Great cities respect their architectural history as they move forward. In Portland, Oregon, we need to renovate, restore and preserve our vintage buildings and public spaces. A strategy of preservation and adaptive re-use will make Portland a more vibrant livable city in the future.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
A Small Miracle
This story is so good, it deserves being told again and
Never in Portland, I believe, has so much research, time,
energy and thoughtful care been invested in restoring the façade of a historic building
that is only 25 feet wide.
It is historic because the Hallock & McMillan building
at 237 SW Naito Parkway, is the oldest building surviving downtown.Built in 1857, it was one of the first to use
brick construction and cast-iron elements on its eastern façade.Absalom Hallock was the city’s first
professional architect.“The classical details of the columns and their applied
ornaments provide the first public artwork appearing on Portland’s streets,”
says architectural historian and local cast iron expert, William J. Hawkins
Earlier Hallock "remodel"
Over the next 35 years, Portland
developed one of the largest inventories of cast-iron buildings in the nation,
though many of them subsequently were demolished.Many grew larger and more ornate in
decoration. The neighboring Fechheimer
& White building from from 1885 is an elegant example.
Fechheimer & White
The historic façade of Hallock
& McMillan was scraped off in the late 1940s to be replaced with something
more “modern” and vapid.Owner John W.
Russell, who also owns two other historic buildings on the block, committed
himself to restoring the original appearance.Overall, the project took eight years to achieve completion last
The video here explains the
process.I believe you will enjoy a few
minutes looking at it.
Besides Russell, you will notice several
key players in contemporary preservation work in the video.They
are Hawkins, architectural historian; Brian Emerick, an architect involved in
many restoration/preservation projects; Bremik Construction Inc., a firm
involved in many tasteful vintage building renovations; and Dave Talbot, who doesn't have speaking part in the video, is an expert at reproducing architectural details. If we care about our city and its history, we must appreciate the efforts to restore and preserve these early pieces of downtown.
The video does not detail another
vital phase of renovation.Engineers found ways to
brace together three historic buildings on the same block (including the Dielschneider building facing on Oak Street) to
achieve greater strength against earthquakes.Pioneer that he was, Absalom Hallock never had to worry about
There is another interesting historical detail about the neighboring Hallock and Fechheimer buildings. When pioneers platted the first streets of downtown Portland, they established lots with 25-foot frontages. Their goal assumed the small size would be helpful in marketing. Given blocks of 200 feet by 200 feet, that meant 16, 25 by 100 foot lots in each bock. There are few 25-foot lots left today because over the decades owners succeeded in aggregating neighboring lots so larger buildings could be erected. If you go to see these two buildings to admire their cast iron architecture, take a moment to appreciate the scale of Portland's earliest development.