Monday, May 25, 2020

Hotel Chamberlain

The biggest and perhaps most complex restoration project in Portland for quite some time faced many challenges in meeting current building codes, replacing utilities, bolstering structural elements and reconfiguring rooms for modern needs.  Adding delays for a fast-breaking viral pandemic has made the task even tougher for the architecturally-interesting building at 509 S.E. Grand Ave.  

Problems notwithstanding, work on what is best known today as the former Schleifer Furniture store ranks as a major preservation victory and enhancement in the East Portland Grand Avenue National Historic District.  The building started life in 1907 as the Gayosa Hotel, coupled, ironically, with an earlier furniture retailer, Morgan-Atchley.  By 1917, the hotel was renamed Chamberlain, and housed residents in many of its 107 rooms until 1974.

The Schleifer firm managed the building from 1936 to 2016, and used some of the rooms after 1974 for  storage.  After Schleifer left, the new owners allowed the building to be used as a winter shelter for the homeless while planning proceeded for the renovation. 

Investors including Brad Malsin of Beam Development bought the building in 2015, and went to work on plans to remake the building.  As now envisioned, the Hotel Chamberlain will have 57 rooms above a restaurant and bar on the ground floor.  Malsin is an experienced redeveloper of old buildings on the East Side, including the Eastside Exchange,  Eastbank Commerce Center and the Olympic Mills Commerce Center.

After a prolonged period of planning and obtaining building permits, work was well underway in 2020, only to be shut down by the pandemic.  Though work undoubtedly will resume, what ultimately happens with the virus may affect the building’s future as a hotel.  There is no way to tell when the pandemic's scourge will release its grip on the hospitality industry. 

The Architectural Heritage Center defines the building’s style as French Second Empire.  In the late 18th century, that meant pieces of many earlier architectural styles jumbled together in exuberant fashion.  The Paris Opera House is perhaps the most notable example.  But what was exuberant to some, meant tastelessness  to others.  The French writer Emile Zola called Second Empire architecture “an opulent bastard child of all the styles.”

The Schleifer/Chamberlain building is a tame but charming example, one of few in Portland. The original architect is not known; the remodeling is being designed by Works Progress Architecture, a firm that has worked with Beam on other projects.  Notice the heavy lintels over the windows with exaggerated keystones, decorative frieze at cornice, and double columns of protruding bricks (called quoins) that add definition to the corners. As a contributing building in the historic district, the facades facing Stark and Grand cannot be substantially altered.  Ideally, the notable details 
Stark Street entrance 
should be highlighted by differing colors in the final paint scheme.

The foremost identifier of many Second Empire buildings, and present here, is the mansard roof with gables at the top.  The mansard roof became popular with developers in Paris, the story goes, because the city’s height limits were measured up to a building’s cornice, and did not include the roof.  Thus the mansard became a sneaky tool for adding an extra floor.

Historically, the original furniture dealer operated from a storefront facing on Grand Avenue.  It is easy to see today that a more elegant entrance was on the Stark side, with a bracketed chevron and a tall  three-panel window over the doorway.  This, no doubt, was the original entrance to the Gayosa, as it was first known.

The current plan, however, puts the hotel entry on Grand, no doubt for better visibility plus better access by automobile, bus and streetcar. 

When the renovation is finished, it will be an will make the block between Stark and Washington one of the most interesting in Portland.  The Chamberlain sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the masculine Logus Block of 1892, one of Portland’s best Richardsonian-Romanesque architectural examples.  Just across Grand Avenue is the Barber Block of 1889, which contains a veritable trove of popular Victorian era architectural details that make it a standout in the neighborhood -- or anywhere in Portland.  

Within a single block, people who take time to look at buildings will find much to delight their eyes .It will be a timeless – for now -- glimpse into the art of architecture at the turn of the 20th Century that cannot be replaced. 

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