and contacts, publicity, a seed grant funded by the Kinsman Foundation, assistance with fundraising, and guidance through the preservation process through the life of the project and beyond.

Learn more about the Gates School Restoration Project and go to to offer resources or make a contribution.

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