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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Steeplejack Brewing: A Home Run for Preservation

 In a little over one year, a historic Northeast Portland church at risk of demolition has been transformed into a beautiful and creative example of architectural preservation providing an active new use. 

Starting July 31, the former Metropolitan Community Church (the fourth denomination during the building’s 112-year history) will open its doors as Steeplejack Brewing, offering food, many kinds of beer and an excellent architectural experience.  (We wrote about the history of this building earlier at

Both the interior and exterior have been restored, faithfully respecting the shingle-style architecture of the period.  The interior is bright, cheerful, and infused with light from stained-glass windows.  Inside, the original sanctuary remains as the main seating area, as well as side-rooms that can accommodate smaller parties as desired.

The idea for this masterful renovation came from Steeplejack partners Brody Day and Dustin Harder.  Architectural expertise was provided by Rebecca Morello of Open Concept Architecture.  From here, the story is best told by photographs.

Exterior work included a new roof, painting, replacement of rotting shingles and recreation of badly-deteriorated eave brackets.  "We thought of leaving the brackets off, but we knew it wouldn't look right," Day said. 

Looking to the west.

Inside, the original trusses dominate the room.  The floor has been refinished and much of the original woodwork has been retained.  Tables and benches were crafted from the church's wooden pews.

Looking toward the east, Brody Day has a lot to smile about

David Schlicker, a retired Portland stained glass expert, created 12 new stained glass windows that proceed around the top of the original apse.

Here is one of four smaller rooms available for parties seeking seating together.  One room has sliding doors that close.  Another has a fooseball game and large TV screens, presumably for the sports crowd.

Steeplejack was the name given to workmen who clambered up to erect and maintain tall steeples and chimneys.  Here, the steeple has been braced with steel tie rods and left open for public view.  (Climbing up is NOT encouraged.)

We finish with an "in process" image.  All shingles under the big western gable had to be replaced.  The new roof is on and the new eave brackets have been installed. Painting has been completed on the north side.  Protective lenses have been applied over the stained glass windows. 

You can see the beer and food menu at  However, regardless of one's proclivities for consuming beer, a visit to Steeplejack Brewing is a worthy experience just to enjoy its architecture inside and out.

---Fred Leeson

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Rose City Golf Clubhouse


Eastern Facade, Rose City Clubhouse

While navigating around the city, it’s always interesting to notice nice old buildings that would benefit from sensitive restoration.

 High on my list is the clubhouse at the Rose City Golf Course.  Finished in 1932 in the English cottage architectural style, the building reflects an interesting  moment in municipal golf and clubhouse design.  Rose City supporters delved deep into that history in compiling an application in 2012 that succeeded in placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 “The exterior of the clubhouse retains excellent integrity of materials, craftsmanship and design,” the application noted.  Alas, the building’s interior has been seriously abused and changed by renovations dating to the 1960s and 1970s.

  The building design, by Portland architect Herbert Angell, shows several classic English cottage elements:  a strong, steeply pitched roof, asymmetrical facades, large chimney, dormers, multi-paned windows, both brick and shingled walls.  Angell's original plan also included stone in the facades, another key element of the English cottage style, but stone was removed from the final plan to cut costs.

  Rose City is the oldest surviving municipal clubhouse among Portland’s five public courses, and is believed to be the oldest of the municipal variety in Oregon.

 Portland’s city government jumped into the golf business in 1918 with the opening of Eastmoreland Golf Course, where the original clubhouse has been replaced.  The object of municipal golf in the era was to provide an option for lower and middle-class citizens to participate in a sport dominated by wealthy private golf clubs.

 The first primitive nine holes at Rose City were laid out by golfers acting without permission on a portion of the Rose City Race Track, which early in the century hosted races involving cars, horses and motorcycles.  The city parks department took the hint and opened the first nine holes in 1923, followed by the second nine in 1927.

The purpose of a clubhouse, whether private or public at the time, was to provide a “home away from home” for golfers.  That meant lounges, food service, and lockers in addition to golf essentials.  In normal times, the Rose City clubhouse is commonly used for drinking beer, eating burgers, playing cards and watching golf on television.

 For whatever reasons, the interior at Rose City was remodeled for changes that have not stood up well over time.  The grand fireplace with a stone hearth was covered over by sheetrock, and could easily be restored.  Dropped ceilings have covered up the timbered ceiling, some of which remains above the second floor hidden from public view.

Western (rear) Facade

  A few years ago, Bill Hart, a principal of the Carleton-Hart architecture firm and a member of the Park Bureau’s golf advisory committee, prepared a preliminary plan for renovation of the Rose City clubhouse.  His plan would restore some of the historic elements of the interior, improve the dining facilities, and upgrade the patio into a more pleasant and functional space.   The proposed patio and dining room ostensibly could make the clubhouse more attractive for use by non-golfers.

 Alas, the city golf fund, which operates the five city courses without subsidy from the general fund, will never generate enough revenue to finance the extensive renovation.  At present, the golf fund barely covers operational costs, although the pandemic has boosted activity and revenue.  Renovation at Rose City would require fund-raising from some other source.

Hank Childs, the Rose City golf concessionaire, once proposed a public fund drive for the project, which he said included a major donor willing to assist.  However, the plan was never approved by the Parks Bureau. Undertaking a fund drive would require firm resolve from the bureau and the city commissioner in charge of parks.   

 In the past few years, responsibility for the bureau has shifted from Commissioner Amada Fritz to Commissioner Nick Fish, to  Mayor Ted Wheeler, back to Fritz and now to Carmen Rubio. With no firm hand on the controls, further deterioration of the clubhouse seems inevitable as time moves on.

 If you can think of notable old buildings you’d like to see restored for current or better uses, feel free to list them here.  Maybe public involvement can encourage positive change.

----Fred Leeson

South Park Blocks Master Plan update: After a lengthy presentation and testimony from more than 50 people on July 15, the City Council continued its discussion of the plan to the morning agenda on July 21.  Despite heavy opposition to the plan from citizens, the council showed no outward inclination to suggest or recommend changes.  However, even if the plan is passed, there will be opportunities in the future to make reasonable objections as implementation unfolds.  We'll discuss that in more detail later. 

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

New Life for the Old Oregonian Pressroom


Two-story windows now enlighten the SRG Partnership

More than a year after churning out their final newspapers at 48,000 copies per hour, the 600-ton Hoe rotary presses were described by the editor of the Oregonian in 1976 as “unloved and unwanted.”

 The massive equipment sat idle for a long time in the two-story pressroom of the Oregonian building at 1320 SW Broadway.  The Oregonian was one of two major buildings erected in 1948 designed by Pietro Belluschi,  then on his way to becoming one of the world’s best-known architects.

 The other post-war structure, the Equitable (now Commonwealth) Building proved to be far more famous.  As the first high-rise to be erected with a glass curtainwall, it became a model for the International Style of modern buildings that swept major cities across the globe.

Meanwhile, after building a new home elsewhere for more modern presses in 1974, there was a gaping hole in the Oregonian building, where the Hoe presses, a 4,000 gallon ink tank, and bulky linotype machines once sat.  “There’s about a half a block of room, two stories tall and two stories deep – room for perhaps a multi-level mini-mall with shops, restaurant, a bank – you name it,” wrote J. Richard Nokes in 1976.

 At long last, a new tenant has been found for the old Oregonian pressroom.  SRG Partnership, a major architectural firm with offices in Portland and Seattle, has built a mezzanine and reconfigured the space for meetings and open offices.  SRG is one of Portland’s most prominent design firms; its recent projects include the new Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland.

 SRG created its own entrance at 621 S.W. Columbia St.  The building’s main entrance remains on S.W. Broadway. 

  Images of the remodeled pressroom can be seen here:   As a historic footnote, the remodel left in place the steel rails near the ceiling on which 1,400-pound rolls of newsprint once travelled.

 Finding new and successful uses for historic buildings is one of the biggest challenges and achievements in preserving important vintage buildings.  The Oregonian, which didn’t maintain the building to a high standard, moved out in 2014.  SRG becomes the second major tenant. AWS Elemental, part of Amazon’s digital empire of something-or-other, is the prime tenant.

 Thanks to new ownership and new tenants, the former newspaper building looks to be in the best condition since it opened in 1948.  It likely will achieve more attention from scholars and architectural devotees interested in Belluschi’s Portland projects. 

Another major Portland firm, SERA Architects, will renovate and move into another historic downtown landmark early in 2022 when it moves into the former Galleria – originally the Olds, Wortman & King department store.  SERA has a long history working on preservation/restoration projects.  

It is encouraging to see prominent architectural firms recognizing advantages in locating and bringing new life to historic properties.

---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Blanchet House Lingers at City Council


Former Yamaguchi Hotel, right 

Representatives of the Blanchet House of Hospitality made two statements to the Portland City Council this week that could affect the council’s decision on whether to demolish the original Blanchet building that is part of the New Chinatown-Japantown Historic District.

First, the well-respected social agency that provides food and some housing for the homeless said that it wants to build a new community health center on the site of the old building at 340 N.W. Glisan St.

Second, the agency’s lawyer said Blanchet House is not willing to sell the three-story old building, even if a potential buyer wants to save it.

The revelation about a new health center took the city’s building department by surprise.  It suggests  that Blanchet House could be using the wrong strategy in trying to demolish the old building.

In most cases where someone wants to demolish a historic building, the loss of the old building is balanced against the public values to be gained from a new building that takes its place.  That is the strategy Blanchet House used in 2010 when it convinced the City Council to demolish the Kiernan Building that sat on the site of the new Blanchet House on the same block.  The proposed new building had been through historic design review and building permits were ready.

But this time, Blanchet House contends that the old building, erected in 1905, should be razed because it is in such poor shape it “deprives the owner of all reasonable economic use of the site.”  The trouble with that option, said Peggy Moretti, a preservation advocate for Restore Oregon, “There is no guarantee anything would replace this building other than a vacant lot.”

Preservation advocates are concerned that a precedent for razing a historic building purely on economic grounds would encourage benign neglect by owners who ultimately want to build something else.  Kristen Minor, chair of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, said it would be “alarming” to demolish the old Blanchet House without knowing what is proposed to replace it.

Although the old Blanchet House has been vacant since 2012, Tim Heron, a senior planner for the city’s Bureau of Development Services, said he had never heard about the proposed health center until two days before the City Council hearing.  “The new information about a concept is interesting,” he said. He noted that the suggestion is “an idea” and “not a building.”

After three hours of testimony, the council postponed the demolition request to July 22.  Some commissioners asked for more time to review the testimony, and Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was not present for this hearing, presumably will review it, too.

The old building was the Yamaguchi Hotel until 1931.  The neighborhood was an entry point for many Chinese and Japanese who immigrated to Portland before racial animus and World War II internments played havoc with their American lives.  Larry Kojaku, showing newspaper headlines before and after the war, said Japanese citizens were victims of “ethnic cleansing.”  Razing the old building, he added, would be “part of erasing this historic memory.”

 The only city commissioner to hint at a decision on demolition was JoAnn Hardesty.  Though she said she was “really torn” by some testimony, she felt Blanchet House had done sufficient “due diligence” in its demolition application.

Near the end of the hearing, Scott Kerman, Blanchet House executive director, indicated he had learned something new about the old building.  “This is a history I was not aware of.”  He added, however, the no one from the Asian community had approached the agency as a prospective buyer.

The New Chinatown-Japan Historic District is unique in Portland because its creation was based on the cultural histories of the Chinese and Japanese communities in roughly 10 square blocks that comprise district boundaries.  The city’s other historic districts are based largely on architectural history of varying time periods.

South Park Blocks Master Plan Update: The City Council hearing originally scheduled for July 7 has been moved to July 15 at 2.m.  Given heavy public interest in the South Park Blocks, it is difficult to imagine this matter being resolved in one session.

------Fred Leeson

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Saturday, June 26, 2021



Southern facade facing N.E. Couch St.

Given the perpetual challenges to our architectural history and public spaces, it's a pleasure to look at  excellent outcomes.

Chances are, few buildings in Portland have as many odd, quirky and sometimes funny historical connections as the 109-year-old KEX Hotel, nee Alco/Vivian Apartments, at 100 N.E.  Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Similarly, chances are unlikely that the three-story “streetcar era” building stands out in your mind.  

The former mixed-use retail and residential building is a somewhat prosaic kind of structure that used to dot Portland’s busiest streetcar stops: ground-floor retail with apartments above.  This one originally had 26 units when it opened in 1912. It housed some interesting commercial tenants over the years -- and now is the home of another unusual enterprise.  

 The building sat near the busy intersection of the Burnside and Union Avenue streetcar lines.  Its apartments were attractive for residents wanting to live close to streetcar lines, which were the major form of transportation at the time.   Fortunately, this “urban fabric” building has been nicely renovated to serve a new and unusual use.

There is so much that could be said about this building, perhaps the most direct way is through bullet points:

  • ·         The architecture firm that drafted the original plans was headed by E.B MacNaughton, a name that means little in the city’s architectural history.
  • ·         The same year the Alco was finished, MacNaughton was overseeing a renovation project at the 10 story Marquam Grand Building downtown.  Alas, the center bay of the Marquam collapsed one night in 1912 with little warning.  Fortunately, no one was killed or injured.  MacNaughton was fired from the project.
  • ·         In retrospect, the collapse of the Marquam was attributed to poor-quality bricks used in the original construction in 1892.  MacNaughton’s work was not a factor in the debacle.
  • ·         MacNaughton later left architecture to become a banker, and ultimately president of the First National Bank.  He was remembered by Portland historian E. Kimbark MacColl as one of the city’s most reputable businessmen of his era.
  • ·         MacNaughton’s career also included serving as president of Reed College from 1948-52, and board chairman of the Oregonian Publishing Company from 1947 to 1950.  His tenure at the newspaper ended with its sale to Samuel Newhouse. Ironically, the Oregonian at the time of the sale was owned by the same family that owned the Marquam Grand and fired MacNaughton in 1912. 
  • ·         A subsequent owner of the Alco Apartments changed the name to Vivian Apartments, in honor of a daughter.
Original canopy protected the apartment entrance.  Cornice is pressed metal 

  • ·         Longstanding tenants on the ground floor included the Thurlow Glove Shop, from 1934 to 1987, and Artistic Taxidermy, from 1941-90.  Customers could bring their own deer or elk skins to Thurlow or purchase ready-made gloves of Thurlow’s patented design.
  • ·         Another longstanding tenant was Fairly Honest Bill’s, a second-hand shop.  The name may have achieved a new standard for truth-in-advertising.  Bill’s sidewalk sandwich board said, “If this sign be here, we be open.”
  • ·         Hennebery Eddy Architects completed a major restoration of the building in 2019, cleaning up renovations of 1939 and 1956 that changed some of the original appearance.  The new tenant: KEX Hotel.
  • ·         KEX has nothing to do with the Portland radio station using the same letters.  The word is Icelandic for “biscuit,” which somehow relates to the hotel owners’ original plans devised in Reykjavik.  (Trust me.)
  • ·         The hotel features private rooms as well as hostel-like communal sleeping quarters in bunks ranging from two to 16 people per room.  The hotel has tried to use environmentally-friendly finishes and furnishings.  A fashionably elegant restaurant and bar is on the main floor, and the basement contains food-storage and cooking facilities for tenants.

·         Quirky but sad:  A few months after its opening, the pandemic began interfering greatly with normal operations.  When conditions allow,  perhaps we can all enjoy a nice cold drink of something Icelandic and offer a toast to a successful renovation.

                ---Fred Leeson

Update  on the original Blanchet House of Hospitality:  The Portland City Council will consider on June 30 a request to demolish the 3-story building erected approximately in 1906.  Some of the preservation community's superstars opposed the demolition with compelling before the Historic Landmarks Commission earlier this month. A prediction:  The council will provide more time to consider possibilities for saving all or parts of the building, which played a key role in the early era of Japanese-Americans in Portland. 

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

So: What About Those Trees on the South Park Blocks?


Any discussion about the proposed master plan for Portland’s South Park Blocks settles to a single issue: How many of the 325 trees on the 12 blocks will or will not be lost? .

 What makes the topic difficult is the clear contradiction between verbiage in the South Parks Blocks Master Plan and what the plan’s own charts demonstrate.  One independent effort to determine how many trees are at risk came up with a total of 86, but acknowledged that parts of the plan are difficult to interpret. 

 For starters, look at a document provided by an arborist who consulted on the plan for the city.  This is the same consultant who reported in 2019 that 97 percent of the parks trees are healthy. The report suggests 26 trees for removal and another 65 for “optional removal.”


The next chart shows characteristic tree spacing in the Cultural District, the six northern blocks.  All of these blocks would be included in the proposed Green Loop for bicycles and scooters.  The chart shows a reduction per block from 42 to 27 trees, including the large row of elms adjacent to the bike paths.  Those elms apparently would be replaced with smaller trees. 



The “tree succession plan” in the Cultural District, shown below,  makes it clear the long-term consequence: The central row of the five current rows is eliminated, and only two of the five would remain as they are recognized today.  These charts are included because some of my readers last week insisted no trees would be removed. 


These charts make it difficult to accept the written report that says “no healthy trees” would be removed.

 It is interesting to note that in 2005, the Parks Bureau issued a publication titled, “South Park Blocks: Benefits of Trees.”  Jerry Poracsky, a PSU geography professor, wrote, in part, “The most prominent feature of the area is the trees…the predominant trees of the South Park Blocks are American elms and it is these large, graceful sentinels that do most to create the special character of the area…

 “Like a rough-hewn colonnade, five rows of trees stretch the length of the twelve blocks, creating a high canopy that shelters the grass, walkways, and benches below. From the center, looking either to the north or south between any two rows of trees, you have a vista down a long, green, arched tunnel narrowing into an indistinct vanishing point blocks away.”

“The aesthetic value is hard to measure…What price can you put on the experience of sitting in the South Park Blocks on a warm summer afternoon, gazing down long rows of majestic American elms? The feelings of relaxation and enjoyment one experiences in such a beautiful, treed urban green space just cannot be duplicated.”

 But they CAN be seriously impaired.

-----Fred Leeson

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Assault on the South Park Blocks


Yellow ribbons indicate some of  the trees that would be removed in the new plan.  Black line on right shows location of bicycle lanes. (William J. Hawkins III photo)

 The Portland City Council will be asked on July 7 to degrade the boundaries and historic landscape of the South Park Blocks, a strip of 12 narrow blocks that represent one of the city’s oldest and most beloved parks. 

The proposal from the Portland Bureau of Parks is expected to draw substantial criticism, including from a heavyweight group of “concerned citizens” that counts among their number former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg and many others with political and reputable connections to Portland history.

A detailed study by these citizens suggest that the plan would eliminate 86 of the park’s current 325 trees, a 26 percent reduction.  Many would be sacrificed to make way for the “Green Loop” two-way bicycle lanes along 10 of the 12 blocks.  From its earliest planting of deciduous trees in 1877, the park has never been considered as a thoroughfare for any kind of vehicles.

The bicycle lanes would reduce the width of 10 of the 12 park blocks by about 15 feet, for a total park loss of 17,400 square feet.  The plan’s map, shown below, makes it difficult to reconcile with the following statement in the plan:  “While this master plan does not advocate removing any mature healthy trees, it is understood that all trees have a life span and that over time existing trees will need to be replaced when they become hazardous or simply reach the end of their lives…”

Green Loop shown in Master Plan

Ironically, the Parks Bureau contends that the bike lanes fall within the right-of-way of S.W Park Avenue West, and thus do not impinge on the park’s dimensions.  However, the current blocks measure 124 feet wide; if the Parks Bureau is correct about the right-of-way, then big trees and grass have lived there for many, many decades.

“There is a striking difference between what the Master Plan says narratively and what it entails,” according to the citizen’s report.  “The plan works to convince the reader that trees will not be removed but in fact the plan will hasten their demise in multiple ways.”  The plan's long-range vision would remove most of the central aisle of trees on several blocks. 

Drawing by William J. Hawkins III shows bike lanes in red; blue dotted line is how the Parks Bureau interprets the park's boundaries.   Black line shows current boundaries. 

The Master Plan does not specify a new planting plan, but urges the addition of at least some conifers that would infringe on winter-time sunlight in the park.

The blocks were planted in 1877 with five axial rows of deciduous trees, mostly elms.  The plantings created a “cathedral” of trees over grass and pathways for pedestrians.  The plan created view corridors between the rows; offered a canopy of shade in the summer and more daylight during winter. The simplicity of its design and the flexibility of activities the design allows have been long-cherished. 

Another sticking point is a proposal to add an architectural canopy over a block that sits within the Portland State University campus.  The canopy would require removal of many trees.  PSU originally welcomed the Park Blocks as welcome green space for its dense urban campus, but now the university seems intent on using the blocks for its own purposes.

“Whose park is it?” asks Wendy Rahm, land-use chair for the Downtown Neighborhood Association.  “Is it the peoples’ park or is it PSU’s?”  She said one good improvement in the Master Plan is a triangular part of one block near the Native American Student & Community Center that would be planted with native plants selected by indigenous people. 

 Members of the concerned citizens who oppose the plan include former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg; David Judd, a former deputy director of the Parks Bureau; Stephen Kafoury, a former state representative, state senator and Portland School Board member; William J. Hawkins III, architect and park historian; Kit Hawkins; Rahm, and Walter Weyler, Downtown Neighborhood Association president.

 Citizens who wish to save the South Park Blocks are encouraged to write to the Portland mayor and city commissioners.  Their email address and street addresses are below.  Citizens should submit their own reasons for opposing the Master Plan. 

 People writing should select their own reasons for opposing the plan.  OFFICALS UNDERSTANDABLY DISCOUNT BOILERPLATE LETTERS.  Writers could include one or more of the following reasons, or create their own:

1) The park should retain its historic block widths of 124 feet and the deciduous tree scheme for the environmental and social benefits the park has represented for many decades.

2) It ain't broke, so don't try to fix it. There is no need to spend $20 million or $40 million to ruin a park that is beloved as it is.

3) The park was never intended to be a thoroughfare for vehicles of any kind.

4) Larger and noisier active uses are antithetical to the residential neighborhood that the city has encouraged along the park for at least 70 years.

5) Portland State University must restate its willingness to maintain the six blocks adjacent to its campus as green space intended for the use of all citizens, rather than being dominated by the university.

6) No “plan” for the park is acceptable without a detailed description and locations of new or additional trees to be planted. 

7) Planting conifers would add unnecessary shade in the winter and interfere with the historic north-south view corridors.

8) The plan should be suspended until a result is determined from a pending application to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Email addresses:

"Real" letters can be addressed to  council members at 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland, OR  97204

---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

A Spendy "Save" in Irvington


Many of us love our historic neighborhoods, but few of us have the knowledge or gumption to improve them.  One who does is contractor/designer John McCulloch, who has a deep understanding of Portland’s historic residential architecture.

In the past several years, McCulloch has purchased and restored several historic homes in Laurelhurst, Irvington and Lake Oswego.  His best-known project is likely the Markham house in Laurelhurst, which he saved from demolition after its proposed demolition had become grounds for public protests.

 McCulloch’s latest achievement is the complete remodel of a 1923 English cottage-style house in Irvington, shown above.  The rolled roofing at the eaves is a nod to historic English thatched roofs; the roof gables, under-sized dormers and multi-paned windows also are essential to the English cottage style.

When McCulloch bought the house, the attic was unfinished and many of the original details on the main floor had been removed.  Overall, the condition of the house was somewhere between poor and worse, according to a neighbor.  It offered McCulloch what amounted to a blank palette.

Given his understanding of historic interior design, someone walking inside today won’t realize that the interior is new from the bare studs.  Upstairs, McCulloch added additional bedrooms (one with skylights) and a bathroom.

You can see details of the project here:

 As one can tell from the price tag and his earlier projects, McCulloch is renovating elegant homes for high-end buyers.  By adding a sunken firepit, a deck and seating for an outdoor theater, McCulloch has turned this house into far more of a show  place than it was ever intended to be.  But by saving the original envelope and adding many interesting and even amazing details, he likely has added many decades of successful life to a highly worthy residence.   

While work was in progress.  Retaining wall and fencing are new. 

McCulloch puts  a lot of thought into his renovation decisions. In this case, he even explored the possibility of a real thatched roof.  Given the overwhelming expense, he opted for hand-shaped cedar shingles, instead.  The empty attic offered him several interesting design options to please adults and children.  He shares many of his ideas in a video here:

It is important to realize that McCulloch knows more about housing issues than restoring high-end homes.  He also has been working on projects concerning housing affordability and homelessness.  He calls his approach the “sharewell model,” in which existing houses are purchased and renovated to house about five people who share a common issue.  The tenants would pay rents far below average, while having access to group meetings and mentors to help them try to succeed.

 The solution to houselessness, he says, is one that public officials never seem to understand: The most affordable housing is housing that already exists. 

 McCulloch paid for a bungalow in Lake Oswego to house single mothers.  He hoped to generate revenue to buy more houses with money from people with retirement accounts in search of investments that have public benefits.  He told me recently that COVID has slowed his recruiting for sharewell donors.

 He said the concept of shared “micro communities” is a better solution than large housing projects that can become centers for crime and drugs because the only shared issue is poverty.  The shared concerns in micro communities, he said, encourage residents to “help each other succeed.”

It is rare, indeed, to find a developer actively working at both ends of the affordability spectrum.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Old Blanchet House: Soon To Be Gone?


Old Blanchet House, right

With little warning, Portland’s hardy band of architectural preservationists finds itself facing the nasty echo of a battle that was lost on the same Portland block 11 years ago – involving the same cast of characters.

The building at risk is the old Blanchet House of Hospitality, which a leading preservation advocate admits is a “sad and ugly little building that presents a great challenge.”

Unimpressive as it may be, the little three-story building that dates to approximately 1906 is a contributing element  in the New Chinatown-Japantown National Historic District – and the last one remaining on the its block.  If it is scraped away, the block could be removed from the district and would be a potential blow to the viability of the whole district’s historical designation.

The Blanchet House, a social service agency that provides free meals to the impoverished and works with people trying to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, moved into a new building on the same block in 2012.  That was after the City Council in 2010 approved demolition of the old Kiernan Building – better known most recently as the Dirty Duck Tavern – to make way the new Blanchet House.

It was clear in 2010 that the old Blanchet House was in jeopardy.  Now, still under Blanchet House ownership, the non-profit agency has applied for permission to demolish it. 

Blanchet’s request is unusual.  The usual procedure when the City Council is asked to demolish a historic building is to compare the virtues of the historic resource against the virtues of the proposed new use.  That method was followed when the Dirty Duck was demolished in favor of the new Blanchet House.

But this time, the Blanchet House has not proposed a new use.  It claims that demolition is appropriate because the old building has no viable economic value.

During the past decade, Prosper Portland – the city development agency known earlier as the Portland Development Commission – was supposed to be considering new potential uses for the old Blanchet, since it had put together a deal to obtain the new Blanchet site.  Alas, nothing has happened.

Peggy Moretti, the former executive director of Restore Oregon, said there is no desire to cast aspersions on Blanchet House, since its human services are valued by the neighborhood and city.

But she said scraping the building does a disservice to its historic value and importance.  “It is one of the rare buildings with great significance to the AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community,” she said.  “It should be respected better than it has been.”

Given the recent surge in interest in America's multicultural heritage. Moretti said preservation needs to be about more than "pretty buildings" and reflect cultural history.  As mentioned earlier, the old Blanchet House is not a special architectural gem.

The building was operated as the Yamaguchi Hotel until 1931, and later as another hotel with other ground-floor used.  For many years it was used by a prominent Japanese midwife.

Blanchet House acquired the building in 1952 and used it to serve meals and house some tenants undergoing drug and alcohol rehab.  It was one of a few so-called “soup kitchens” in the neighborhood where eaters lined up around the block for free meals.

New Blanchet House, left; old Blanchet House, right

Otherwise, the number of diners served and people housed is roughly the same as in the old building.  The new building includes interior waiting space to eliminate the appearance of lines.

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will hear testimony on June 14 with a goal of making a recommendation on the demolition permit to the City Council.  The council could consider the case as early as June 30.

In the meantime, Rick Michaelson, one of Portland’s foremost preservation advocates and historic building renovators, has suggested asking for a six month delay on the demolition request, and urging  Prosper Portland to find creative alternatives.

Moretti said the goal is not to prevent new development on the block, but to find a way to reflect its cultural history.

  ------Fred Leeson

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

Windows, Windows.... (NOT Microsoft)


Irritated by drafts and sometimes smoky air infiltrating their widows, owners of a nice old home in Irvington thought their best option was to replace them with new top quality windows. 

To their surprise, the City of Portland said…not so fast.

Because the 114-year old home is in the Irvington Historic District, the city is fussy about swapping out windows in historic structures.  The concern is echoed in districts throughout the country because window sash sizes, shapes and depths contribute to the overall character of historic facades. 

The lesson here applies to almost any older house, whether it is in a historic district or not:  Repair in most cases is a cheaper, longer-lasting option than replacement.  This realization gets lost in the steady drumbeat of advertisements for replacement windows on many media platforms. 

 While we’re at it, we should say that the worst possibilities as replacements are the widely-advertised vinyl windows that often warp under prolonged sunshine exposure.

 The beauty of old windows is that they were made from old-growth timber that is no longer available.  A skilled window repair craftsperson can take old windows apart, splice in new wood for parts that may be rotted, and prepare the sash to accept new double-paned glass.

 “If they are pre-war windows, you can’t buy quality like that anymore,” said Kristen Minor, chair of the Portland Landmarks Commission. 

 Maya Foty, is a Landmarks Commission member and an architect who concentrates on preservation projects.  She said experience shows restoring  historic windows is often less expensive than buying replacements.  “It’s hard to argue that replacement gets you better quality,” she said.

 Another option available to homeowners wanting to improve window insulation and reduce drafts is an interior storm window that presses into place and seals the edges tightly with compression tubing.  These interior storms are invisible from the outside, thus preserving historic appearances.

 Preserve Montana, a preservation advocate in the state where weather is more severe than Western Oregon, recently reported the following on window replacements:

 Research has shown that homeowners never recoup the amount the amount of money spent on window replacement during their lifetime, and that the replacement windows do not last as long as the better built historic windows.

 “As any homeowner can attest, the seals on double-glazed windows can fail within 10 years of installation, resulting in condensation forming between the panes. Weatherstripping cracks off, leaving gaps around the window that allow cold air to blow in. And when is the last time you saw a window repair company that you could call to fix them? These windows were created with obsolescence in mind, unlike historic windows.”

 The discussion over repair versus replacement could well come before the Portland City Council this fall.  City agencies are trying to revamp Portland’s historic code regulations.  The Planning and Sustainability Commission in charge of recommending revisions tentatively has suggested much wider use of window replacements on buildings in historic districts.  

 During a work session with the planning commission, Minor, the landmarks chair, presented the case that repairs are usually less expensive and provide as good or better results.  She was disappointed in the Planning Commission's reaction.  “I just don’t think they got it,” she said.

 The owners of the house in Irvington apparently did get the message.  They have dropped their appeal that sought approval for the new replacements.

---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Going, Going....Gone (Sorry, Elmer)


For 90 years, this gabled, shingled building served as clubhouse for the Broadmoor Golf Course, an 18-hole public course on N.E. Columbia Boulevard.  The family-owned course closed for good last fall. The doors and windows were boarded up. 

Today, the site of the old clubhouse is bare earth.  Scraped.  Over and done. 

 The land is zoned both industrial and open space.  Eventually, the frontage on Columbia Boulevard will converted to some industrial use,, like an exciting parking lot for big trucks, or a tasteful concrete warehouse with no employees.  Meanwhile, the northern portion of the old golf course will be retained as wetlands.  The Columbia Slough is no longer an intimidating water hazard for middling golfers. 

  When the huge Amazon distribution building was erected on the site of the old Portland Meadows horse track, its developers had to compensate for the wetlands lost as part of that project; a portion of the former golf course fulfills that requirement.

 The Broadmoor clubhouse was one of the few buildings designed by Elmer Feig that was NOT an apartment building.  During the 1920s, a decade of fast growth in Portland, Feig designed at least 33 apartment buildings, most of which survive.   Some of them are among the interesting of his era. 

Technically, Feig never was a licensed architect.  He had studied architecture at the University of Oregon, and worked for the city as a plans inspector from 1922 to 1927.  He operated an architecture office in Portland until 1935, when the Depression had essentially closed the construction business.

Feig then moved to Orlando, Florida, where he worked as a construction supervisor.  He retired to Yamhill County in 1965, and died three years later.

 While none of Feig’s apartments are exact duplications, he had design elements that he used frequently.  He liked fireplaces and heavy brocaded plaster finishes in his lobbies, even if the fireplaces were only decorative.  He liked colorful Spanish tiles on lobby floors.  Apartments almost invariably had coved ceilings and brocaded plaster walls; kitchens had many built-in cupboards.

Here are a few of Feig’s interesting apartments:

 Aronson Court Apartments, 1930.  Romanesque arches and turret towers were intended to capture “old world charm.” 

Aronson lobby

The lobby has been maintained in original condition.  No matter if the weather is sunny or rainy, when people enter here they know they are in…a different place.


Zenabe Court Apartments, 1929.  Some of Feig’s designs were like paired boxes, with a deeply-recessed entry way.  He often used corded cast stone to surround doors or windows.  The candle-like decorations also occurred often.


The recessed lobby provides an elegant entry passage, but requires extra steps to get to a unit.

 Irving Manor, 1928.  One of Feig’s smaller buildings.  Many of his doorway designs with Romanesque arches were similar to this on his smaller apartments. 


Flanders Apartments, 1930.  One of his larger designs shows Feig’s preferred decorative ornaments.  Regrettably from a visual standpoint, the fire escapes had to be added later.

The Depression ended Feig's career as an apartment designer in Portland.  Now eight and nine decades later, many of the current tenants love his buildings.  His Broadmoor golf clubhouse, however, is history.

------Fred Leeson

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