Saturday, November 28, 2020

Oregonian Building Redux

 

                                                                (Postcard, 1948)        

Portland’s most internationally-famed architect, Pietro Belluschi, is widely remembered for the Equitable Savings building he completed in 1948.  Its innovative sleek glass and aluminum design is considered the world’s first curtain-wall building that ushered in the International Style of modern skyscrapers.

Less well-known is another Belluschi building also finished in 1948. The 6-story Oregonian Building at 1320 SW Broadway also was a relentlessly modern building designed to meet a new era of mid-century communications, with printing presses, radio studios and a television station.  The newspaper bragged about it being “the largest structure built in Oregon in the last 10 years.”

 The block-size building was interesting in other ways, too.  Its main Broadway fa├žade had a second entrance for Hostess House, the Oregonian newspaper’s model kitchen and space for cooking instruction.  The corner at Broadway and Jefferson was designated as a small retail spot, to be filled for many years by a drug store and a restaurant.

 On the fourth floor, space was allocated for a cafeteria or restaurant including open-air seating on a plaza above the third floor.

 On the Sixth Avenue side, big two-story windows were intended to give pedestrians a view of the huge newspaper presses that could churn out 90,000 broadsheet issues per hour.  They were so heavy they had to have a separate foundation.  A tunnel through the middle of the building provided access for circulation trucks and newsprint deliveries.


(Contemporary view, same vantage)

  The radio studios for KGW on the fourth floor had sound-proofed walls and ceilings, and air-lock entrances designed to keep out extraneous noise.  When the building opened in June, 1948, the newspaper described the noise protections thusly:  “The rushing roar of the presses, the rhythmic clacking of the linotypes and frenzied whine of metal saws in the composing room, the shouts and clicking typewriters in the newsroom, KGW wanted none of them.”

 Ultimately, the building failed to meet its ambitious intentions.  As a result of a disagreement with the newspaper company, Pietro Belluschi took his name off the final drawings.  The huge picture windows on Sixth Avenue became so spattered with ink that it was largely impossible to see the presses at work.

 The fourth-floor restaurant never materialized. Its space became the newsroom for the companion Oregon Journal newspaper when it merged with the Oregonian in the early 1960s and the outdoor seating plaza went unused. 

 KGW Radio did use the studios for a few years, but the Oregonian sold its interest in KGW before any TV broadcasting occurred in the building. 

In the 1970s, the Oregonian switched to a new printing process with presses in a different building.  Combining newsroom staffs late in 1982 led to major internal remodels on three floors.  When growth of the internet led to implosion of the newspaper business, the Oregonian moved out of the building in 2014 for rental space elsewhere.

 Dan Haneckow, a Portland historian, toured the building shortly after the Oregonian newsroom closed.  “It was fascinating, ” he said.  “Time seemed to have stopped in the early 1990s.  There was a decrepit grandeur to the place.  You could see how important it was. At the same time the world had passed it by.  Lots of old technology, sometimes strewn about the floor.  Awful drop ceilings which I assume have been removed.”

 Indeed.  An extensive internal remodel was completed earlier this year.  The designers respected Belluschi’s building envelope with its limestone panels and base of polished gneiss.  New potential small retail spaces have been created on the north and side sides of the building, in addition to the original retail location at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson.

 A canopy sheltering the main entrance and a secondary retail entrance on Broadway is new, providing welcome rain protection.

(New canopy, Broadway entrance)

The new primary tenant is AWS Elemental, an Amazon subsidiary that provides internet services involving digital content production, storage, processing and distribution.  In other words, the building continues to be a communications hub of a different kind for the following era.  To the preservationist's eye, it is a successful adaptation of a worthy building for new uses. 

Ironically, the same month the Oregonian Building opened, June, 1948, Pietro Belluschi was honored as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, one of the nation’s highest awards.  It was his 25th year in Portland.  His other notable works included the Portland Art Museum, the J.P. Finley & Sons Mortuary (sadly demolished) the Equitable building and renovation of the Union Station train depot.  

 Belluschi’s long career was far from over.  He left Portland in 1951 and returned in the 1980s, continuing to be a prolific architect and consultant until his death in 1994 at 94.  One of his many, many legacies remains at 1320 SW Broadway.

 


Monday, November 23, 2020

Albina's Historic Sentinel

 


Anyone looking at what’s left of the historic Albina neighborhood cannot miss what is likely its oldest and tallest surviving building: Immaculate Heart Catholic Church.

This interesting example of Gothic Revival architecture was erected in 1890 when the area it served was populated mostly by Irish and European immigrants.  The church, with its pointed-arch windows and  lofty spire, was constructed with wood, not stone or brick.  As a result, sometimes its style is called Carpenter Gothic. 

The church was built by skilled craftsmen, working without benefit of plans from an architect.  As such, it is known among architectural cognoscenti as an example of “vernacular architecture.”

The building has seen a number of changes itself, along with dramatic demographic shifts in its congregation and neighborhood.  Bill Curtin, who was Immaculate Heart’s priest during the challenging decade from 1971 to 1981, knows the changes well.

Curtin’s Irish father was baptized in Immaculate Heart in 1909.  Victor Curtin, a Portland police officer who lived close to Albina, started patrolling the neighborhood in the 1940s.  He liked the area and its many jazz clubs.  He came to know and appreciate many of the Black residents who had been funneled into Albina as a result of World War II shipbuilding, and the 1948 Vanport flood.  Albina's demographics were dictated largely by and Realtors and lenders who wanted to keep Blacks from buying houses in other Portland neighborhoods.

 Bill Curtin, then 30ish and inspired by the civil rights movement and Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr., requested a transfer from St. Charles Church in Northeast Portland to Immaculate Heart.   His arrival in 1971 coincided with one of the most painful chapters of Albina history, the total eradication of several blocks containing houses and businesses, ostensibly to make way for expansion of Emanuel Hospital.  But after the land was cleared, Congress eliminated the federal urban renewal funding for the project.

 “I was there for a lot of the rebuilding of the community,” Curtin said.  He enjoyed working with his parishioners and Black business owners who opened their wallets for church projects.  “My life at Immaculate Heart was filled with a lot of wonderful things,” he said. “There were a lot of good people.  We were known as the Black catholic church in town.”  Curtin’s faith in the neighborhood and the people was not oblivious to reality, however.  “There was a lot of business on the side.”

 The extensive demolition for the ill-fated Emanuel expansion wiped out the homes and businesses of many Immaculate Heart parishioners. Curtin said many owners were not fairly paid for their property by the City of Portland.  Many poorer residents wound up moving to inexpensive housing East Multnomah County.

In the past 20 years, changes in neighborhood demographics led Immaculate Heart to put more emphasis on serving immigrant communities, including residents from Asia, Africa and Europe.  The church desires to served a congregation including "the lonely, the poor and the uninvolved."

Immaculate Heart was the second Catholic church built on Portland’s east side.  It ranks as the oldest “surviving” church, however, since the old St. Francis of Assisi Church in Southeast Portland was demolished after suffering severe storm damage in the 1930s. 

  While the skilled builders did an excellent job recreating Gothic details and proportions, they made one mistake that has proved not to be serious:  The main tower and spire tilts slightly off 90 degrees, by a margin largely undetectable to the naked eye.  A study performed in 1989 detected no signs of movement and concluded there was no lasting danger.

 Much of the church’s exterior is covered with pressed tin, a galvanized product popular during the Victorian era for both interior and exterior applications.  The tin at Immaculate Heart was pressed to give the impression of bricks.  Some of the tin was damaged by aggressive cleaning in the 1990s, leading to the spread of rust.  Fortunately, the galvanized tin manufacturer was still in business and replacements were acquired.  Repairs also were made around the foundation to prevent water infiltration.

 Bill Curtin left Immaculate Heart and the priesthood in 1981 in order to marry a woman he loved.  He remains connected to his Albina heritage, however, as a member of the board of directors of the Miracles Club, a non-profit recovery center that works with Black citizens striving to achieve and maintain sobriety.

 No Portland neighborhood is immune to change, least of all Albina.  One hopes the Immaculate Heart spire will continue to stand tall as a sentinel of Albina's history, regardless of whatever inevitable changes arise.  



 


Monday, November 16, 2020

Rinehart Building: Goodness in Albina

 

Sometime in the next few months, well-intentioned citizens operating as Albina Vision hope to offer plans for revitalizing what for decades was the heart of Portland’s African-American population, culture, society, religion, business and recreation.

 Bear in mind, however, “Everything that used to be in the neighborhood has been demolished,” says Winta Yohannes, Albina Vision’s managing director.

 Yes and no.  That is true in the confines being examined by Albina Vision just north of the Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum, where the group dreams of creating new housing, parks and business opportunities.  There is more territory in “old” Albina, however, and select properties are being restored, preserved and recognized for their historical importance.

 One of Albina’s greatest recent achievements is restoration of the 110-year old Rinehart Building at 3041 N. Williams Ave.  It was built in 1910 when the Williams Avenue streetcar was a prime mover of people between downtown and North Portland.  Albina in that era was populated heavily by Scandinavian and other European immigrants, before giving way to a heavily African-American population attracted by World War II jobs.  In an era of de facto segregation in Portland, Black residents were heavily channeled into Albina by Realtors and home lenders.

 The new population infused the neighborhood with stores, restaurants, bars, barbershops and many other small businesses.  Albina’s successful jazz nightclubs became a key destination for many of the nation’s best jazz musicians.

 The two-story brick Rinehart Building opened with shops on the ground floor and apartments above.  Though not imposing by today’s standards, it exemplified Albina’s commercial transition from wood-frame to masonry buildings.  The Rinehart’s turret at the corner of Williams and Monroe Street was intended as a beacon for streetcar riders; apartments and shops tended to focus on streetcar stops where riders got on and off. The designer was William H. Downing, who had started designing houses in Portland in 1890.  

James H. Rinehart, a real estate investor who came to Portland in 1907 from Eastern Oregon, lived in his building until his death in 1919.

The building was known more recently as the Cleo-Lilliann Social Club, an entertainment venue offering food, drinks, music and cards to African-American members.  The club succeeded Cleo’s Taver, which opened in 1957.  The club also raised money for neighborhood charities, from 1968 to its final closure in 2001, when building conditions had substantially deteriorated.  Noise complaints from neighbors were a final blow.

Peeling away old layers (National Register of Historic Places)

By then, Albina had suffered host of serious debilitations, starting with the demise of the streetcar in 1930.  Later, Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Jr. Boulevard) became the main north-south highway.  In the late 1950s, Portland wiped out part of the neighborhood to build Veterans Memorial Coliseum, followed soon thereafter by more demolition for the Interstate-5 freeway.

The nastiest cut may have come in the early 1970s, when several blocks in the heart of the Albina commercial district were cleared for a proposed expansion of Emmanuel Hospital.  However, after all the demolition was finished federal funding for the hospital project evaporated.   Fifty years later, some blocks still remain vacant.  Meanwhile, many Black residents were driven away by predatory lenders and landlords. 

 “The Rinehart Building is significant as one of the few remaining commercial buildings in Albina with a high level of integrity associated with the social and cultural fabric of the African American community,” states the building’s registration on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original metal cornice was removed sometime in the 1980s.  At some point, the storefront windows were hidden by sheets of plywood.  The building sat vacant from 2001 until 2011, when Damon Stoudamire, a prominent Portland Trail Blazer, bought the building and vowed to restore it.

 A Portland resident, Brandon Brown, saw an opportunity in restoring the Rinehart Building.  He partnered with his father Timothy P. Brown, to buy it from Stoudamire and undertake the elaborate task of restoring the Rinehart Building in accord with rigorous U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s preservation standards.  The restoration was completed in 2013.

Today the ground floor has been restored to two storefronts, and the upstairs has been renovated into five, one-bedroom apartments.  (One apartment includes the turret.)  Working from historic photographs, crafts people were able to recreate the metal cornice.  Damaged bricks were replaced.

No matter what success is achieved by Albina Vision, the Rinehart Building and a few other significant buildings will stand as a reminder of a vibrant community that used to be.  We will look an another important Albina landmark next week. 

 


Monday, November 9, 2020

New Life for the Anna Mann House

 

                                                                (Emerick Architects)

The historic Anna Mann Old Peoples’ Home on 3.1 acres in Northeast Portland appears headed for a major transformation into a low-income community with 128 apartments.  If successful, the plan would restore an excellent vintage building and provide an important societal housing benefit.  

The plans by Innovative Housing Inc., a non-profit housing developer and management firm, would create new apartments in the Anna Mann House, erected in 1910, and add two new buildings on the eastern and southern edges of the property, located at 1021 N.E. 33rd Ave.

 “It’s a high priority for us to save old buildings and keep their integrity,” said Julie Garver, housing development director for IHI.   The agency has renovated three historic buildings with apartments in Old Town, addition to the Clifford Apartments in Southeast Portland.

 The original Anna Mann building was designed by Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, one of Portland’s most prominent firms of the era.  Their other notable work of the period included the University Club and Lincoln High School, now Lincoln Hall at Portland State University, and Jefferson High School.

 The style of the Anna Mann house is considered Tudor Revival or English Elizabethan.  Notable elements include brick walls, steeply pitched roofs, prominent gables,and cast stone lintels and sills at the windows.  The public rooms were trimmed with dark-stained Douglas fir, a common treatment for Arts and Crafts interiors in the Portland area.  Pleasingly, those interior details have been well-preserved.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. 

 Wings were added the first building in 1953 and 1993.  Under plans by Emerick Architects, the original building and wings will be renovated into 39 apartments.  The original elderly residents were housing in single rooms with bathrooms down the halls.  Those single rooms will be reconfigured into apartments, Garver said. 

 A narrow new building abutting the eastern edge of the property would contain 49 units, and the new building on the south side would add 40 more.  The plans call for 71 parking spaces. 

 Despite the sizable building additions to the property, space is reserved for a gazebo/picnic area and two grassy play areas.  Trees and foliage would buffer the northern boundary along Sandy Boulevard.

 The project is aimed at the difficult challenge of providing housing for low-income families.  Of the 128 apartments, 42 would be targeted for residents earning less than 30 percent of the region’s median family income.  The remaining 86 units are intended for families earning less than 60 percent of the median income.  Sixty-six apartments will have one bedroom, followed by 48 with two, 13 with three and one with four bedrooms.

 Anna Mann was the wife of a successful Portland real estate entrepreneur Peter John Mann, who died in 1908.  The couple had purchased land to build a charitable home for the elderly just before his death.  Anna Mann pressed ahead with the project tin his memory.  It opening it to its first residents in January, 1911.

 

                                                                    (Emerick Architects)

The goal of the home was to provide single rooms for elderly residents, as well as attractive rooms for meetings and dining.  Garver said the intent of the renovation of the original building is to retain the stylish woodwork that adds a warm attractiveness to the Tudor interiors.

The home remained in operation until 1982, when financial issues led to its closure.  The building served later as an alcoholic rehabilitation center and later as the Movement Center, a home for yoga and meditation.  The Movement Center sold the building earlier this year to Innovative Housing.

 Garver said the Movement Center took good care of the building for more than 25 years and cooperated with Innovative Housing in arranging financing for the sale. Innovative Housing hopes to file building permits late this year and begin renovation and construction in mid- 2021.  She estimates the project will take 20 months to complete. 

 The Anna Mann property sits in the Kerns neighborhood, but abuts Laurelhurst.  Garver said both neighborhood associations favor the Innovative Housing plan.

 

 

Monday, November 2, 2020

New Landscape at Multnomah County Central Library

 


(Henneberry-Eddy Architecture)

It isn’t clear what A.E. Doyle had in mind, if anything, for landscaping the fringes of ground on three sides of the Multnomah County Central Library when it was completed 107 years ago. 

 Faced with the difficulty of a block that sloped in two directions, Doyle backed up the rear of the building flush to the S.W. 11th Avenue sidewalk, and then centered it between side yards approximately 25 feet wide on the north and south, and roughly the same width on either side of the grand staircase to the east in front.  

 On those three frontages, Doyle designed a balustrade at the public sidewalks interrupted occasionally by benches.  “Doyle’s magical touch is the way in which he steps his surrounding wall, alternating benches with sections of wall, effectively concealing the extreme slope of the site, and reducing the scale of what is actually a very large building,” wrote architectural historian Richard Ritz.

 But that left the earth between the edges of the building and the sidewalk balustrade.  The landscaping was primarily grass in the early years, and has undergone a number of changes through the decades.  Now, faced with drainage issues, a non-compliant wheelchair ramp installed in 1982 and a desire to make the “open space” more functional for public uses, the library is overseeing a new landscape design.

 Primary elements include a longer, less-steep wheelchair ramp, two paved terraces on either side of the main staircase, new outdoor lighting near the front of the building at a low retaining wall to break up the steeper slope on the north and northeastern yards.

The revisions also would solve the problem of an emergency exit on the north side “that basically goes nowhere,” said David Wark, a principal of Henneberry-Eddy Architects, the firm designing the changes.  At present, the door empties into the side yard, but there is no way out short of wandering through the foliage and climbing the balustrade.  Under the new design, a narrow walkway would connect the door with the new terrace abutting the main stairway at the front of the building.

In accord with changes approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, the wheelchair ramp that currently creates an entrance from the sidewalk through space formerly occupied by one of the benches will be moved one bench to the south, providing a gentler slope to the main entry.  The bench that was removed for the original accessibility ramp will be replaced to look like an original.

 

(Henneberry-Eddy Architecture) 

As illustrated above, the north terrace would have room for tables and chairs.  The library envisions the space being used for book sales or outdoor classes.  Since eating and drinking are not allowed in the building, the terraces could be pleasant places for coffee or snacks in nice weather.  The illustration also shows the low retaining wall that eventually will be covered from view by vegetation.

 The planting scheme calls for low-lying plants that should not provide hiding spaces for campers or for disposal of trash.  No current trees will be removed from the library grounds.

  

(Henneberry-Eddy Architecture)

 Seating will be less optimal in the south terrace, above, because it must allow room for the accessibility entrance. 

"It's a beautiful addition to a beautiful building," Landmarks Commissioner Maya Foty said the the plan.  

 “I’m really glad to see this package come through,” said Landmarks Chair Kristen Minor. "I think it will create options that weren’t there before.”  If so, that will be an additional plus for what clearly is one of the best public buildings in Portland.

 If the discussion here provokes a reader’s interest in A.E. Doyle and his abundant contributions to Portland’s architecture, “Beauty of the City” by Philip Niles is an excellent biography.  Multiple copies are available at the Multnomah County Library, of course.