Thursday, December 1, 2022

Revisiting Lloyd Center


To be snarky about it, one could suggest that visiting Lloyd Center is a good way to get out of the cold, rainy weather and to avoid the crush of holiday shopping crowds.

 What once was Portland’s largest and busiest shopping mall lost its last big magnet store two years ago.  Like the past two big shopping seasons, the 1.16-million square foot mall on three levels and lots of parking remains a hollow shell of its former self.  For many years after its opening in 1960, the mall was packed with shopers during the holiday rush.  No more. 

 Yes, the doors are still open.  Is it worth the trip?

One year ago, a major real estate property development and management firm, Urban Renaissance Group, took control of the 18-square block mall and announced that it planned to keep it as a retail and community center with its skating rink in the middle.

 Since then – there has been little word about its future.  Remaining tenants have said they have been told no plans, but have received some directives about staying open during morning hours when few shoppers are present.

 The largest remaining stores are Barnes & Noble, Ross Dress for Less and Forever 21, an apparel store appealing to young adults.  Macy’s, the last of several so-called “magnet” stores, pulled out after the 2020 holiday season.  Under the original mall concept, a few major retailers attracted most of the customers and smaller shops filled in the storefronts between them.


Join the crowd

There are a few new shops this season, including a magic store and a purveyor of comic books.  Other low-voltage uses have included a film festival that ran for a few days in vacant shops and a roller-skating event in one of the former big stores. 

Ironically, the shopping complex that once floated Portland’s retail boat may become the low-rent venue for “creative” new stores, much like run-down neighborhood commercial streets once did.  A key question facing Lloyd Center is whether the new small shops can attract a sustainable customer base without the attraction of large stores. 

 Security also will be a challenge.  Some retailers at Lloyd Center have expressed concern about security from shoplifters.  A few private security officers stroll around periodically, and the large stores appear to provide their own. 

 A broader question may involve the patience of the Urban Renaissance Group and its partner, the KKR Real Estate Finance Trust.  These a big-money enterprises and one wonders when they will start considering more lucrative opportunities for the big Northeast Portland urban site.  If they aren’t already….

----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 25, 2022

Exciting New Life at Yale Laundry


(Emerick Architects)

A pleasing restoration and lively new activity in Southeast Portland is headed for 800 S.E. 10th Ave., where a historic industrial laundry building will be renovated into a showplace for the celebration of Native American arts and culture.

 The Native Arts and Culture Foundation acquired the Yale Laundry building last year and is now starting on final designs for revitalization of the L-shaped building built in phases dating to 1909, 1927 and 1929.  Architects for the various phases are not yet known. 

 The most notable visual element of the building is the 1929 addition at the corner of 10th and S.E.  Belmont, where the new laundry office of that era was erected with an Egyptian Revival architectural theme.  The Egyptian motif was a popular in the late 1920s, thanks to new discoveries of ancient Egyptian ruins.  However, the decorations also celebrated the historic use of the building with cast-stone representations of workers doing various stages of the laundry process.

The foundation envisions the building as a place to encourage, display and sell Native American art and to produce events in a “black box” theater.  The theater’s entry will replace a garage door on the Belmont side that had been used for vehicle access.  The building also is expected to include a dining venue, as well as offices for the foundation that provides grants promoting Native American arts and culture.

“We are doing our best to retain as much as possible of the historic building,” Brendan Hart, an architect with Emerick Architects, told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.  The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the early 20th Century laundry industry.  The landmarks commission will review the renovation because of the building's historic designation.

 Between 1900 and the end of World War II, industrial laundries were heavily engaged in residential laundry as well as serving businesses such as hotels and restaurants.  Widespread introduction of home washing machines after the war led to the industry’s decline.

Art celebrating laundry workers (mostly women)

The Yale building followed a common thread of basements being used for generating steam that heated water and powered large washers.  The floors were built extra-study to hold the heavy equipment; large windows were common for available light. By coincidence, the former Troy Laundry building located a few blocks away is currently being renovated to become an athletic club.

Because the commercial laundry industry relied heavily on women who worked long hours in difficult conditions, it helped spawn laws in Oregon and many other states regulating hours and wages for women.  The rules were challenged by the owner of another Portland laundry company, but were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme court in Muller v. Oregon, 1908. 

 The Yale building also is interesting for an unusual reason.  It was built with a creek that runs through the basement.  According to preliminary plans, rain water will be routed from the roof to a courtyard and then to the stream in the basement.   “I hope there will be an opportunity to see the water, if that’s possible,” said Kristen Minor, the landmarks chair.  Native plans will adorn the courtyard.

 Emerick Architects will return with final plans for the landmarks commission at some future date.  Approval likely be speedy and enthusiastic. 

 At the end of an advisory meeting, landmarks commissioners were impressed by what they had seen.  “It’s an awesome project,” said Maya Foty.  “I’m loving this thing,” said another, Peggy Moretti.  “I’m really excited about this project,” added a third, Kimberly Moreland.

----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 18, 2022

Reimagining Jefferson High School

Architectural preservation clearly wasn’t a priority when Portland Public Schools remodeled Jefferson High School in the early 1950s.

 As the image above shows, the renovation sheared off  portions of the original roof, blew out mullioned windows, obliterated artistic architectural details, erased a balustrade, eliminated some arches and  scraped off decoration at the main entrance.

 Further, the addition of an all-weather running track funded with neighborhood support near the original northern front entrance means that primary entrance to the 1909 building is largely unusable, pushing normal access to the east and west ends.  The track and football field will remain in their present locations under any new plan.   

What remains is shown below.

 “I weep at what was done to it in the 1950s,” said Peggy Moretti, a member of the Portland Historical Landmarks Commission.  Still, keeping what’s left of the old building is important to the Jefferson neighborhood and alumni.

“People remember what it was when they went to high school,” said Matthew Roman, another landmarks commissioner.  “They want to go back to it.”   Given the passage of time, few Portlanders will remember the building’s original appearance.  One proposed option of tearing down everything on the site and starting over appears to be dead.  

The landmarks commission will have some jurisdiction over the major redesign of Jefferson now underway because the school is a contributing element of the Piedmont Conservation District.  

 The renovation project is the most difficult design challenge yet for the school district in its on-going renovation of Portland high schools.  The Jefferson campus is a hodgepodge of buildings added in 1928, 1953, 1954, 1964 and 1968 on a 13.56 acre site.  “All of these buildings are in various states of mild disrepair,” said Chandra Robinson, a principal of Lever Architecture, a firm working on the renovation plan.  Many of the additions no longer serve the purposes for which they were built.

 Architects and school district planners have held several community meetings about the Jefferson project.  As yet, however, there is no firm recommendation for what the plans will look like.  Robinson more details likely will be available for the landmarks commission next spring.  She estimated that construction would start in 2024.

Elements not likely to change include the original building, a gymnasium added in 1964 and the track and football field.  Many of the other buildings likely will be razed, to make way for new classrooms, science labs and performance spaces.

Robinson said the design will be intended for a student body of 1700.  Jefferson’s current enrollment is about 700.

 Suggestions from the landmarks commission about renovation of the 1909 building included looking for architectural details that may have been covered up instead of destroyed; adding some historic elements to the east and west entrances; possibly restoring a more original look to the north façade windows; making new additions more attractive to the facing neighborhood streets.  The commission also seemed to favor creation of an open courtyard south of the 1909 building.

 Sadly, restoration of the 1909 building will not achieve the preservationist’s goal of honoring design, materials and craftsmanship of a particular era.  As Robinson put it, the school district is not expecting to replace what has been gone for so long. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Adventure of Sir Francis Drake


We venture many leagues and a few centuries outside our normal preservation bailiwick to ponder just where it was that Sir Francis Drake stopped on the West Coast in 1579 to repair his ship, the Golden Hind. 

Our expedition is prompted by “Thunder Go North,” a fascinating historical, ethnographic and linguistic study published recently by Portland archeologist and anthropologist, Melissa Darby. Historians agree that Drake stopped for repairs during the first circumnavigation in which the commander survived the whole trip.  Drake described his stop as being at a  “fair & good” bay.  Californians like to think it was in Northern California, possibly at a location now called Drake’s Bay.

Darby’s message:  “Drake most likely was not in California waters at all.”  Her extensive research clearly suggests Drake’s stop was on the central Oregon coast, although Darby isn’t willing to “guess” exactly where. “I’m not willing to make the same mistake the Californians made by naming a single bay where there is no physical evidence,” she says.

 Much of California’s claim is based on the work, determined by Darby to be fraudulent, by a respected University of California history professor, Herbert Bolton. Bolton possessed a brass plate believed to be inscribed by Drake and posted at the bay where he stopped for repairs.  Many years after Bolton’s death, metallurgical study in 1977 proved that the plate was not authentic.

Darby’s evidence suggests that Bolton protected the plate from careful study during his lifetime, and prevented a University of California anthropologist, Zelia Nuttall, from publishing her evidence that Drake has sailed as far as the 48th parallel (northern Washington state) looking for the nonexistent Northwest Passage. Nuttall’s work also would have minimized California’s claim about a Drake landing.

According to Darby’s research, Bolton’s intellectual malfeasance bolstered his ego as being involved in prominent historical breakthroughs and drew attention and donations to the University of California.  She also suggests that a group of his supporters wanted to prove an early Caucasian influence in California history.

The contention that Drake’s “fair & good” bay was in Oregon is bolstered by descriptions from those on the Golden Hind about canoes used by the indigenous tribe, their houses, and diets and animals, all incompatible with Northern California tribes.  Darby’s work appears to be the most comprehensive analysis to date using ethnographic and linguistic evidence to try to place Drake’s landing.

The linguistic analysis brings us to “thunder go north,” a chant seemingly heard by the Drake mariners.  Darby’s research advises that the chant was used during thunderstorms by central Oregon coastal tribes urging thunder, the god of fish, to attack northern tribes less respectful of fish.  Cannons fired from the Golden Hind easily could have been construed as thunder.


Is this Whale Cove?  Map from 1595

Readers will note several references to Whale Cove, which was suggested ibn 1979 by a British engineer, Bob Ward.  The shape of the cove is similar to that shown in a map published 1595, and depth soundings indicate that a ship of the Golden Hind’s size could have entered it.  The cove also has a secluded beach where the vessel could have been laid sideways for caulking.

 The cove was heavily used by bootleggers during Prohibition importing alcohol from Canada.  While that proves the cove’s accessibility as certain times, it also means any potential evidence left from Drake’s visit could have been destroyed.

Darby recognizes Whale Cove as a likely spot for Drake’s stop, but she would desire an archeological search to look for physical proof.  Short of discovering Drake’s GPS, we must await conclusive evidence by other means.

 “Thunder Go North” can be purchased through the University of Utah Press.  Its pages carry the salt of the sea and the piece-by-piece evidentiary construction of a crime story.  Darby will sign copies at the Oregon Historical Society’s Holiday Cheer book sales event from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Oregon History Center.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Restoring the Elk Statue and Fountain


Orange pieces would be newly created

Potential return of the historic David Thompson elk statue and fountain has reached a significant new step with a proposal from the Portland Parks Foundation to repair the fountain and restore the historic landmark to its original location on S.W. Main Street.

The non-profit foundation’s “preferred alternative” also would restrict motor vehicles to the southern lane only on Main and allow pedestrians closer opportunities to observe the fountain.

 Alas, restoring the fountain and the street changes both carry price tags.  Restoring the fountain with a recirculating water pump is expected to cost about $900,000 and the street work another $640,000. 

 Randy Gragg, executive director of the parks foundation, hopes that a public and private fund-raising effort can reach the goal. He said the city has received about $750,000 from an insurance claim about the fountain damage, which occurred during public protests in 2020.

 Gragg said evidence suggests that the popular elk and fountain were never targets of the protests but suffered as “collateral damage.”

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will be presented evidence about the fountain restoration at a public hearing on Nov. 7. There is every reason to believe the commission will be supportive of the work, but there could be quibbles about the amount of granite that has to be replaced.


Cars and buses would use south lane; north lane for bikes and pedestrians

Fortunately, “new” granite can be obtained from the same quarry in Vermont as was used originally when the fountain was built in 1900.

 The fountain was donated to Portland by David P. Thompson, a former Portland mayor, school board president and successful businessman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.  “He had a pretty good track record for a man of his era,” Gragg said. “There are no real problems with him.” Four statues of U.S. presidents at various locations in Portland have been removed without legal approval given their comments or behaviors involving racism.

 A historical review as part of the parks foundation study showed that the elk was often the scene of public debates over the years over many issues. Gragg said it could again become a popular gathering spot as it sits between Lownsdale and Chapman Squares.

 Gragg said restoration of the statue and fountain could be a “unifying civic gesture” capable of achieving widespread interest and support.

 The fountain is composed of 50 pieces of granite, 18 of which need to be recreated, according to the foundation’s plan.  Many of the “new” pieces are among the largest.  For an accurate restoration, as many of the historic pieces should be used as possible.

 Ultimately, the Portland City Council will decide on replacing the fountain and to what extent street changes will occur. The council in May resolved unanimously to restore the elk and fountain, but budgetary consequences were not known at that time.

It took an outpouring emails to the city council (many inspired a a blog post published here) to achieve the council's attention. It was proof that the city's important historic fabric is indeed important to our memories and to our unique sense of place, and thus worthy of saving. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Renovating Nameless High School


(Portland Public Schools)

Many Portlanders would have trouble identifying the building above, erected in 1909.  Its Renaissance Revival architecture was rendered as "un-recognizable” in a recent study, following “modernization” in the 1950s. . 

But given a clue that the building’s address is 5210 N. Kerby Ave., people are more likely to say, “Oh, yes! That’s Nameless High School!”

For 110 years, Nameless High School was identified with American pioneer who wrote a historic document believed by some to be important to creeation of the United States. But because of other comportment, he is no longer deemed worthy of veneration.  A statue of his likeness was pulled down in 2020, and Portland Public Schools has announced that a new name will be provided.

Nameless High is now the latest of several any Portland high schools to be completely revamped and remodeled.  A preliminary plan suggests that the historic wing from 1909 will be saved and braced for earthquakes, while additions added in 1928, the 1950s and 1968, probably will be removed to make room for new construction. 

The current campus is a sad architectural mishmash. The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission is expected to hear a description of the remodeling plans on Nov. 14. Previous remodeling efforts at Grant, Roosevelt, Benson and Franklin High Schools have included considerable respect for their historic architecture.  One can hope for the same at Nameless.

Nameless High School today

The fact that renovation of Nameless High fell far down the school district’s renovation list is irritating to many neighbors.  They are inclined to believe that once again they were penalized by forces relating directly or indirectly to their melanin factor.  For decades, reprehensible public policies and real estate practices restricted areas where people of darker hues could purchase homes, and Nameless High was their neighborhood school.

On the other hand, as the school’s student population, as high as 2,000 in its earliest days but now dwindling near 700,  the renovation schedule may have been driven by achieving results for the largest number of students at the quickest pace. Preliminary plans suggest that the school's future population could climb as high as 1,700. 

As often occurs in populations ravaged by discrimination, sports offered a clear outlet for proving student achievement.  A quarterback at Nameless later won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player in 1962.  One of his teammates at Nameless starred in college and in the National Football League, where is honored on the Dallas Cowboy’s Ring of Fame.

Even as its student population declined, Nameless High continued to thrive in basketball, where its teams often handily defeated opponents from Portland’s larger high schools and sent a few players to the National Basketball Association.

In the 1980s, an outstanding teacher at Nameless created a creative dance program involving rigorous pre-professional training and choreography that has won wide acclaim.  Renovation of the school is expected to create new spaces for dance practice and performances, as well as new athletic facilities.

Of course, the planning and execution of the renovation plan is expected to take at least a  few years.  In the meantime, the school district will be trying to find a new name for Nameless.

 Here is a modest proposal in that regard from your Building on History host.  The school should be called Renfro-Baker High School.  If those names don’t ring a bell, you haven’t studied your Nameless High School history.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, October 20, 2022

Will Vandals Aways Win?


Gone But Not Forgotten

If you lived in Portland between 1927 and 2020, you likely will remember the tall sculpture of a pensive-looking President Abraham Lincoln in the South Park Blocks, shown above.

 Savor the memory.  It is unlikely to return.  The Lincoln statue, like those of Jefferson, Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, were illegally pulled down by unknown hooligans in 2020.  Two years later, the Portland City Council has said nothing about restoring the statues or making any formal decisions about what should, or shouldn’t, be considered worthy of public art.

 The closest determination that has been made so far comes from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, an appointed advisory group that – without public testimony or public scrutiny – has written that all those statutes are unworthy of restoration.

 In short, the hooligans win.  Is this how public policy should be crafted in Portland?

 According to RACC, the four people once honored by those sculptures either said things or took personal actions that don’t comport with contemporary concepts of political correctness.  This lumps Abraham Lincoln into the same category as Robert E. Lee.

 The trouble with the purity standard, as one might call it, is that it ignores the historical political context and legal environments of the era in which these four presidents lived.  It is difficult to think of any human being -- historically significant or otherwise -- whose lives meet perfection in every degree.

One can understand why the nature of public art does not rank high on the City Council’s list of current priorities.  The city is on pace for a record year of homicides and shootings; homeless people living on tents and blocking sidewalks make downtown unpleasant for merchants and pedestrians; the pandemic has diminished the downtown workforce with a corresponding effect on restaurants and coffee shops; some retailers, both recent and longstanding, have shut down. 

 And, oh yes, the hooligans still attack downtown windows on a seemingly random basis.


Public Art Today 

Jeff Hawthorne, the city’s arts program manager, contends that the city government eventually will hold a public dialogue about the role of public art, including whether the uprooted statutes should be returned.  But he has yet to identify a process of how that discussion will occur.  In a recent statement, he predicted that nothing will happen before the end of 2024. 

 Controversy about public art is not limited to Portland; others have given thought to potential resolutions.  One reasonable path through the wilderness of confusion comes from a commission in New York City.  It wrote:

 “The approach to memorial artwork should focus on adding detail and nuance to – instead of removing – the representations of these histories. We should take a hard look at who has been left out and see where we can add new work to ensure our public spaces reflect the diversity and values of our great city.”

 A strategy that is good for New York, it seems, could be good for Portland.  It might offer hope for George, Thomas, Abe and Teddy.


Fred Leeson

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Thursday, October 13, 2022

A Great Save for Northwest Portland?


1819 NW Everett St. (Hartshorne-Plunkard Architects)

New life for the landmark old First Church of Christ Scientist in Northwest Portland will be as a venue for food, drink, exercise and public events as a companion to a new five-story hotel behind it.

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission got its first look at the preliminary plans and spoke highly of the proposed effort to restore the beaux-arts church dating to 1909.  However, the panel expressed some reservations about design of the hotel to be erected on the adjoining quarter-block parking lot.

Andrew Becker, a Chicago-based architect for new owners of the church and vacant lot, promised “thoughtful and minimal exterior changes” to the former church, which has been known most recently as the Northwest Community Cultural Center.

One visual change would be a glass guard rail at the second story of the church, allowing for public access to the roof and its views of Northwest Portland and downtown.  The sloping floor if the second-floor former sanctuary would be levelled for use by events.

 The church’s basement, according to the plans, would contain a restaurant, fitness center and spa, and the main floor would contain a restaurant and lounge, in addition to the main entry.   

 Becker said the building’s stone façade “is believed to be in fairly good condition” but the windows are deteriorated.  He proposed removing the opalescent glass in favor of clear glass to improve interior lighting, but the landmarks commission suggested that perhaps one large window could be restored showing the historic glazing.  Becker said the historic size and design of the window casings and frames would be retained on the three most visible facades.

Becker said the old church would be upgraded seismically to current earthquake standards without affecting exterior facades.  However, he said the full engineering details are not yet complete.  

 The architect also said it is too early to tell how much of the church’s interior details, such as woodwork and light fixtures, can be reused.  “Where we can integrate those features, that is something we live to do,” he said. 

Steve Pinger, representing the Northwest District Association, called the church restoration “a great project,” but he said a rendering  the new hotel was “kind of going backwards” from an earlier version shown in a pre-application report.  Landmarks commissioners also felt that the first rendering appeared more coherent as a design.  The building would sit at  NW 19th Ave. and Flanders St. 

First design, left, versus revised version (Hartshorne-Plunkard Architects)

The commission will hold another hearing at an undetermined future date when more information will be available about window restoration and, presumably, some design changes on the new hotel.

 Under the preliminary plan, the hotel and the old church would be linked only by a short uncovered walkway.  Becker said it is possible that someday the church and hotel would be held under separate ownership.  The current owner is Founders Development, based in Las Vegas.

For the past 10 years or longer, the old church had fallen victim to maintenance neglect, and the cost of earthquake bracing made sale of the building difficult.  It now appears that new and interesting use is on the horizon.

 “I’m just thrilled it can be saved,” said Commissioner Kimberly Moreland.  “I really like the way this is progressing.”

 ----Fred Leeson

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Friday, September 30, 2022

Right-Sizing on a Historic Block


(TVA Architects)

A developer who had proposed building a glassy, 23-story apartment tower on the historic Honeyman Hardware block in Northwest Portland has scaled down the plan to a 12 story building sitting on half of the block at 555 NW Park Ave.

 “What we heard loud and clear…it was simply too big and overwhelmed the remaining block,” Eran Fields told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission on Sept. 26.  The revised plan reduces the total number of apartments from 223 units to 123, and the total building height from 250 feet to 135.

The commission holds design review authority because the full block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  At an earlier meeting, the commission showed no interest in the taller tower, shown below. 

The earlier plan (TVA Architects)

The proposed building would sit adjacent to the Honeyman Hardware warehouse built in 1912 that has since been converted to housing.  The new structure also would hover above the two-story bindery building that was part of the Honeyman complex of three buildings.  The quarter-block stable building, dating to 1903 and heavily changed over the decades, would be demolished.

Landmark commissioners still have concerns about the development scheme, but they expressed consensus for accepting the 12-story, half-block building.  “We really appreciate the scale of change,” said Landmarks Chair Kristen Minor.  “We’re really just focusing on the details now.”

 After two advisory meetings with the commission, the developer will return for a third and possibly final hearing at a date yet to be determined.

 The new building would essentially hover over half of the bindery building, the insides of which would be substantially demolished to provide structure for the new building.   One of the challenges raised by the landmarks commission is to what extent the rest of the new base should look like the adjacent bindery building.

As part of the project, exterior details of the bindery building are to be cleaned and restored, as well as the historic exterior elements of the former warehouse, now known as the Cotter building.

The new building would face a block – now used for parking – that is planned to become a new addition to the North Park Blocks. 

 Robert Thompson, a principle of TVA  Architects, said the design of the new building reflects the “very clear, simple expression” of structure common to other buildings dating to the early 20th Century in what was then primarily an industrial neighborhood.  The plan calls for underground parking on two levels for approximately 120 cars.

 Several neighborhood residents and business people testified in favor of the revised plan.  “It’s amazing to see the reduction in program to make it more contextual,” said David Dysert, speaking for the Peal District Neighborhood Association’s planning committee.  Unlike many developers, Fields had met more than once with residents and business owners on the block. 

 Honeyman Hardware was a leading Pacific Northwest hardware dealer for many years a century ago.  Although built at different times, the three buildings on the block were linked together for commercial purposes.  The full block was added to the National Register of Historic Places in regard for its commercial importance in the era.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Friday, September 23, 2022

Around and Around We Go


(Images courtesy of Restore Oregon)

A decade has passed since children -- sticky fingers and all -- clambered aboard big wooden horses for their last circular rides on the Jantzen Beach Carousel.

 The 20-ton relic from the early 20th Century entertained family and children from 1928 to 1970 at the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park and then at the Jantzen Beach Mall until 2012.  Plans to return the carnival ride to a revised shopping mall were never carried out.

 Those of us in the preservation world know what happened next.  But many people don’t, and the question arises frequently on social media.  What happened to the C.W. Parker “Superior Park” model carousel?

 After five quiet years in storage, the carousel’s owner donated the deconstructed pieces in 2017 to Restore Oregon, a statewide preservation organization, in return (no doubt) for a sizable tax deduction.

 While it seemed that many potential sites loomed as new homes for the historic carousel, reality proved otherwise.  At 67 feet in diameter and standing 29 feet tall, the carousel would need a building with a clear roof span of 77 feet on a lot probably measuring 100 by 100 feet.  In short, that’s a tall order and expensive order.

 In 2020, Restore Oregon announced a potential partnership with the Portland Diamond Project, a group attempting to lure a major league baseball franchise to Portland.  The proposed site for a new stadium and the carousel was to be along a retired shipping pier on the Willamette River in Northwest Portland.


Alas, the pandemic and other problems arose.  The Diamond Project is now quietly considering other sites. Stephanie Brown, Restore Oregon’s carousel project manager, said the carousel remains part of a potential stadium plan, but she cannot reveal any details.  Given Portland’s history with professional baseball, the Diamond Project’s plans are far from a slam dunk.

In the meantime, the 82 carousel horses and two chariots have not been sitting idle.  Thanks to some aggressive fund-raising, Restore Oregon is making detailed investigations into structural problems and original paint schemes.  All the work is intended to return the carousel to optimum condition for renewed operation -- someday.  The early results are spectacular. 

The Jantzen Beach carousel will return to the public consciousness this fall with opportunities for enthusiasts to learn more about its history.  These events include:

·         Oct.7 to 9: Pop-up exhibit at the Portland Fall Home and Garden Show at the Expo Center;

·         Oct. 13: Lecture by Barbara Fahs Charles, a co-founder of the National Carousel Association, at the Architectural Heritage Center, focusing on the Jantzen carousel history;

·         Nov. 18 through April 30, 2023: Interpretive exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society.

One can hope that someday children who rode the carousel at Jantzen Beach someday will be able to enjoy it again with their children – or grandchildren, as the case may be. 

-----Fred Leeson

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Friday, September 16, 2022

Sprucing Up The Palms


(Image courtesy of Kate Widdows)

No matter how many times you have travelled N. Interstate Avenue in Portland – especially at night – the glowing neon sign shown above no doubt is lodged in your memory.  Standing more than 50 feet tall, and carefully designed with artful lettering and many neon colors, the sign was an exuberant reflection of 1950s automobile-inspired culture.

Cars had taken over the roads from streetcars.  Interstate Avenue at the time was Portland’s highway to Vancouver, Wash., and Seattle before construction of the Interstate-5 freeway.  Motorists needed places to sleep. And the Palms Motor Hotel was there to reel them in with a dramatic sign and welcome rooms for rent.

 These days the neon no longer glows. Paint is fading and peeling.  The motor hotel is on its way to being demolished and being replaced by a complex of more than 200 apartments.

Help needed these days...

There is good news, however.  Though the big sign will be removed stored during construction, the sign’s owner pledges to replace it and repair it.  That means sometime in the future it should glow again.

 Yet the removal and restoration poses a number of questions.  Where will it be on the site?  Since the new building will not be a motel, does the sign’s wording have to be changed?  Can the creative historic letter fonts be retained? If moving electronic letters are to be added (a proposition believed to be under consideration) can it be achieved with the least possible damage to the original sign?  

 These are some of the questions raised by Kate Widdows, a member of PDX Neon, a non-profit organization devoted to preservation of many Portland neon signs, of which The Palms is one of the most iconic. “A good neon sign is a public work of folk art that anchors community and adds beauty to sense of place,” she says.

 Ideally, Widdows would like the sign to be preserved as close as possible to its original condition, including the colors, wording, letter types and – yes – the multiple neon colors.  How could the wording NOT change if the building is no longer a motel?

Widdows said one example of a solution occurred in San Francisco, where a former motel became housing for art students.  She said a gate was placed at the driveway and the former motel’s “No Vacancy” sign remains lit at all times to deter visitors from seeking rooms.

 The Palms sign bears no formal historic designation that would help with preservation.  However, the City Council some 20 years ago recognized the visual importance of eight neon signs along Interstate Avenue that are allowed to be retained or moved despite not conforming with the city’s extensive sign regulations.

 The Palms sign was singled out by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a planning work session last October.  “I love these signs so much,” he said.  “They really are touchpoints.”  He described The Palms sign as “so tacky and fanciful, you can’t help smile by looking at it.”

 Recent revisions to Portland historic code regulations conceivably could let the sign itself be designated as a Portland landmark, apart from any other structure on the same site.  At this point, however, no such effort has been initiated. 

Assuming that the apartment plan will have to be approved by the Portland Design Commission, public testimony could be taken concerning return of The Palms sign and proposed changes could be discussed.  Commission deliberations always include signs related to a new project.  All this, however, is a ways down the road.

 ----Fred Leeson

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