Eugene, Ore. — The first time she walked into the 1912 bungalow in the Washburne district of Springfield, Ore., Rosemary Schamber felt as if she had come home. Memories came flooding in of her childhood in Clinton, Mass. She and her husband, Al, felt they had found their dream home. After buying the bungalow in 1986, they became devoted to restoring it.
``We came here simply looking for a nice old house that we could afford,'' says Mrs. Schamber. ``But we got so much more. It's added a wonderful dimension to our lives.''
The Washburne Residential Historic District is a 34-block area next to downtown Springfield (outside of Eugene) and consists of working-class homes from the 1880s to the 1940s. Like a similar area of Roseburg, Ore., 70 miles south, it is one of a few working-class preserves nationwide and was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.
``Who would ever dream of finding a reminder of working-class New England in the West?'' says Mrs. Schamber. Both the Schambers are professional: He is an information systems manager, and she is a librarian.
Mrs. Schamber is proud of her family's working-class background: ``I feel very much in tune with this house and wish everyone could feel that comfortable about where they live.'' The Schambers say they once thought that historic preservation meant churches, courthouses, and mansions. But this residential area features many examples of restored architectural styles: the homestead house, mill cottage, bungalow, American foursquare, and transitional box.
Several characteristics reflect the area's working-class roots: architectural variety; small lots; simple, solid construction employing rough-hewn, softwood lumber; built-in furniture; and relatively low prices.
These elements, which appealed to mill workers and shopkeepers of the past, are proving equally attractive to young couples and mature buyers alike.
With Mrs. Schambers's three children from a previous marriage either in college or college-bound, the couple needed something affordable, ``in the $60,000-or-less range,'' she says. The old bungalow met that test, but price was only one factor.
``When the kids are home from college and have friends over, we can go into the living room and shut the doors,'' she says. ``How many modern homes can you do that in?''
Doors between common areas also allow individual heating of those areas for energy savings, Mr. Schamber adds.
Mrs. Schamber thinks that built-ins were designed to save space and money. ``Having a china hutch in the wall meant you didn't have to go out and buy one,'' she says.
For decorating purposes, though, that can be a drawback, she says, because there is less wall space. But she feels the added charm is worth the loss of flexibility.
She also says that many modern buyers delight in the detail work in doors, windows, and other features of Washburne area homes.
The small lots are a boon to residents as well. ``Many working couples today find that a real blessing,'' says Douglas Rux, assistant city planner and historic coordinator. ``They have the visual and sound buffer without having to slave over a huge yard.''
Mr. Schamber agrees, adding that most of the district retains its original landscaping, which lends shade and privacy and reinforces the old-fashioned look. Being near downtown was important to the original residents, just as it is for the Schambers today. ``It's great to be able to walk a few blocks and be right in the middle of everything instead of using your car,'' Mrs. Schamber says.
``It's important that people come see the district and note that its development came from a working-class group of people who just needed a roof over their heads,'' says Mr. Rux. ``It isn't fancy, but it preserves an important element of the past.''
Developmental restrictions ensure that this past will be preserved. ``In a historic district, you know the guy net door isn't going to paint his house fluorescent pink or do something else visually offensive,'' Rux says.
All these factors add up, the Schambers say, to a cozy town-within-a-town ambiance that district residents treasure and foster. About 25 percent of them attend meetings of the Washburne Neighborhood, a group that sponsors projects such as community cleanup drives.
``There is a definite pride and a sense among many of us of wanting to preserve the unique quality of the area,'' says Mr. Schamber.
Residents band together and join in the fun. ``Understanding the house so we can restore it is like decoding a mystery,'' he says. ``Everyone including visitors gets involved.''
``By the time we finish restoring this house, we'll have spent the equivalent of the purchase price. Realistically, we will never recover that. The real reward is in leaving the people of Springfield a legacy, a piece of their past.''