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Saturday, April 17, 2021

One Year Done...Light a Candle


This month marks the anniversary of Building on History.  The blog began with the goal of encouraging interest in protecting Portland’s wonderful collection of vintage buildings and their role in our history and unique sense of place.

 Mission accomplished?  Journalists seldom learn about the impact, if any, of their work.  Sometimes they learn that public response is the opposite of what they had hoped. The intent here was to help people understand the texture that good old buildings provide to our community, in addition to economic and environmental benefits.   If nothing else, these articles have given your correspondent welcome opportunities to get out of his house during the pandemic to take pictures.  

 During the year, the blog page has been opened more than 50,000 times.  Some articles have been reprinted in the Oregonian and the Northwest Examiner.  I believe the blog also has prompted some media outlets to take their own look at issues raised here.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the most-read articles have been about buildings that are well recognized. The most popular one so far has been about the obvious decline of the Lloyd Center.  Other most-read articles were about the restoration of important neighborhood buildings such as the former Phoenix Pharmacy, conversion of the Metropolitan Community Church into a brewpub and restoration of the former Gordon’s Fireplace building.  Perhaps the latter three projects will encourage other businesses to see value and bottom-line benefits to saving architecturally-worthy buildings.

The year also included important plans for renovating the old Troy Laundry and the former Multnomah County Courthouse.  One hopes that the impressive preservation schemes can be carried out.  The same goes for the proposed expansion of the Anna Mann House property into a low-income housing project, expected to begin later this year. 

 A few readers have submitted suggestions for buildings to write about.  Ideas are always welcome.  Are these articles too long?  Too short?  Are there buildings you would like to see reviewed here?  You can reach me at

 An interesting list of topics awaits as Building on History enters its second year.  But first, let’s look at updates on subjects discussed previously:

 LLOYD CENTER:  Despite the growing number of vacant storefronts, owners of this large mall think it can still be saved as a retail center.  So far, they have shown no interest in converting it or reconfiguring it for other uses.

 MORRIS MARKS HOUSE:   Restoration of this Italianate wooden house from the 1800s that was moved to a new site has been completed and sold to a group of lawyers as an office.  This is a successful adaptation to a new use, and should preserve this elegant structure for many years ahead.

 CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY CAMPUS: Vacant since its sudden closure last year, this Northeast Portland small-college campus ostensibly will be put up for auction in June.  However, since it is a considerable asset tied up in financial litigation over the college’s demise, it is unclear whether anyone will risk bidding on it.  Change to some other use other than as a campus would require a zoning change by the Portland City Council in a neighborhood that otherwise is strictly residential.

 HOTEL GRAND STARK: Renovation of the four-story former Schleiffer Furniture store on Southeast Grand Avenue has been completed.  The hotel is advertising for its first visitors as of May 1.

U.S. CUSTOM HOUSE: Our article questioning whether this grand early-20thCentury building could survive as a WeWork site given the problems raised by the pandemic and by WeWork’s own financial troubles may have proved sadly prescient.  The company has since said it will close either the Custom House or the Pioneer Place location as offices for small businesses and solo business practitioners.  One or the other will need to look for new tenancy. 

HENRY BUILDING: An excellent restoration of this six-story, quarter-block downtown building has been completed, and low-income tenants are moving in.  Great work by the skilled preservation team and by the owner, Central City Concern. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A Star Coming to Broadway?


N.E. 33rd and Broadway

At long last, renovation has started on 105-year old retail and manufacturing building in Northeast Portland, best known to the current generation as the former Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

Will the project become a hit on Broadway (3300 N.E. Broadway, that is)?

InterUrban Development, a Seattle-based firm with a history of working on historic buildings, hopes so.  Their plan calls for 8,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor with offices on two floors above.

The building has been vacant since the last tenant, Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, announced its closure and final sale in 2016.  Since then,   Gordon Malafouris, the store owner, had been at the Broadway location since 1990, after having operated several other outlets since 1960.  In addition to fireplace accoutrements, the well-known store included an eclectic mix of interior home products, including grandfather clocks and light fixtures.

As our two contemporary images indicate, the building has suffered extensively from vandalism and graffiti while planning has been proceeding.  The work will include earthquake bracing in addition to restoring the original facades.  Although clearly intended as an industrial building, it contains interest decorative brickwork atop the eight pilasters spaced along the primary frontage.

Southern Exposure

The building’s three stories have 18-foot ceilings, and expansive windows on the southern exposure that provide for extensive interior natural light.   Some of those windows on the ground floor were replaced with walls years ago.  An architect’s rendering (below) suggests the possibility of a penthouse being added, but recent word says it probably will be a roof-top deck, instead.

Why should we care about this project? First, the design and materials add texture to the neighborhood that likely could not be reproduced.  Second, it gives us a historical sense that life DID occur before us, and that we are just another step in history.  Third, the building provides a definite "sense of place" that separates N.E. 33rd and Broadway from anywhere else in town. 

Oregon Home Builders Inc. erected the structure in 1916 when the home-building market had been booming in the comparatively recent nearby high-end Alameda, Irvington and Laurelhurst neighborhoods.  The building also has been known for years as the “aircraft factory” because it was used for construction of wood-and-canvas airplane wings and pontoons used by World War I aircraft.

Oddly, Oregon Home Builders went bankrupt soon after the war.  The building housed a furniture store for many years before Gordon’s moved in.  The upper floors have been used mostly as warehouse space.

InterUrban Development operates in Seattle, Portland and Spokane.  Its major Portland projects include renovation of the former YMCA building near Duniway Park into the corporate office of the Under Armour sports apparel firm, and creation of the Pine Street Market in an 1886 building downtown.  (Old-timers will remember that building as home of the original Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant from 1969 to 1984.)  

A successful project would add new life to a stretch of Northeast Broadway that has seen turnover among tenants in recent years and a long-vacant fast-food property looking for a buyer.  The pandemic may well have an impact on demand for office space if employers retain the concept of more employees working from home.

Penthouse doubtful (InterUrban Development) 

One must hope, however, that the pandemic is long gone once this building is ready for new life.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Historic Gem Waiting, Waiting....

Bank of California

 People who care about Portland’s architectural history frequently see a significant building that needs  preservation or a new use – or both.

Thus we hear from Portland historian Dan Haneckow whose attention is drawn to the 1925 Bank of California building designed by A.E. Doyle.  The three-story, Italian Renaissance palace was erected late in Doyle’s career, probably when his life already was threatened by the kidney disease that took his life in 1928.

 “It’s a conundrum; a beautiful building, long vacant, in an area with little need for a bank,” Haneckow notes.  “It looks like it would be a great space, but for what?  Every time I walk past it I consider the problem but as of yet, have not come up with a solution.”

Nor has anyone else, sadly, in the last 15 years or so since its last tenant moved out.  The Bank of California departed for a new tower in 1969.  Subsequent tenants included insurance and brokerage houses.  At some point, the name "Three Kings" was placed over the original bank sign.  A polite notice  in the window says the building is for sale or lease, should you be interested.

The renaissance palace concept obviously had a strong hold in Doyle’s mind at the time.  The Bank of California was followed quickly by the much larger Pacific Building which remains a vibrant office and retail venue downtown.  The 10th story penthouse at the Pacific Building also served as Doyle’s last architecture office, although his failing health restricted his activity there.

The Bank of California sits in an interesting position, directly across the street from Doyle’s Roman Corinthian temple he designed earlier for U.S. National Bank.  Each of them, and the two together, rank among the city’s best examples of architecture reflecting historical styles.

U.S. National Bank

Both were built in an era when a bank was intended to impart feelings of culture and financial strength for customers entering to make important transactions.  Now we do business on electronic gadgets in our pockets or purses.

Although the Bank of California looks like it is faced with stone, the material is terra cotta, a molded clay product that is fired at length at high temperature.  Doyle loved terra cotta, and used it in many of the 20 buildings he designed downtown, including retail stores that old-timers will recall as Meier & Frank, Lipman-Wolfe & Co., and Olds, Wortman & King.

One beauty of terra cotta is that it survives well in a wet climate like Portland’s.  Another is that glazes can be selected for certain colors.  Both attributes are showcased at these two buildings straddling S.W. 6th Avenue.

 Despite its prolonged vacancy, the Bank of California has some assets that have served it well.  Its tall, strong Florentine arches resist temptations for cheap, easy changes to the facades.  The elegant, two-story banking lobby also has survived intact.

 Another survival benefit has been its ownership by a firm headed by Fariborz Maseeh, a successful high-tech entrepreneur who has been a major donor at Portland State University.  Though long vacant, the building appears to be in good condition.

Speaking about the building in 2006, William J. Hawkins, a Portland architect and architectural historian, told a news reporter, "It's an exceptionally fine building by Doyle.  It set a high standard for Portland design for decades."

 One hopes that somewhere, someday, a new tenant once again will make good use of this architectural gem.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Harry Green House (Part 2)


Standing as a monument to the Roaring Twenties when it was designed and built, the impressive Harry and Ada Green mansion on the edge of Laurelhurst Park and its short list of owners have seen the same ups-and-downs common to the larger society.

Green, who had become the second president of the 1000-employee Doernbecher Furniture Manufacturing Co. in the 1920s, bought the oversized lot next to the impressive brick home of former mayor H. Russell Albee and recruited architect Herman Brookman to design a mansion.

“The Harry A. and Ada Green House was commissioned in 1927 on the heels of the Frank Estate and by a wealthy social climber,” states the mansion’s submission to the National Register of Historic Places.  “The house is one of few that falls into the early revival period of Brookman's work, as the stock market crash of 1929 brought the lavish spending of the 1920s to an end. It is the only design of that period to fully explore the Spanish, Mediterranean, and African influences during the height of the Spanish revival craze that was fueled by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 --- which brought the architecture of Southern California, Mexico, Spain, and Italy, as well as Muslim details to national attention…”

It was a busy time for Brookman, who had been recruited from New York to design a lavish estate for M. Lloyd Frank in the Southwest Hills.  At the same time, he was working with other leading Portland architects on Temple Beth Israel, the Northwest Portland synagogue that truly ranks as one of Portland’s finest buildings.

The Green house and landscaping cost $430,000, which an inflation calculator says would be about $6.5 million today.  The Greens, who had been married as teenagers in 1909, moved in with six servants.

How long they enjoyed their grand residence is hard to say.  In 1950, Ada Green sued for divorce, claiming alcohol and drug abuse by her husband.  There were times, she said in court, when he locked her out of the house.  The number of servants had declined from six to three.  Harry Green, who was removed as president from the Doernbecher firm the same year, did not contest the divorce.

A judge ordered payment of $320,000 to Ada Green and half of the house, then valued at $400,000.  Newspapers described it as the largest divorce settlement in Oregon to that date.

Waiting to buy the mansion was Robert Bitar, a native of Lebanon who had come to Oregon as a teenager.  He and his brother, Frank, opened a grocery store and Robert delivered groceries by bicycle to the Greens, and he vowed someday to own it.   The two men later branched into construction and real estate development.

 The Bitar ownership lasting until 2000 marked good years far for the house, which soon became known as the Bitar mansion.  Robert Bitar became an honorary counsel for Lebanon in 1957, and the basement ballroom was used for many quasi-diplomatic events.  The family remodeled the kitchen twice during those years, and learned to manage the mansion without servants.  The house was a popular site for children on Halloween, because of the generous treats given by the Bitars. 

(National Register)

 Robert Bitar died in 2000 and it was clear the family would not retain the house.  A small contingent in the Laurelhurst neighborhood hoped the city would buy it as an event location, but the suggestion generated no traction.  The mansion was finally sold in 2006 to its third owner.  Trouble awaited. 

 “The first decade of the twenty-first century brought the greatest changes to the property as the third owners began some repairs and remodels including removal of the garage doors, refinishing of the pool, repairs to patio roof beams (locations unknown) and stucco, refinishing of the wood floors throughout, and electrical upgrades,” the National Register registration says.  “The kitchen was gutted, but the remodel was never finished and ultimately the property was left to neglect and vandalism. Many of the plantings and site features such as fountains also fell into disrepair during this period.”

 After five years and disputes with neighbors, the third owners gave up and allowed the mansion to go into foreclosure.  While the house was empty, the Architectural Heritage Center included it on a home tour in 2011.  The kitchen was down to the studs and light fixtures were missing.

Even so, the grandeur of the house (and its tiled bathrooms) was unmistakable.  “It looks like a movie setting,” one visitor said.

At present, the house is being carefully restored by Karla Pearlstein, a historic preservation consultant.  Its future use is yet to be determined.  It is zoned for single family use.  Converting it to a bed-and-breakfast or some other commercial use, possibly as an event center, would require a conditional use permit from the city.  

Of course, nothing would prevent it from once again being a single-family residence.  For a family with means....

Pool and bathhouse





Saturday, March 20, 2021

Harry Green House (Part 1)


Front Entrance

After years of vacancy, decline, intentional plundering and threat of demolition, one of East Portland’s largest and most luxurious mansions is undergoing what appears to be a deliberate, careful restoration.

 Originally known as the Harry and Ada Green House, this 17-room architectural confection comprises just over 10,000 square feet.  It perches on the northern edge of Laurelhurst Park on a sloping parcel seven times the size of a standard Portland residential lot.

The walls are stucco; the roof, tiled.  There are five brick chimneys and a towered dome over the central entrance, encountered after one passes through an ornate wrought iron entrance gate.  There is a semi-circular bath house and swimming pool.  The architectural style is called Mediterranean Revival or Spanish Eclectic.  Or, if you like, some combination of both. 

Completed in 1928, the impressive two-story structure with a basement ballroom is a reflection of the wealth and celebration of the Roaring 20s, which were soon to end.  As an example of the opulent era, three bedrooms were assigned to servants.

 The house was designed by Herman Brookman for Green, who was the second chief executive of Doernbecher Furniture Manufacturing Co., one of the largest furniture companies in America.  Its massive factory was located near N.E. 28th and Sandy Boulevard, less than a mile away from Green’s new home.

Brookman had been recruited to Portland from New York earlier in the decade to design a massive, English-inspired mansion for M. Lloyd Frank, which bore the name of Fir Acres.  The Lloyd mansion was an instant hit with Portland’s wealthy class; most of Brookman’s career became devoted to residential architecture.   Today the well-preserved Fir Acres is a part of the campus at Lewis & Clark College.

 Brookman’s Spanish/Mediterranean influence for Green’s mansion presumably came from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  The exhibition buildings prompted new interests by architects in an era when revival of historical models motivated designs of many of the nation’s fanciest homes and buildings.

 “Every detail was carefully designed by Brookman -- from the overall form and massing of the building to the highly crafted interiors and detailed site design,” says National Register of Historic Places submission written by Carin Carlson, a Portland preservation architect, in 2013.  “Specialty craftsmen - such as metal artist Iohann Konrad Tuerck -- were commissioned for the elaborate wrought-iron work, wood carvings, stone and plaster castings, and light fixtures. Unique to this particular residence are the exotic details - including imported African faience tiles, Egyptian shell, leaf, and flower motifs, and Moorish patterns and forms.”

(National Register submission form)

 While decorative tile appears frequently both inside the Green house and on the exterior, the most memorable tiling is in the bathrooms.  The colors are dramatic, vivid and unforgettable.

 Fortunately, Brookman’s detail sketches and drawings have been preserved at the University of Oregon’s architecture library.  They will prove invaluable as the careful restoration work continues.  Fortunately, much of the bathroom tiles appear to be in good condition.

The history inside the Green house is not always pleasant.  We will speak more about that next week.  Suffice to say, after two ownerships the house in 2006 was acquired by a third owner who was not able to repair the house.  The kitchen was stripped to the studs and original light fixtures and hardware were sold.  By 2011, the ailing building became subject to foreclosure.

 The current owner is a limited liability company managed by Karla Pearlstein, a Portland historic preservation consultant with a history of careful, well-researched and detailed restoration projects.  She spent several years restoring the Italianate home of Gov. George Curry, Oregon’s last provisional governor before statehood.  Long before Pearlstein’s ownership, the house, which had been built in 1861, had been moved to the Multnomah neighborhood.

 In a subsequent major project, Pearlstein remodeled an early 20th-century firehouse in Northwest Portland into an interesting residence that attracted coverage by the Oregonian newspaper and won a restoration award from Restore Oregon in 2019.

 As with any thorough restoration, basics should be dealt with first.  City of Portland records reflect permits for mechanical, plumbing and electrical work at the Green house.  Repairs have been made to the roof. 

 The interesting work that lies ahead will be finding appropriate wall papers and lighting as Pearlstein tries to recapture the mansion’s original character.  Herman Brookman’s detailed notes and sketched likely will play an important role as that work unfolds.

Back door facing Laurelhurst Park

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Laurelhurst Club


A Craftsman-era building in the Laurelhurst neighborhood with an interesting pedigree could be headed to a new future if the owner can find the right person to attract and manage events.

 The Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association recently took possession of the Laurelhurst Club near the northeast corner of Laurelhurst Park with the hope of returning it to its roots as a community center – and earning enough income to manage upkeep of the building erected in 1914.

 The building was originally funded by subscriptions from homeowners in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, then one of the fanciest developments on Portland’s east side.  Fundraising and development of the club occurred simultaneously with planning for Laurelhurst Elementary School and with completion of amenities in the landmark Laurelhurst Park.

 Newspaper articles from the era suggest that the original construction budget would be $14,000, but that number rose to $20,000 and then to $25,000 by the time it was finished in December, 1914.  Proponents talked about a community center as grand as the Multnomah Athletic Club, but in the end of the result was considerably smaller and offered fewer facilities than the MAC with its region-wide clientele. 

 However, the same architectural firm, Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, designed both clubs.  The architecture firm was one of the city’s most prominent of the era, designing Jefferson High School and the original Lincoln High School, which now serves as Lincoln Hall at Portland State University.

 The firm also was well-plugged in to Portland’s social circles.  Its other work included the University Club, Waverly County Club and the city’s Eastmoreland golf club.  The Laurelhurst Club comprises a ballroom and small stage under an open-trussed roof, with a few smaller meeting rooms in a wing at the rear of the lot.

  Photographs indicate that the ballroom was a later addition, but it blends nicely with the original structure.  From a preservationist’s perspective, the building unfortunately was wrapped at some point in vinyl siding but that is not an irreversible harm.

 The club opened with festivities on New Year’s Eve, 1914.  The Oregonian reported, “The big fireplace at the end of the hall gives a hospitable appearance.  The furnishings are in perfect taste.  The decorations for the opening night were greens and holly.”

 The club originally included tennis courts, but those later gave way to residences.  A landscaped side yard on the west makes an attractive location for parties and outdoor events. By the 1930s, neighborhood interest waned in the community center, and it was taken over by a group promoting dances and dance lessons.  The pandemic shut down dance operations, and the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association agreed to take possession.

 As the neighborhood association looks for a manager, one can think of many opportunities for the building.  The formal dances are expected to return, and the ballroom could be a good venue for tango and contra dancing.  Small music and drama groups might be recruited as well.  Smaller rooms might work for meetings, daycare or a preschool, and the building and side yard are attractive for weddings and parties in good weather.

 One hopes that this historic building sits on the cusp of new life, new activities and community success.


Friday, March 5, 2021

Is This the Look of a New Burnside Bridge?

Two conceptual views of an "unbalanced" Burnside Bridge show the cable supported option, above, and the tied arch. (HDR)

 Unbalanced. Asymmetrical.  Funky?

An advisory discussion by members of the Portland Design Commission and the Historical Landmarks Commission suggests that a new Burnside Bridge should be divided into three parts, and look unlike any other bridge spanning the Willamette River.

The 650 feet at the east end likely will be supported by two towers with cable supports or a tied arch.    The center of the bridge would have a bascule mechanisms based within two piers extending deep into the river bed.  The western portion of the bridge would consist of a truss structure positioned under the surface deck, thus keeping views unobstructed for west-bound travelers heading into the Skidmore-Old Town Historic District.

Members of the two commissions reached a tentative consensus on a three-part bridge based on unstable soils on the east side and the disparate urban environments on the river’s two sides.

“You are entering two different worlds,” said Don Vallaster, an architect on the design commission.  While the west side has a largely 19th Century feel with its old historic buildings, the east side has become modern, angular, tall and glassy. 

 “This is an asymmetrical context,” said Andrew Smith, an architect on the landmarks commission.  “It almost seems like an asymmetrical design is needed.”

 Brian McCarter, a landscape architect on the design commission, said bridges typically are designed to be balanced, rising to a structural peak at the center.  But here, the geography and the presence of railroad tracks and the freeway on the east side mitigate against a single balanced structure.  “It’s a real struggle to make a single beautiful composition out of the whole thing.”

 A similar “unbalanced” design could be accomplished with a tied arch at the east end, looking like a smaller version of the Fremont Bridge.  Members of the two commissions said they preferred the cable supported concept, where the two towers would be landmarks signaling entry to the east side.

The Burnside Bridge was identified by regional officials in 1996 as the primary emergency route connecting 19 miles of city streets in case of a major earthquake.  Several other bridges are expected to suffer serious damage or route obstructions in a magnitude-9 quake.  The existing Burnside Bridge is expected to collapse at that magnitude.

 “I love this bridge,” Drahota said of the current Burnside. “We tried our hardest to keep it.”  But he said studies showed too many problems for a retrofit to work.

Yet for bridge designers, the bridge needs to be more than a passage for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.  They want it to represent the heart of Portland and the vital dividing line among four city quadrants.  And they would be pleased if it can be attractive enough to draw favorable attention as a landmark and even be a draw for tourists. 

 All designs showed at the March 4 hearing were conceptual in nature rather than detailed.  Steve Drahota, technical leader for the HDR consulting team, said he would bring three-dimensional renderings to a future meeting.

 Julie Livingston, the design commission chair, said the three dimensional studies would give the panels a better view of bridge views from all angles.  Drahota said public comments on the conceptual drawings so far are heavily split between the cable supported approach and the tied arch.  A final bridge design is supposed to be made by City of Portland and Multnomah County officials in the coming summer.

  A funding package has yet to be identified for the project.  In theory, the new bridge is to be finished by the end of this decade.


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Another New Project in the East Portland Historic District


Arcoa additions seen from SE 7th and Yamhill (Ink:Built Architecture)

For 25 years or so, little seemed to change in Portland’s least known National Historic District that includes about 20 blocks along a spine of Southeast Grand Avenue.

Now pandemic nowithstanding, the East Portland Grand Avenue Historic District is buzzing with renovations and plans for major new buildings.  New buildings are not designed to not look ersatz “old” but are intended to fit the context of the district by taking design cues from nearby historic buildings.

 The latest is an eight-story addition to the Arcoa Building (originally built in 1907 and operated as the U.S. Laundry) at 1006 S.E. Grand Ave.  Plans approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission show what will appear to be three buildings but in fact are all tied into one – as well as being tied into the Arcoa Building.

 One must look at the image above to see what’s happening.  What looks like two buildings with separate entrances and retail spaces will face on S.E. 7th Ave.  One will look like eight stories and the other will look like seven stories with a penthouse.  This is actually one building with six floors of apartments and the eighth floor being offices.  An entry will be off Yamhill Street for 31 ground-floor parking spaces tucked inside.

Arcoa Building, left, with sidecar (Ink:Built Architecture)

Through the block on Grand, a two-story “sidecar” building will abut the Arcoa and provide access to the upper floors of the Arcoa.  At the same time, it is tied to the eight-story structure immediately behind the sidecar.

 If this sounds complicated, so too was the design.  Ink Built Architects held two advisory meetings with the landmarks commission, followed by two formal hearings to wrestle through the many options for exterior design, materials, colors and windows. 

 Like the new Grand Belmont apartments on the adjacent block (see below) the Arcoa additions will increase housing units in a district that formerly was dominated by commercial and industrial uses.  More housing will be added, too, by a new building that will adjoin the remodeled historic Troy Laundry building in a project described on this blog last August.  Another major eight-story office addition to the historic district, the Flatworks Building, was approved last September but construction has yet to start.


Grand Belmont Apartments, left, Arcoa Building right

Now, after a delay due to the pandemic, renovation is continuing rapidly at the former Gayosa/Chamberlain/Schleifer building that is being substantially remodeled into a boutique hotel.

 Substantial work remains to be completed inside the French Second Empire building erected in 1907, but the exterior is largely finished.  A tall blade sign, Hotel Grand Stark, was installed recently.   A portion of the former Schleifer furniture sign that was finally removed sits on the sidewalk in the image below.  The Schleifer store used the former hotel from 1936 until 2016.

Hotel Grand Stark

All three of the structures shown above have ground-floor spaces intended for commercial uses or restaurants.  It will take survival of the pandemic to determine whether the buildings are successful in attracting tenants that could add vibrancy to the historic district.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Good News at the Henry Building


A six story historic building that glistens like no other in downtown Portland will keep shining for another century and provide 173 units of much-needed low-income housing thanks to a $37 million renovation.

Completion of the work is a “win” in many ways: renewed life for a notable downtown building,  preservation of several elements of historic internal fabric, and safe, secure housing for a population in dire need. 

 The Henry Building at 309 S.W. Fourth Ave. was built in 1909 by a successful real estate investor, Charles K. Henry, who also helped develop the massive Multnomah Hotel and the ground-breaking Laurelhurst neighborhood laid out by the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape architects.  The building originally had a bank and retail shops on the ground floor, a barbershop in the basement and five stories of offices above.

 Today the shiny white building is owned by Central City Concern, a social service agency that provides housing and access to medical and other assistance for low-income tenants.  Central City has an admirable record for restoring vintage buildings in Portland and outfitting them for new uses accommodating social services.

 Central City took over the building in 1990 after a renovation created 153-low income housing units in what had been a vacant and seriously deteriorated office building.  The more extensive second renovation managed to add 20 more units, while retaining significant historic elements, and adding seismic bracing towers and two new elevators.  Funding came from a stew of sources including the Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services, U.S. Bank  and federal historic preservation tax credits.

National Register Form

The Henry Building stands out for its two shiny white facades facing on S.W. Fourth and Oak Street.   Portland has several nice cream-colored terra cotta buildings from the early decades of the 20th Century, but the Henry is brighter yet.  At the developer’s insistence, the design included “Tiffany enameled” brick with blue geometric designs on spandrels on three floors.

 The enameled bricks were manufactured in a process requiring two firings.  Pressed bricks were first fired, allowed to cool, then layered with enamel and then fired again at high temperatures.  Charles Henry had seen the bright white bricks in 1908 on a building in Denver, where the bricks were manufactured.

 When the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the nomination suggested that the Henry Building was the only one between Portland and Denver to use the enameled bricks.

The Henry Building was designed by Francis J. Berndt, who practiced in Portland only from 1907 until his death in 1910.  The building is considered to represent the Chicago School of architecture, a movement that minimized historic architectural details and let the facades reflect their inner-steel framework.  In 1909, steel framing was still in its first decade in Portand.  Bays of three double-hung windows also were common to the Chicago School.  The design also has an internal atrium above the ground floor intended to allow more natural light.

 SERA Architects of Portland, a firm with a track record of working on historic preservation projects, led the intricate project.  Historic elements saved or recreated included hexagonal tiles on hallway floors, the internal cast-iron stairway and the original bank’s large, heavy vault. 

 As a result of the work, the Henry should stand literally for many years as a shining example of good preservation and valuable public service.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Revisiting the Rayworth House


It is almost eight years since Roy and Kim Fox, hosting a wine party with kindred preservation spirits, first heard about a vacant 1890 house in the Boise neighborhood that a developer wanted to tear down.

It was one of many in a rash of teardowns of smaller, older houses that is continuing to this day.  “You guys should save the Rayworth house,” someone said.

 Kim Fox went first.  “It’s kind of cute,” she told her husband.  It was a small Victorian cottage, probably like hundreds that once graced Portland.  Given time and changes in housing sizes, few like it  remain today.  Once the home of Edwin Rayworth, a professional wallpaper hanger, the house was in poor condition inside and out.

 For a while, a Boise resident planned to move the house and save it, but that plan fell through.  The clock was ticking, allowed only by the patience of the prospective developer.  Four months after they had looked it, Roy and Kim Fox were next in line.

Moving a house in Portland is difficult because there are few available vacant lots.  The longer the trip, the greater the cost.  The Foxes found a property owner who had one house on a double lot who was willing to sell the empty yard.  

 As a result, they succeeded in moving the house two miles north to the Piedmont neighborhood but not until they prevailed in the Great Tree Fight.  The city’s urban forestry manager wanted to deny the move on grounds that the move would damage some tree canopy along the way.  In time, it took insistence from Mayor Charlie Hales to allow the move.

 “Ninety-five percent of the city staff really busted their butts for us,” Roy says.  He compliments the Portland Bureau of Transportation which had to approve the route and the Bureau of Development Services, which allowed permits for an oversized lot that was being halved. 

In its original location

Given the construction boom at the time, the house sat on a lattice of timbers for most of a year until a foundation could be poured for a daylight basement.  The basement became an accessory dwelling below the old house.  The first tenant moved in in 2015, and since then the rest of the repair work has been funded by rent from the lower unit. 

 Today, work continues on the upper portion of the house.  Much of the work and painting has been done by volunteers recruited from websites that trade temporary housing for temporary help.  So far, Roy says more than 100 people have helped out, one way or another.  “Some of them know all about a table saw, and some know almost nothing,” he says.  “But everyone has contributed something.  We just love doing this. That is really the new story of the Rayworth house.” The result is a network of lasting friendships for the Foxes, with people from as far away as Australia and Ireland.

Roy says woodwork details will duplicate what’s missing in the house, and that vintage lighting has been acquired.  But though the Foxes are experienced ion exacting preservation work, they are not planning to replicate an historical 1890s kitchen or bathroom.  Of course, all plumbing and wiring has been replaced.

 One of the next projects is to work through layers of wallpaper to see to what extent any of them were historic and, if so, could be replicated.  Roy hypothesizes that the paper layers may well have come leftovers from Edwin Rayworth’s professional work, but there is no way of knowing for sure.

 Roy says the plan is to make the entry to the house look as original as possible with the woodwork, lighting and wallpaper.

Looking ahead, Roy says, “I can’t imagine selling the house.  We’ve put so much into it.”  When the right time comes, he said the next owner likely will be one of his two sons.

Today the Rayworth house sits proudly in a neighborhood composed mostly of 1920s bungalows.  Its distinctive architectural presence tells a story in itself.  Not as much, however, than if the building could actually talk.


What followed Rayworth in Boise 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Gresham Historical Museum

No one would ever confuse Gresham, Portland’s largest eastern suburb, as being a bastion of interesting historic architecture.  Still, the smallish English Tudor gem at 410 N. Main Ave. is worthy of celebrating for its past, its present and its future.

The 1913 brick building designed by one of Portland’s leading architects, Folger Johnson, started life as one of seven libraries in Multnomah County built with grants from the extremely wealthy steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie.   After the Gresham Public Library moved to larger and much less distinctive quarters, the old library was taken over in 1989 by the Gresham Historical Society, making it the Gresham Historical Museum.

 At just over 2300 square feet, the building is smaller than many houses.  But it is filled with interesting details from the patterned brickwork, elegant entry and interesting leaded windows designed to reflect the commercial insignias of major book publishers of the era.  Many of the bookshelves remain from the early library era.

 Fortunately for old building lovers, the Gresham society has done a good job maintaining the museum without seriously affecting its historical qualities.  The society had hoped to ramp up its public profile with the hire early last year of museum director Mark Moore, who is well-known in region’s realm of ephemera, antique collecting, streetcar history and pioneer steam equipment. 

 But the pandemic hit just as Moore took charge last March.  “COVID really put a damper on our events and activities,” he said.  “When this COVID thing is over, we plan for more events.” 

 Though the museum is not open at the moment, a visitor can get a good look at the Carnegie-inspired details from the exterior.  Carnegie delegated building designs to local architects, but his foundation offered general floorplans and included a few specific requirements.

 One of the requirements was for stairs leading to the front door – to give the impression of library visitors being “elevated” as they entered.  Another requirement was prominent electric lighting near the entrance, to give the feeling of enlightenment.  Carnegie provided money to build approximately 2500 libraries – including 31 in Oregon and seven in Multnomah County – but local communities had to provide the land, the staffing, the books and money for maintenance.

Another requirement was that the libraries had to be free to the public.  It was a major advance in the library world because many libraries were operated on subscriptions paid by users. 

 Carnegie, himself an immigrant from Scotland at age 13, placed his libraries in small towns and neighborhoods, rather than building large libraries in major cities.  He wanted his libraries to be used by immigrants learning English and for general education.

 Carnegie’s personal story is one of the Gilded Era’s great adventures in capitalism.  He started working in a bobbin factory in 1848 at age 13, then learned telegraphy and learned about railroads when the nation’s rail network was improving its bridges from wooden structures to steel.  He then ventured into steel manufacturing and leaned heavily on technological improvements and rigid management as his empire grew.

 He sold his steel business in 1901 and embarked on an aggressive philanthropic strategy to give away many of his riches.  He wrote an explanation called the “Gospel of Wealth” in 1889 in which he said exceptionally wealthy people had an obligation to use their funds to improve society.

 Folger Johnson, the architect for the Gresham library, also designed Carnegie libraries in St. Johns, Arleta and South Portland.  Other architects designed East Portland, North Portland and Albina.  Albina, St. Johns and North Portland remain as parts of the Multnomah County system, while Arleta and East Portland have been sold off for private offices.  The South Portland library is now a Portland Parks Bureau office. 

 Johnson, a native of Columbus, Georgia, had been trained at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris before coming to Portland in 1911.  He was one of Portland’s most skilled architects, whose career was stymied by the Great Depression.  His other notable buildings include the Portland Town Club, an exclusive women’s club, and the Albertina Kerr Nursery.  He also was a consultant on Benson Polytechnic High School.

 Once the current pandemic resolves, Moore hopes to build the cadre of museum volunteers and people willing to offer financial support.  The museum survives at present on donations and a portion of a tax levy shared by several historical societies in Multnomah County. 

 “I’d like to see us get on a steady financial footing so in 20 years down the road this place will still be here,” Moore said.  It is, after all, a beautiful piece of history.