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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Will WeWork survive at the Custom House?


Several years ago, people who admire Portland’s grand old buildings were pleased that the U.S. Custom House, designed along the lines of an Italian Renaissance palace, finished in 1901, had found new life as a private office building.

Now what was once the young city’s most elegant public building finds itself a bit player in a disappointing chapter of modern venture capitalism.  While no one is making predictions just yet, it is possible that the stately historic building could be headed for yet another change in service.

Stepping back, it is amazing to think that a frontier city only 50 years old could see a building such as this come to grace its neighborhood at 220 NW 8th Ave., facing on the North Park Blocks.  James Knox Taylor, supervising architect for the U.S. Department of Treasury, is always listed as the primary architect.  But given the fact that Taylor’s name is mentioned in connection with several dozen federal buildings, the local architect, Edgar Lazarus, no doubt played a key role.

 Lazarus practiced in Portland in fits and starts during 45 years.  His best known building, Vista House at Crown Point overlooking the Columbia River, is a deservedly well-loved public monument with spectacular views high above one of the nation’s great rivers.

 The Custom House is an incredibly elaborate building, with all sorts of columns and decorations.  The front entry, with a courtyard faced with a granite loggia with tall arched openings and a scrolled parapet, tells that this is no ordinary structure.  Another of the building’s many notable features are the so-called “Gibbs surrounds,” a layering of architectural ornament along the sides of the major rectangular windows, in addition to the sills and lintels. 

  The technique is named for James Gibbs, an English 18th Century architect who pioneered the concept for highlighting doors and windows.  The technique has not been used frequently in Portland, and the Custom House is clearly the city’s best example.

South facade shows Gibbs surrounds on second and third floor windows

 The Customs Bureau left the building in 1968 to move into a former Post Office building nearby.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then moved in, and remained until 2004.  Like many government buildings, various attempts at modernization ruined many interior details, but the grand vestibule and four-story iron stairway remained untouched, as well as many lesser design elements.

 The Custom House was sold into private ownership in 2012 and again in 2017.  Interior renovations by Portland’s GBD Architecture removed some of the offending renovations and helped recapture much of the building’s original interior feel.

In 2015, WeWork, a New York-based office-sharing company with grandiose ambitions, leased the Custom House and began offing spaces as small as a single desk to freelance workers and small businesses.  Since its inception in 2010, WeWork accumulated leases on more than 800 properties around the world and adapted them to the office-sharing format, including availability of meeting rooms and social spaces for internal gatherings.

 Trouble is, WeWork has never turned a profit -- or even come close.  It has been sustained with literally hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capital firms, all hoping to cash out with big profits when stock ultimately was sold to the public.  In retrospect, business analysts suggest that WeWork’s board didn’t supervise the eccentric behavior, big spending and grandiose non-business ambitions of WeWork’s founder, Adam Neumann.

 In 2019, investment bankers reviewed WeWork’s preliminary documents for the initial public offering.  In light of their negative reactions, WeWork withdrew the proposed offering.  The venture capitalists then convinced Adam Neumann to leave management, in return for a payout amounting to more than $1 billion.

 Details are available in a new book, “Billion Dollar Loser,’ by Reeves Wiedeman.  A Nov. 30 article in the New Yorker magazine, "The Enablers," by Charles Duhigg, criticizes the conduct of venture capitalists involved with WeWork. 

 The pandemic is another challenge for WeWork arising not long after the IPO implosion.  Freelancers and small entrepreneurs started to find that working from home was a better option; social distancing had an impact on how closely desks could be placed.

 New managers at WeWork are not giving up, however.  Their focus has switched to recruiting established corporations that might need flexible work space or satellite offices in other cities.

 How well the Portland Custom House location stacks up in the WeWork universe is not known.  The company’s website says space is available.  The front gate is patrolled by a security guard, limiting one’s ability walk in and find a list of occupants.  The building is owned by a real estate investment firm in Santa Monica, Calif.

 Whether it is WeWork or some subsequent occupant or owner, one hopes that the building’s architectural beauty and its role in Portland history can remain undiminished and well-maintained.




 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Phoenix Rising on Foster

 


As Southeast Foster Road angles through a working-class section of Portland, there are not a lot of buildings that attract attention based solely on their architecture.  There is one building, however, that indisputably draws the eye.  

Matt Froman is trying hard to restore it.  “I guess I’m a sucker for old buildings,” he says.  “They don’t build them like this anymore.”

When Froman mentions his restoration project to acquaintances, they often reply, “You mean the building with the curve?” 

Yes.  The former Phoenix Pharmacy, built in 1922 by John Leach, sits on a trapezoidal site at S.E. 67th and Foster.  The architect, whose identity is yet to be revealed by historical research, took the acute angle at that intersection and molded the two-story brick wall in a gentle curve around the corner.  It was a pleasing architectural decision that commands attention no matter how fast one motors down Foster.

The old pharmacy is an example of how a noticeable vintage building creates a special sense of place for a neighborhood.  Anyone who lives in the vicinity or drives the street periodically knows immediately, "This is Foster Road." 

Leach had entered the pharmacy business in 1911, when Foster was muddy and rutted. He proved his allegiance to the neighborhood by erecting his new building 11 years later.  “It was a poor man’s district,” he told a newspaper reporter late in his life, “but (it is) where I belonged, for I liked working people and was one of them.”

Long after he retired, Leach gave the building to the YMCA to be sold to raise money for a neighborhood Y.  Leach and his wife, Lilla, a respected botanist, also donated their home and 17 acres of horticultural gardens to the City of Portland.  Today Leach Botanical Gardens is operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation.

For approximately 20 years after the pharmacy closed,  the building was home to Allied Video, a seller of video tapes and reconditioned telephones, until its sale in 1999 to Robert (Buck) Froman, Matt Froman’s father. 

Buck Froman’s plans for using the building never materialized, and in 2012 he agreed with his son’s goal of restoring it to a commercial space on the ground floor with offices above. The ground floor has been used for storage by Robert Froman’s business, Buck’s Wood Stoves, located nearby.  Matt Froman partnered in 2018 with local preservationists Rich Michaelson and Karen Karlsson, and finally launched preservation work in 2020.

“It has been vacant so long, it needs a lot of upgrades,” Froman said.

Construction of a new roof is underway.  Froman hopes by summer the project will advance to replacing interior plumbing and wiring.  At that point, he hopes to be able to begin discussions with potential tenants.  Final renovation of the ground floor likely will depend on the needs of the tenant.

The upper floor will be restored for offices.

 Froman intends to be a landlord rather than operating a business within the building himself.  He thinks the ground floor could be of interest to a brew pub or perhaps a music venue or a retailer.  If all goes according to plan, when the renovation is finished he will refinance the building and buy out Michaelson and Karlsson.

As occurs with many restoration projects, work takes longer than expected and proves more expensive.  Froman knew from the start there likely would be a larger net return by tearing down the Phoenix and building something like apartments.  He chose to take a stand for preservation, instead.   He has taken out loans against his residence to help with financing.

Froman doesn’t want to lose the history of the building and its landmark status on Foster Road.  He appreciates that significant old buildings play a continuing role in the neighborhood's identity.  Further, he not want to lose the Froman family connection with it. “We are trying to do something for the community,” he said.  “It’s the right thing to do.  The goal is to keep it in the Froman family for generations.” 



UPDATE

There is about a week left to submit written testimony, no matter how brief, to support the nomination of Portland's South Park Blocks to the National Register of Historic Places. One of the city's oldest parks is eminently worthy of the honor. 

Comments can be submitted to:

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Help Honor the South Park Blocks


                        (National Register Nomination Form, South Park Blocks)

After 10 months of intense research and writing by a small cadre of volunteers, a nomination aimed at listing the South Park Blocks on the National Register of Historic Places has achieved its first major milestone.

Robert Olguin, Oregon’s state historic preservation officer, has accepted the 100-page nomination from the Downtown Neighborhood Association for consideration by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation in February. 

If supported by the state committee and by the Portland Landmarks Commission, the nomination would be sent to the U.S. Department of Interior for final consideration and probable listing on the National Register.

“This park is such an obvious landmark for Portland, it is long overdue to correct an obvious oversight,” said Story Swett, a Portland architect who played a major role in preparing the nomination form.  “A formal designation may help motivate retention of this valuable public space.”

 Given its lengthy history and beloved green space in Portland's dense urban heart, one would think that approval would be both a slam dunk and a major victory for the preservation community.  Comments from citizens who love the blocks, using addresses listed below, could prove helpful.   

The 12 blocks, extending from S.W. Salmon to Jackson Streets between S.W. Park East and S.W Park Avenue West are among the oldest public spaces in Portland.  They were donated by pioneer entrepreneur Daniel Lownsdale in 1852, and were landscaped in 1877 under the direction of horticulturalist Louis Pfunder.  Pfunder’s basic design, still clearly evident on many of the blocks today, included five parallel rows of deciduous trees – mostly elms – above a carpet of grass and flower beds.

 Although the Portland Bureau of Parks had recommended a national listing for the South Parks Blocks on a few occasions in the past, the bureau for whatever reasons never followed through.  The Downtown Neighborhood Association over a year ago began discussions that led to the nomination effort.

 The detailed nomination form includes extensive discussion about the history of Portland parks, the role of the South Park Blocks in civic life, and the significance of Pfunder’s landscape design.  Swett and Brooke Best, a historic resources consultant, were the primary writers, with research assistance from Roberta Cation and Leslie Hutchinson.  Research was hampered at times by the closure of libraries during the pandemic.

 Citizens have until Jan. 15 to submit comments in advance of the State Advisory Committee’s hearing.  Comments can be submitted by mail to:

 Robert Olguin

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department 

State Historic Preservation Office

725 Summer Street NE, Suite C

Salem, OR 97301

or by email at:

ORSHPO.NationalRegisterProgram@oregon.gov

 Comments to the Portland Landmarks Commission can be sent to:

 Hillary.Adam@portlandoregon.gov

                            (National Register Nomination Form, South Park Blocks)

 Over its many decades, the South Park Blocks have attracted Portland State University, several cultural institutions, churches and high-rise apartments as surrounding neighbors.  One of the park’s primary functions has been to provide quiet green space for contemplation, walking, picnics and small gatherings.

 “The South Park Blocks (as a single park) is defined by its restrained simplicity and simple, direct material palette,” the nomination states.  “Pfunder’s original design intent is visible in the promenade plan and axial planting layout, featuring a unifying canopy of mature, deciduous trees.”

 “Another defining characteristic of the park blocks is the paved plaza areas that provide a place for communal gathering and private contemplation. Public monuments, artwork, plaques and memorials, and bench seating have been added over the years.”

 Several cross streets toward the southern end of the park have been closed to vehicles, making that end of the park a public open space for the PSU campus.  Blocks at both ends of the park are used from time to time for farmers’ markets.

 The nomination notes that many small changes have occurred over the years.  Regardless, “Overall, the South Park Blocks retains its original shape, much of its historic pedestrian circulation pattern, significant public monuments and sculptures, as well as its major character-defining features. The park’s integrity of materials and workmanship have been slightly diminished, due to the addition of non-historic features (including light standards, cruciform walkways, park furniture and public art) on some blocks.”

Here are several reasons why Portlanders love the South Park Blocks.  If you support the National Register Nomination, select some that are important to you to include in your comments. 

· Beauty of the towering arches of mature trees

. Green spaces for quiet in the midst of the big city

. Shade in the summer, more sunlight in the winter; vivid colors in the fall

. A place for meeting friends

· Farmers markets

· Seasonal gardens and flowers

· Appreciation of public art

· Students studying in the grass

· Graduation ceremonies

· Young children playing

· Long promenade walks on separated paths with long views,

· Quiet mid-day lunch spots

You can read the entire nomination form here:

https://www.oregon.gov/oprd/OH/Documents/OR_MultnomahCounty_SouthParkBlocks.pdf

Sunday, December 27, 2020

End of the Burnside Bridge?

 


When the inevitable Cascadian subduction zone earthquake -- the Big One -- hits Portland someday, engineers say 40 of the 44 bridge lanes that connect the east and west sides of the Willamette River will collapse or be unusable for the near future.

 And while two lanes of the Sellwood Bridge are expected to survive the quake, landslides on Highway 43 south of Portland may prevent vehicles from entering or leaving the West Side.  Tillikum Crossing’s two lanes were never intended for auto or truck traffic.

 Thus the Burnside Bridge has been designated to be the “east-west lifeline route,” and Multnomah County has been planning for a couple years on how to prepare that bridge for a major quake.  If you want to see a scary video simulating a collapse in a major quake, click here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn98JkN5HXc

 The tentative conclusion is to build a “long-span” replacement bridge that would extend from West 2nd Avenue across the river to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The estimated cost is $825 million for a project to be completed in the late 2020s.

 In short, the Burnside Bridge that has served since 1926 with its twin bascules would be toast.

 Or would it?  John Czarnecki, a preservation-oriented architect and former chair of the Portland Landmarks Commission, contends that another option, enhancing the current Burnside Bridge, was dismissed prematurely.

 During an informational meeting before the Portland Design Commission in December, Czarnecki called the bridge one of the city’s “best celebrated public works,” deserving of appreciation and preservation.  “There is a simplicity and modesty of this bridge that will be lost.”  He added, “Please, let’s take a careful look at what we’re losing…and what we have the opportunity to maintain.”

Designing a bridge to run through the heart of a major city is a complicated task.  Designers and engineers are concerned about obstruction of city views, accessibility under the west end of the bridge, maintaining a safe crossing above the I-5 freeway and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the east side.

 “There is a whole smattering of different options we are looking at,” said Steve Drahota, a consultant with the HDR engineering and planning firm that is part of the county’s planning team.    

The long-span proposal that is the leading option so far would move structural elements above the roadway, as opposed to the structure that now sits below the Burnside deck.  How bulky and how the structure is shaped will affect the views of the city by passengers travelling either direction.

 The two primary structural types are tied arches that look like small versions of the Fremont Bridge, and a cable-stayed structure that would be a larger version of Tillicum Crossing.  Advantages of these long-span options include reduced structural elements in Waterfront Park and completely spanning the squishy ground that historically was a marshland on the river’s east bank.  The long-span approach also would protect the Interstate-5 freeway and Union Pacific’s railroad tracks.

Possible tied-arch option (Multnomah County)

 Since the bridge must continue to accommodate river traffic, it needs to be provided with a center lift span or a version of the current bascules that lift the movable sections by use of counterweights below the bridge deck.  The center lift system would require two bulky towers near the river’s center, substantially adding to the visual clutter.

 Czarnecki believes not enough attention was given to enhancing the current bridge.  While such an enhancement is predicted to cost 8 to 10 percent than a new long-span bridge, he believes the potential long-term benefits, including the historic design of the current bridge, are worth it over the long run.

 Enhancing the current bridge presents its own problems, however.  Additional supports would be needed on both ends, presenting more obstacles in Waterfront Park on the west and eliminating the skateboard park on the east.  The squishy ground on the east bank, which amplifies ground movement in earthquakes, conceivably could leave even the enhanced bridge subject to serious damage.

 A potentially new option raised in the Design Commission hearing would be retrofitting and saving the existing bascules and historic appearance while adding long-span designs on the east and west ends.  If feasible, however, this option might preclude the possibility of widening the entire bridge by 20 feet, as currently envisioned in the long-span approach.

The Design Commission expects to hear an update on potential bridge designs in the next couple months.  More information on the project is available at:

 https://multco.us/earthquake-ready-burnside-bridge


Sunday, December 20, 2020

What's next for Lloyd Center?

 

What traditionally is the busiest season of the year for retailers likely will be the death rattle for the Lloyd Center, the huge shopping mall in Northeast Portland with 1.3 million square feet of retail, office and restaurant space.

Macy’s, the primary retail “magnet” at the mall’s most desirous location, will close Jan. 1.  The few shoppers showing up this holiday season are greeted by glaring yellow signs offering the sale of store fixtures, along with all other retail inventory.  Likewise, the GAP is closing its Lloyd Center location.  Gossip from the mall suggests that several others are likely not going to renew their leases in January.

Many of the mall’s small retail shops are already vacant, while those that remain are struggling, at best. Blame it on COVID-19, or the changing habits of retail shoppers, or some combination.  But reality is reality.  At age 60, the mall’s life in retail seems finished.

 Macy’s departure follows a several other giants – J.C. Penney, Sears, Nordstrom, J.J. Newberry, F.W. Woolworth, Marshalls and a multi-screen cinema – who left Lloyd Center over many years as the center’s gradual decline became increasingly evident.

 Cypress Equities, a Dallas, Texas firm, bought Lloyd Center in 2013 for $148 million.  It then launched an “upgrade” project that included shrinking the ice rink, eliminating the attractive pedestrian bridge over the ice and adding an elegant spiral staircase that is seldom trod by human feet.

 The question now is what happens to an urban footprint that amounts to 18 square blocks of valuable city real estate.  Cypress Equities should be no stranger to the challenges, since it owns 16 major shopping and mixed-use malls around the country. 

 One option would be to tear everything down and start over with high-rise apartments or office buildings allowed by the zoning regulations.   A couple years ago, the Lloyd Center was mentioned as a potential site for a major league baseball stadium, although talk of landing a team has gone largely silent.

Pedestrian street for housing? 

 While the original mall was a had a creative Mid-Century Modern cachet, the inevitable tinkerings of the retail world managed to snuff out its original architectural charm.  However, since one of the goals of preservation is to save the environment from wasteful demolitions, one can think of other potential uses for much of the center as it stands. 

Perhaps the easiest option is to convert all the smaller shops to office space.  The third floor along the major concourses always held offices for doctors and dentists.  A compromise might be to consolidate retail on one level, leaving two other levels for offices. 

Housing also could be a realistic possibility along the long, three-story concourses that run east and west from the ice rink.  All those small shops already are equipped with plumbing, which would make the transition easier to apartments or condominiums.  Removing the roofs that were added about 1990 would open apartments or condominiums to fresh air.

Covered parking could be available to tenants.  Some of the existing shops could become offices for doctors and dentists, or barber shops, hair salons, small eateries and convenience stores with built-in constituencies.  Since these areas are served by escalators and elevators, they would provide accessibility for a senior housing community.

At two and three stories, the largest former retail outlets pose more of a challenge for repurposing, given their size and limited natural light.  One possibility as a major tenant might be a large home improvement center.  Home Depot snooped for a site in the Hollywood District almost 20 years ago before backing off in a recession. 

 Another possibility could be demolishing the large stores at the east and west ends of the mall to make way for multi-story buildings of offices, condos or apartments.   Similarly, the largely unused parking structure at the mall’s northwest corner could be removed for more productive use of that real estate.

Joe Brown's Carmel Corn -- a survivor from the earliest days

 The Lloyd Center opened to massive crowds in 1960.  Its proximity to downtown Portland – about two miles – made some experts ponder whether both retail cores could be successful located so close together.  Downtown retail has been severely hurt by the pandemic and by political protests, making it questionable to say whether it is really the survivor, but in the long run it is a better bet than the Lloyd Center.  

 Regardless, Lloyd Center holds vivid memories for many Portland shoppers and diners who remember the early years of the open-air mall with its many retail and eating options.   Today it feels almost like a modern-day ghost town. 

 Now we have to wait and see how executives in Dallas, Texas, figure out what happens next. Or whether they sell out to some other developer with something else in mind. 

 

 


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Eaton Building: In Jeopardy, or Not?

 

To her credit, Vanessa Sturgeon, the president of TMT Development, wasn’t obligated to attend a meeting of the Downtown Neighborhood Association board to explain why she is seeking removal of the 115-year old Eaton Building from Portland’s historic inventory list.

Her reason was a good bit puzzling.  

The Eaton, at 622 SW 9th Ave., was built as a hotel to serve guests attending the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition.  The interesting brick structure contained 70 rooms, including 16 suits including bathrooms.  Many years later, the building was converted to the 22 apartments it contains today.

 In 1984, the City of Portland included the Eaton on the historic inventory, a list of scores of buildings throughout the city that were regarded for their historic value in Portland and their worthiness to be designated as city landmarks or placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  While the Eaton was deemed worthy for either designation, no such designation was ever sought.

 Now Sturgeon is using a city code provision that allows removal from the inventory after a notice period of 120 days.  Removal is automatic; there is no opportunity for objection or a public hearing.

(Oregon Journal, 1904) 

 So, DNA members were curious to ask why.  Sturgeon’s answers were puzzling, at best.  She called the inventory “a made-up list” that imposed restrictions without any benefits.  Asked what those restrictions were, she replied, “I don’t even know what the restrictions are.”  Moments later, she added, “It would be expensive for me to have a lawyer come and explain it all.”

 In fact, there are no restrictions on buildings included in the inventory. (We will get to the likely motive shortly.)

 In the meantime, Sturgeon assured the DNA that she has no intentions of selling or demolishing the Eaton.  She said the apartments are being upgraded one at a time as tenants move over.  “They are really nice apartments,” she said. Sturgeon said she has no interest in placing the building on the National Register, although such a listing could offer tax benefits. 

John Czarnecki, an architect and DNA member, said “This would be a real shame to remove this building.  The brickwork is fabulous.”  He said he liked the scale of the Eaton on the street.  “It is an exceptional building.” The image below shows the romanesque arches on the top floor, the brick quoins on the corner and the subtle but elegant window decorations on the lower floors.  

 Czarnecki said the Eaton was designed by Henry J. Hefty, an architect who practiced in Portland from 1884 to 1912.  Hefty’s most notable building was the First Congregational Church erected in 1890.  Its over-sized bell tower made it visible from almost anywhere west of the Willamette River for decades.

In 1890, Hefty won a design competition to design Portland's City Hall.  His plan was a large, heavy building that was eventually deemed to expensive to complete.  Whidden & Lewis designed a smaller building finished in 1895 that sits on foundations prepared for Hefty's work. 

 Sturgeon predicted that major property owners with buildings listed on the historic inventory will be asking to have those structures removed from the list.  In the Eaton case, “This has nothing to do with demolition,” she said.  “We have no intention of selling the building.”

 


The likely motive for delisting requests from Sturgeon and other owners likely lies in proposed city code changes pending before the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission in advance of City Council consideration sometime next year.

 Under the proposed new rules, removal from the historic inventory could not happen unless it was accompanied by a demolition permit application.  The demolition application would require a 120-day period in which interested parties could try to buy the building to spare it from demolition or try to make plans for moving the historic building to a new site.

 By removing a building from the historic inventory now, a person planning to demolish a building ostensibly would eliminate the 120-delay.  Not being on the inventory presumably would make it easier to sell a building, especially if a developer is accumulating more than one contiguous property in hopes of building something much larger.

 Unlike many developers, Sturgeon’s firm has experience building skyscrapers (Fox Tower and Park Avenue West) as well as managing historic buildings.  TMT Development also owns the old Studio Building and Guild Theater, a couple blocks south of the Eaton Apartments.

 Though Sturgeon repeated that she has no plans to sell or demolish the Eaton, Story Swett, an architect and preservation advocate, called removal from the historic inventory “a first step down the road.”  He added, “It’s dismaying and disappointing to have this happen.”

 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Holiday Reading Suggestions

 Now that we are in the throes of the holiday shopping season, the chief executive here at Building on History figured it was a good time to recommend books that should interest anyone who cares about architecture and Portland history.

 You will note that one author is common to all of them, William J. Hawkins III.  A native of Portland who is now into his eighth decade, Hawkins is an architect and architectural historian who knows more Portland history in his pinky than most of us will ever attain.  For several decades, including this very day, he has been the conscience of efforts to preserve the best of Portland’s vintage buildings and city parks. 

The books:


Classic Houses of Portland, Oregon, 1850-1950.  William J. Hawkins III and William F. Willingham, 1999. 591 pages.

This large volume contains photographs and architectural details of some 200 houses in the Portland region, including some grand old mansions that fell to wreckers along the way.  Many interior photographs are included.

 This is far more than a picture book, however. People interested in learning about the many historical styles of residential architecture will find descriptions photographs and drawings of 22 different design categories, including lists of characteristics that lay people can use to evaluate houses that interest them.

 If nothing else, a reader must stand in awe of the incredible array of amazing houses that still grace out city. 

The Legacy of Olmsted Brothers in Portland Oregon.  William J. Hawkins, III.  2014.  198 pages.

  While this book is more about landscape design and parks, visits by the renowned Olmsted landscape architecture firm to Portland starting in 1903 had a lasting impact on Portland neighborhoods and the city park system.  Hawkins’ great uncle, Lester Leander Hawkins, helped escort John Olmstead about the city in 1903 in a horse-drawn wagon, and served as a prominent member of the Portland Park Board that implemented many of the suggestions outlined by the 1903 Olmsted report.

 The Olmsted firm laid out plans for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, as well as mapping out a whole series of proposed city parks and arterials that would connect them.  The scenic Terwilliger Parkway also was an element of the Olmsted plan, as well as another scenic route along Willamette Boulevard that never received much formal attention.

 On a later trip to Portland, the Olmsted firm laid out streets in the Laurelhurst neighborhood and initiated plans Laurelhurst Park, long considered one of the city’s most attractive public spaces.  Several other park locations identified by the Olmsteds were developed by the city in succeeding years.   The book also spells out direct and indirect influence of Olmstead street layouts in several other Portland neighborhoods.


The Grand Era of Cast-Iron Architecture in Portland.  William J. Hawkins III, 1976.  211 pages.

 This heavily-illustrated book is an exhaustive inventory of cast-iron buildings erected during a roughly 40-year span beginning slowly in the 1850s and accelerating rapidly in the 1880s.  For a time, Portland had the most outstanding collection of cast-iron buildings on the West Coast and the largest collection outside of New York City.

 Hawkins’ research explains in detail the rise and fall of the iron-fronted buildings, which can be considered in some ways as forerunners of prefabricated buildings.  The saddest part of the book is an extensive number of photographs showing these interesting buildings being demolished after World War II, mostly for the creation of parking lots for automobiles. 

 If Portland still had these rows of early buildings, they would be a foremost tourist attraction on the West Coast.  This book helped start Portland’s interest in architectural preservation that continues to this day.

Architects of Oregon.  Richard Ellison Ritz, 2002.  462 pages.

This book is an alphabetized, biographical listing of deceased architects who practiced in Oregon in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Ritz died before this historical resource was finished, and William J. Hawkins III stepped in to complete this extensive project and shepherd it to publication..

It is an excellent reference that lists notable buildings whenever possible.  Listings may run from a mere few sentences to a few pages, depending on the importance of the architect and amount of historical references left behind. 

 For better or worse, the most viable way to find any of these books for purchase is through the Seattle-based internet seller that starts with the capital “A.”  You know, the company that makes billions but doesn't pay taxes. 

 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Oregonian Building Redux

 

                                                                (Postcard, 1948)        

Portland’s most internationally-famed architect, Pietro Belluschi, is widely remembered for the Equitable Savings building he completed in 1948.  Its innovative sleek glass and aluminum design is considered the world’s first curtain-wall building that ushered in the International Style of modern skyscrapers.

Less well-known is another Belluschi building also finished in 1948. The 6-story Oregonian Building at 1320 SW Broadway also was a relentlessly modern building designed to meet a new era of mid-century communications, with printing presses, radio studios and a television station.  The newspaper bragged about it being “the largest structure built in Oregon in the last 10 years.”

 The block-size building was interesting in other ways, too.  Its main Broadway fa├žade had a second entrance for Hostess House, the Oregonian newspaper’s model kitchen and space for cooking instruction.  The corner at Broadway and Jefferson was designated as a small retail spot, to be filled for many years by a drug store and a restaurant.

 On the fourth floor, space was allocated for a cafeteria or restaurant including open-air seating on a plaza above the third floor.

 On the Sixth Avenue side, big two-story windows were intended to give pedestrians a view of the huge newspaper presses that could churn out 90,000 broadsheet issues per hour.  They were so heavy they had to have a separate foundation.  A tunnel through the middle of the building provided access for circulation trucks and newsprint deliveries.


(Contemporary view, same vantage)

  The radio studios for KGW on the fourth floor had sound-proofed walls and ceilings, and air-lock entrances designed to keep out extraneous noise.  When the building opened in June, 1948, the newspaper described the noise protections thusly:  “The rushing roar of the presses, the rhythmic clacking of the linotypes and frenzied whine of metal saws in the composing room, the shouts and clicking typewriters in the newsroom, KGW wanted none of them.”

 Ultimately, the building failed to meet its ambitious intentions.  As a result of a disagreement with the newspaper company, Pietro Belluschi took his name off the final drawings.  The huge picture windows on Sixth Avenue became so spattered with ink that it was largely impossible to see the presses at work.

 The fourth-floor restaurant never materialized. Its space became the newsroom for the companion Oregon Journal newspaper when it merged with the Oregonian in the early 1960s and the outdoor seating plaza went unused. 

 KGW Radio did use the studios for a few years, but the Oregonian sold its interest in KGW before any TV broadcasting occurred in the building. 

In the 1970s, the Oregonian switched to a new printing process with presses in a different building.  Combining newsroom staffs late in 1982 led to major internal remodels on three floors.  When growth of the internet led to implosion of the newspaper business, the Oregonian moved out of the building in 2014 for rental space elsewhere.

 Dan Haneckow, a Portland historian, toured the building shortly after the Oregonian newsroom closed.  “It was fascinating, ” he said.  “Time seemed to have stopped in the early 1990s.  There was a decrepit grandeur to the place.  You could see how important it was. At the same time the world had passed it by.  Lots of old technology, sometimes strewn about the floor.  Awful drop ceilings which I assume have been removed.”

 Indeed.  An extensive internal remodel was completed earlier this year.  The designers respected Belluschi’s building envelope with its limestone panels and base of polished gneiss.  New potential small retail spaces have been created on the north and side sides of the building, in addition to the original retail location at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson.

 A canopy sheltering the main entrance and a secondary retail entrance on Broadway is new, providing welcome rain protection.

(New canopy, Broadway entrance)

The new primary tenant is AWS Elemental, an Amazon subsidiary that provides internet services involving digital content production, storage, processing and distribution.  In other words, the building continues to be a communications hub of a different kind for the following era.  To the preservationist's eye, it is a successful adaptation of a worthy building for new uses. 

Ironically, the same month the Oregonian Building opened, June, 1948, Pietro Belluschi was honored as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, one of the nation’s highest awards.  It was his 25th year in Portland.  His other notable works included the Portland Art Museum, the J.P. Finley & Sons Mortuary (sadly demolished) the Equitable building and renovation of the Union Station train depot.  

 Belluschi’s long career was far from over.  He left Portland in 1951 and returned in the 1980s, continuing to be a prolific architect and consultant until his death in 1994 at 94.  One of his many, many legacies remains at 1320 SW Broadway.

 


Monday, November 23, 2020

Albina's Historic Sentinel

 


Anyone looking at what’s left of the historic Albina neighborhood cannot miss what is likely its oldest and tallest surviving building: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church.

This interesting example of Gothic Revival architecture was erected in 1890 when the area it served was populated mostly by Irish and European immigrants.  The church, with its pointed-arch windows and  lofty spire, was constructed with wood, not stone or brick.  As a result, sometimes its style is called Carpenter Gothic. 

The church was built by skilled craftsmen, working without benefit of plans from an architect.  As such, it is known among architectural cognoscenti as an example of “vernacular architecture.”

The building has seen a number of changes itself, along with dramatic demographic shifts in its congregation and neighborhood.  Bill Curtin, who was Immaculate Heart’s priest during the challenging decade from 1971 to 1981, knows the changes well.

Curtin’s Irish father was baptized in Immaculate Heart in 1909.  Victor Curtin, a Portland police officer who lived close to Albina, started patrolling the neighborhood in the 1940s.  He liked the area and its many jazz clubs.  He came to know and appreciate many of the Black residents who had been funneled into Albina as a result of World War II shipbuilding, and the 1948 Vanport flood.  Albina's demographics were dictated largely by and Realtors and lenders who wanted to keep Blacks from buying houses in other Portland neighborhoods.

 Bill Curtin, then 30ish and inspired by the civil rights movement and Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr., requested a transfer from St. Charles Church in Northeast Portland to Immaculate Heart.   His arrival in 1971 coincided with one of the most painful chapters of Albina history, the total eradication of several blocks containing houses and businesses, ostensibly to make way for expansion of Emanuel Hospital.  But after the land was cleared, Congress eliminated the federal urban renewal funding for the project.

 “I was there for a lot of the rebuilding of the community,” Curtin said.  He enjoyed working with his parishioners and Black business owners who opened their wallets for church projects.  “My life at Immaculate Heart was filled with a lot of wonderful things,” he said. “There were a lot of good people.  We were known as the Black catholic church in town.”  Curtin’s faith in the neighborhood and the people was not oblivious to reality, however.  “There was a lot of business on the side.”

 The extensive demolition for the ill-fated Emanuel expansion wiped out the homes and businesses of many Immaculate Heart parishioners. Curtin said many owners were not fairly paid for their property by the City of Portland.  Many poorer residents wound up moving to inexpensive housing East Multnomah County.

In the past 20 years, changes in neighborhood demographics led Immaculate Heart to put more emphasis on serving immigrant communities, including residents from Asia, Africa and Europe.  The church desires to served a congregation including "the lonely, the poor and the uninvolved."

Immaculate Heart was the second Catholic church built on Portland’s east side.  It ranks as the oldest “surviving” church, however, since the old St. Francis of Assisi Church in Southeast Portland was demolished after suffering severe storm damage in the 1930s. 

  While the skilled builders did an excellent job recreating Gothic details and proportions, they made one mistake that has proved not to be serious:  The main tower and spire tilts slightly off 90 degrees, by a margin largely undetectable to the naked eye.  A study performed in 1989 detected no signs of movement and concluded there was no lasting danger.

 Much of the church’s exterior is covered with pressed tin, a galvanized product popular during the Victorian era for both interior and exterior applications.  The tin at Immaculate Heart was pressed to give the impression of bricks.  Some of the tin was damaged by aggressive cleaning in the 1990s, leading to the spread of rust.  Fortunately, the galvanized tin manufacturer was still in business and replacements were acquired.  Repairs also were made around the foundation to prevent water infiltration.

 Bill Curtin left Immaculate Heart and the priesthood in 1981 in order to marry a woman he loved.  He remains connected to his Albina heritage, however, as a member of the board of directors of the Miracles Club, a non-profit recovery center that works with Black citizens striving to achieve and maintain sobriety.

 No Portland neighborhood is immune to change, least of all Albina.  One hopes the Immaculate Heart spire will continue to stand tall as a sentinel of Albina's history, regardless of whatever inevitable changes arise.  



 


Monday, November 16, 2020

Rinehart Building: Goodness in Albina

 

Sometime in the next few months, well-intentioned citizens operating as Albina Vision hope to offer plans for revitalizing what for decades was the heart of Portland’s African-American population, culture, society, religion, business and recreation.

 Bear in mind, however, “Everything that used to be in the neighborhood has been demolished,” says Winta Yohannes, Albina Vision’s managing director.

 Yes and no.  That is true in the confines being examined by Albina Vision just north of the Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum, where the group dreams of creating new housing, parks and business opportunities.  There is more territory in “old” Albina, however, and select properties are being restored, preserved and recognized for their historical importance.

 One of Albina’s greatest recent achievements is restoration of the 110-year old Rinehart Building at 3041 N. Williams Ave.  It was built in 1910 when the Williams Avenue streetcar was a prime mover of people between downtown and North Portland.  Albina in that era was populated heavily by Scandinavian and other European immigrants, before giving way to a heavily African-American population attracted by World War II jobs.  In an era of de facto segregation in Portland, Black residents were heavily channeled into Albina by Realtors and home lenders.

 The new population infused the neighborhood with stores, restaurants, bars, barbershops and many other small businesses.  Albina’s successful jazz nightclubs became a key destination for many of the nation’s best jazz musicians.

 The two-story brick Rinehart Building opened with shops on the ground floor and apartments above.  Though not imposing by today’s standards, it exemplified Albina’s commercial transition from wood-frame to masonry buildings.  The Rinehart’s turret at the corner of Williams and Monroe Street was intended as a beacon for streetcar riders; apartments and shops tended to focus on streetcar stops where riders got on and off. The designer was William H. Downing, who had started designing houses in Portland in 1890.  

James H. Rinehart, a real estate investor who came to Portland in 1907 from Eastern Oregon, lived in his building until his death in 1919.

The building was known more recently as the Cleo-Lilliann Social Club, an entertainment venue offering food, drinks, music and cards to African-American members.  The club succeeded Cleo’s Taver, which opened in 1957.  The club also raised money for neighborhood charities, from 1968 to its final closure in 2001, when building conditions had substantially deteriorated.  Noise complaints from neighbors were a final blow.

Peeling away old layers (National Register of Historic Places)

By then, Albina had suffered host of serious debilitations, starting with the demise of the streetcar in 1930.  Later, Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Jr. Boulevard) became the main north-south highway.  In the late 1950s, Portland wiped out part of the neighborhood to build Veterans Memorial Coliseum, followed soon thereafter by more demolition for the Interstate-5 freeway.

The nastiest cut may have come in the early 1970s, when several blocks in the heart of the Albina commercial district were cleared for a proposed expansion of Emmanuel Hospital.  However, after all the demolition was finished federal funding for the hospital project evaporated.   Fifty years later, some blocks still remain vacant.  Meanwhile, many Black residents were driven away by predatory lenders and landlords. 

 “The Rinehart Building is significant as one of the few remaining commercial buildings in Albina with a high level of integrity associated with the social and cultural fabric of the African American community,” states the building’s registration on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original metal cornice was removed sometime in the 1980s.  At some point, the storefront windows were hidden by sheets of plywood.  The building sat vacant from 2001 until 2011, when Damon Stoudamire, a prominent Portland Trail Blazer, bought the building and vowed to restore it.

 A Portland resident, Brandon Brown, saw an opportunity in restoring the Rinehart Building.  He partnered with his father Timothy P. Brown, to buy it from Stoudamire and undertake the elaborate task of restoring the Rinehart Building in accord with rigorous U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s preservation standards.  The restoration was completed in 2013.

Today the ground floor has been restored to two storefronts, and the upstairs has been renovated into five, one-bedroom apartments.  (One apartment includes the turret.)  Working from historic photographs, crafts people were able to recreate the metal cornice.  Damaged bricks were replaced.

No matter what success is achieved by Albina Vision, the Rinehart Building and a few other significant buildings will stand as a reminder of a vibrant community that used to be.  We will look an another important Albina landmark next week. 

 


Monday, November 9, 2020

New Life for the Anna Mann House

 

                                                                (Emerick Architects)

The historic Anna Mann Old Peoples’ Home on 3.1 acres in Northeast Portland appears headed for a major transformation into a low-income community with 128 apartments.  If successful, the plan would restore an excellent vintage building and provide an important societal housing benefit.  

The plans by Innovative Housing Inc., a non-profit housing developer and management firm, would create new apartments in the Anna Mann House, erected in 1910, and add two new buildings on the eastern and southern edges of the property, located at 1021 N.E. 33rd Ave.

 “It’s a high priority for us to save old buildings and keep their integrity,” said Julie Garver, housing development director for IHI.   The agency has renovated three historic buildings with apartments in Old Town, addition to the Clifford Apartments in Southeast Portland.

 The original Anna Mann building was designed by Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, one of Portland’s most prominent firms of the era.  Their other notable work of the period included the University Club and Lincoln High School, now Lincoln Hall at Portland State University, and Jefferson High School.

 The style of the Anna Mann house is considered Tudor Revival or English Elizabethan.  Notable elements include brick walls, steeply pitched roofs, prominent gables,and cast stone lintels and sills at the windows.  The public rooms were trimmed with dark-stained Douglas fir, a common treatment for Arts and Crafts interiors in the Portland area.  Pleasingly, those interior details have been well-preserved.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 

 Wings were added the first building in 1953 and 1993.  Under plans by Emerick Architects, the original building and wings will be renovated into 39 apartments.  The original elderly residents were housing in single rooms with bathrooms down the halls.  Those single rooms will be reconfigured into apartments, Garver said. 

 A narrow new building abutting the eastern edge of the property would contain 49 units, and the new building on the south side would add 40 more.  The plans call for 71 parking spaces. 

 Despite the sizable building additions to the property, space is reserved for a gazebo/picnic area and two grassy play areas.  Trees and foliage would buffer the northern boundary along Sandy Boulevard.

 The project is aimed at the difficult challenge of providing housing for low-income families.  Of the 128 apartments, 42 would be targeted for residents earning less than 30 percent of the region’s median family income.  The remaining 86 units are intended for families earning less than 60 percent of the median income.  Sixty-six apartments will have one bedroom, followed by 48 with two, 13 with three and one with four bedrooms.

 Anna Mann was the wife of a successful Portland real estate entrepreneur Peter John Mann, who died in 1908.  The couple had purchased land to build a charitable home for the elderly just before his death.  Anna Mann pressed ahead with the project tin his memory.  It opening it to its first residents in January, 1911.

 

                                                                    (Emerick Architects)

The goal of the home was to provide single rooms for elderly residents, as well as attractive rooms for meetings and dining.  Garver said the intent of the renovation of the original building is to retain the stylish woodwork that adds a warm attractiveness to the Tudor interiors.

The home remained in operation until 1982, when financial issues led to its closure.  The building served later as an alcoholic rehabilitation center and later as the Movement Center, a home for yoga and meditation.  The Movement Center sold the building earlier this year to Innovative Housing.

 Garver said the Movement Center took good care of the building for more than 25 years and cooperated with Innovative Housing in arranging financing for the sale. Innovative Housing hopes to file building permits late this year and begin renovation and construction in mid- 2021.  She estimates the project will take 20 months to complete. 

 The Anna Mann property sits in the Kerns neighborhood, but abuts Laurelhurst.  Garver said both neighborhood associations favor the Innovative Housing plan.