Saturday, December 5, 2020

Holiday Reading Suggestions

 Now that we are in the throes of the holiday shopping season, the chief executive here at Building on History figured it was a good time to recommend books that should interest anyone who cares about architecture and Portland history.

 You will note that one author is common to all of them, William J. Hawkins III.  A native of Portland who is now into his eighth decade, Hawkins is an architect and architectural historian who knows more Portland history in his pinky than most of us will ever attain.  For several decades, including this very day, he has been the conscience of efforts to preserve the best of Portland’s vintage buildings and city parks. 

The books:

Classic Houses of Portland, Oregon, 1850-1950.  William J. Hawkins III and William F. Willingham, 1999. 591 pages.

This large volume contains photographs and architectural details of some 200 houses in the Portland region, including some grand old mansions that fell to wreckers along the way.  Many interior photographs are included.

 This is far more than a picture book, however. People interested in learning about the many historical styles of residential architecture will find descriptions photographs and drawings of 22 different design categories, including lists of characteristics that lay people can use to evaluate houses that interest them.

 If nothing else, a reader must stand in awe of the incredible array of amazing houses that still grace out city. 

The Legacy of Olmsted Brothers in Portland Oregon.  William J. Hawkins, III.  2014.  198 pages.

  While this book is more about landscape design and parks, visits by the renowned Olmsted landscape architecture firm to Portland starting in 1903 had a lasting impact on Portland neighborhoods and the city park system.  Hawkins’ great uncle, Lester Leander Hawkins, helped escort John Olmstead about the city in 1903 in a horse-drawn wagon, and served as a prominent member of the Portland Park Board that implemented many of the suggestions outlined by the 1903 Olmsted report.

 The Olmsted firm laid out plans for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, as well as mapping out a whole series of proposed city parks and arterials that would connect them.  The scenic Terwilliger Parkway also was an element of the Olmsted plan, as well as another scenic route along Willamette Boulevard that never received much formal attention.

 On a later trip to Portland, the Olmsted firm laid out streets in the Laurelhurst neighborhood and initiated plans Laurelhurst Park, long considered one of the city’s most attractive public spaces.  Several other park locations identified by the Olmsteds were developed by the city in succeeding years.   The book also spells out direct and indirect influence of Olmstead street layouts in several other Portland neighborhoods.

The Grand Era of Cast-Iron Architecture in Portland.  William J. Hawkins III, 1976.  211 pages.

 This heavily-illustrated book is an exhaustive inventory of cast-iron buildings erected during a roughly 40-year span beginning slowly in the 1850s and accelerating rapidly in the 1880s.  For a time, Portland had the most outstanding collection of cast-iron buildings on the West Coast and the largest collection outside of New York City.

 Hawkins’ research explains in detail the rise and fall of the iron-fronted buildings, which can be considered in some ways as forerunners of prefabricated buildings.  The saddest part of the book is an extensive number of photographs showing these interesting buildings being demolished after World War II, mostly for the creation of parking lots for automobiles. 

 If Portland still had these rows of early buildings, they would be a foremost tourist attraction on the West Coast.  This book helped start Portland’s interest in architectural preservation that continues to this day.

Architects of Oregon.  Richard Ellison Ritz, 2002.  462 pages.

This book is an alphabetized, biographical listing of deceased architects who practiced in Oregon in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Ritz died before this historical resource was finished, and William J. Hawkins III stepped in to complete this extensive project and shepherd it to publication..

It is an excellent reference that lists notable buildings whenever possible.  Listings may run from a mere few sentences to a few pages, depending on the importance of the architect and amount of historical references left behind. 

 For better or worse, the most viable way to find any of these books for purchase is through the Seattle-based internet seller that starts with the capital “A.”  You know, the company that makes billions but doesn't pay taxes. 


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