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The John Howard Bowlin Building

106 East Main Street
by Gail J. McCormick

The John Howard Bowlin Building is located at 106 East Main Street in Molalla, Oregon.  The architectural style is 20th Century Commercial.  The builders were Birkemeir & Saramel of Milwaukie.  They had also built the Molalla Telephone Company and Molalla High School buildings.  Bowlin purchased a lot from First National Bank next to the bank building.  The new building was 50' X 70'.  Originally, there was a gallery running full length of the building, with the ceiling being 14 feet in height.  The pillars and front finish were poured cement with pebbled stucco finish and some decoration.  The original front held two twenty foot plate glass windows.  A double door entry was installed in case they wanted to convert into two stores.  The construction was started in March of 1927 and finished in June.

John Howard Bowlin

John Howard Bowlin was born at Somerfield, Pennsylvania in 1859.  Over the years, he moved to Illinois and Kansas, engaging in furniture and funeral direction work.  John Howard and his wife, Lottie, had moved to Molalla, in 1924, to enjoy their retirement years.  John had been in some manner of the furniture business for 30 years, including as a traveling furniture salesman.  He soon saw the need for a furniture store in Mollala.  In November of 1925, he opened a store in the old Vernon building.  In 1927, having the need for a larger building, he took on the task of building one.  John went out of the furniture business in May of 1928, soon after his store became the first electrified storefront in Molalla.    He passed away in 1934, at Molalla.

The White Horse

In 1968, the OK Tavern was operating out of the Bowlin Building.  Jim Storey and his mother, Margaret Storey, purchased the tavern and started a business that would serve the community for 29 years.  In 1970, they changed the name to The White Horse Restaurant and Lounge.  Jim was born in Canada and the White Horse name came from his home place in the Yukon.  This was also the year Jim and Nada Storey married.  A couple of years later, they purchased the business that was in the other half of the building and started an extensive remodeling.  The inside of the building could now seat 150 people.  They added more tables, a dance floor and band stand.  The band stand was above the bar where everyone could see it.  Business was good and weekends were a full house.   Those were the years when the timber industry was thriving and people had money to go out and have a good time.  A complete change was made to the outside of the building.  It was changed into a “ranch style” look by covering it with wood siding and decorative shakes.  All it needed was a white horse statue.  Jim and his mother bought one and had the statue placed above the front door.

Over the years, the iconic White Horse statue has evolved into an unofficial community landmark.  With the Buckeroo Rodeo, Molalla does have a lot of horse enthusiasts.  After 29 busy years, Jim Storey sold the business to Richard Uribe in 1997.  Richard changed the name to Rick’s White Horse Restaurant.  By 2013, the building was empty and the statue was removed and, seemingly, disappeared.  It turned out a good Samaritan was at hand.  Ken Rettig, of Colton, had an interest in the building and had been able to move the statue to his home to keep it safe.

In June of 2014, two men, Ryan Gengler and Ben Rash, purchased the Bowlin Building and proceeded to spend $100,000 remodeling it.  The taps alone cost $10,000.  In 2017, they bought the rights to keep the White Horse name, which led to them acquiring the statue for business reasons.  Ryan and Ben also own The Gallon House in Silverton and The Bierhaus in Mt. Angel but, the White Horse is their largest business.  The grand opening was in December, 2015.  The inside of the building was completely brought up to date.  The outside was restored to its historic 1927 decor.  The final touch – the White Horse statue – returned to its perch above the front door on February 22, 2017.  What a great day that was; when I drove through town and saw it was back.  Something about that horse makes you feel like you are home.  Many thanks to Nada Storey for her information and help with this story.

Photo Gallery


“Bowlin Building and Jim Storey”, Email information from Lois Helvey Ray, July 7, 2018
“Bowlin Furniture”, Self-Guided Tour of Molalla, by Judith Sanders Chapman and Lois Helvey Ray, 2009
“Bowlin, J. H.”, 1900 and 1930 U. S. Census,, 2018
“J. H. Bowlin Dies Tuesday”, Molalla Pioneer, 1934
“J. H. Bowlin Experienced Furniture Man”, Molalla Pioneer, November 26, 1925
“Modern Business Building to House J. H. Bowlin Furniture Store”, Molalla Pioneer, March 17, 1927
“Molalla’s White Horse is Back”, Molalla Pioneer, March 1, 2017
Nada Storey, Unrecorded interview, July 12, 2018
“New Building Well Lighted”, Molalla Pioneer, June 9, 1927
“White Horse Owners Giving Molalla Landmark a Facelift”, Molalla Pioneer, August 19, 2014
“White Horse Owners Plan to Open”, Molalla Pioneer, December 16, 2015
“White Stallion Statue”, by Peggy Savage, Molalla Pioneer, April 10, 2013.

© Gail J. McCormick, 2018

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