Saturday, February 27, 2021

Another New Project in the East Portland Historic District


Arcoa additions seen from SE 7th and Yamhill (Ink:Built Architecture)

For 25 years or so, little seemed to change in Portland’s least known National Historic District that includes about 20 blocks along a spine of Southeast Grand Avenue.

Now pandemic nowithstanding, the East Portland Grand Avenue Historic District is buzzing with renovations and plans for major new buildings.  New buildings are not designed to not look ersatz “old” but are intended to fit the context of the district by taking design cues from nearby historic buildings.

 The latest is an eight-story addition to the Arcoa Building (originally built in 1907 and operated as the U.S. Laundry) at 1006 S.E. Grand Ave.  Plans approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission show what will appear to be three buildings but in fact are all tied into one – as well as being tied into the Arcoa Building.

 One must look at the image above to see what’s happening.  What looks like two buildings with separate entrances and retail spaces will face on S.E. 7th Ave.  One will look like eight stories and the other will look like seven stories with a penthouse.  This is actually one building with six floors of apartments and the eighth floor being offices.  An entry will be off Yamhill Street for 31 ground-floor parking spaces tucked inside.

Arcoa Building, left, with sidecar (Ink:Built Architecture)

Through the block on Grand, a two-story “sidecar” building will abut the Arcoa and provide access to the upper floors of the Arcoa.  At the same time, it is tied to the eight-story structure immediately behind the sidecar.

 If this sounds complicated, so too was the design.  Ink Built Architects held two advisory meetings with the landmarks commission, followed by two formal hearings to wrestle through the many options for exterior design, materials, colors and windows. 

 Like the new Grand Belmont apartments on the adjacent block (see below) the Arcoa additions will increase housing units in a district that formerly was dominated by commercial and industrial uses.  More housing will be added, too, by a new building that will adjoin the remodeled historic Troy Laundry building in a project described on this blog last August.  Another major eight-story office addition to the historic district, the Flatworks Building, was approved last September but construction has yet to start.


Grand Belmont Apartments, left, Arcoa Building right

Now, after a delay due to the pandemic, renovation is continuing rapidly at the former Gayosa/Chamberlain/Schleifer building that is being substantially remodeled into a boutique hotel.

 Substantial work remains to be completed inside the French Second Empire building erected in 1907, but the exterior is largely finished.  A tall blade sign, Hotel Grand Stark, was installed recently.   A portion of the former Schleifer furniture sign that was finally removed sits on the sidewalk in the image below.  The Schleifer store used the former hotel from 1936 until 2016.

Hotel Grand Stark

All three of the structures shown above have ground-floor spaces intended for commercial uses or restaurants.  It will take survival of the pandemic to determine whether the buildings are successful in attracting tenants that could add vibrancy to the historic district.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Good News at the Henry Building


A six story historic building that glistens like no other in downtown Portland will keep shining for another century and provide 173 units of much-needed low-income housing thanks to a $37 million renovation.

Completion of the work is a “win” in many ways: renewed life for a notable downtown building,  preservation of several elements of historic internal fabric, and safe, secure housing for a population in dire need. 

 The Henry Building at 309 S.W. Fourth Ave. was built in 1909 by a successful real estate investor, Charles K. Henry, who also helped develop the massive Multnomah Hotel and the ground-breaking Laurelhurst neighborhood laid out by the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape architects.  The building originally had a bank and retail shops on the ground floor, a barbershop in the basement and five stories of offices above.

 Today the shiny white building is owned by Central City Concern, a social service agency that provides housing and access to medical and other assistance for low-income tenants.  Central City has an admirable record for restoring vintage buildings in Portland and outfitting them for new uses accommodating social services.

 Central City took over the building in 1990 after a renovation created 153-low income housing units in what had been a vacant and seriously deteriorated office building.  The more extensive second renovation managed to add 20 more units, while retaining significant historic elements, and adding seismic bracing towers and two new elevators.  Funding came from a stew of sources including the Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services, U.S. Bank  and federal historic preservation tax credits.

National Register Form

The Henry Building stands out for its two shiny white facades facing on S.W. Fourth and Oak Street.   Portland has several nice cream-colored terra cotta buildings from the early decades of the 20th Century, but the Henry is brighter yet.  At the developer’s insistence, the design included “Tiffany enameled” brick with blue geometric designs on spandrels on three floors.

 The enameled bricks were manufactured in a process requiring two firings.  Pressed bricks were first fired, allowed to cool, then layered with enamel and then fired again at high temperatures.  Charles Henry had seen the bright white bricks in 1908 on a building in Denver, where the bricks were manufactured.

 When the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the nomination suggested that the Henry Building was the only one between Portland and Denver to use the enameled bricks.

The Henry Building was designed by Francis J. Berndt, who practiced in Portland only from 1907 until his death in 1910.  The building is considered to represent the Chicago School of architecture, a movement that minimized historic architectural details and let the facades reflect their inner-steel framework.  In 1909, steel framing was still in its first decade in Portand.  Bays of three double-hung windows also were common to the Chicago School.  The design also has an internal atrium above the ground floor intended to allow more natural light.

 SERA Architects of Portland, a firm with a track record of working on historic preservation projects, led the intricate project.  Historic elements saved or recreated included hexagonal tiles on hallway floors, the internal cast-iron stairway and the original bank’s large, heavy vault. 

 As a result of the work, the Henry should stand literally for many years as a shining example of good preservation and valuable public service.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Revisiting the Rayworth House


It is almost eight years since Roy and Kim Fox, hosting a wine party with kindred preservation spirits, first heard about a vacant 1890 house in the Boise neighborhood that a developer wanted to tear down.

It was one of many in a rash of teardowns of smaller, older houses that is continuing to this day.  “You guys should save the Rayworth house,” someone said.

 Kim Fox went first.  “It’s kind of cute,” she told her husband.  It was a small Victorian cottage, probably like hundreds that once graced Portland.  Given time and changes in housing sizes, few like it  remain today.  Once the home of Edwin Rayworth, a professional wallpaper hanger, the house was in poor condition inside and out.

 For a while, a Boise resident planned to move the house and save it, but that plan fell through.  The clock was ticking, allowed only by the patience of the prospective developer.  Four months after they had looked it, Roy and Kim Fox were next in line.

Moving a house in Portland is difficult because there are few available vacant lots.  The longer the trip, the greater the cost.  The Foxes found a property owner who had one house on a double lot who was willing to sell the empty yard.  

 As a result, they succeeded in moving the house two miles north to the Piedmont neighborhood but not until they prevailed in the Great Tree Fight.  The city’s urban forestry manager wanted to deny the move on grounds that the move would damage some tree canopy along the way.  In time, it took insistence from Mayor Charlie Hales to allow the move.

 “Ninety-five percent of the city staff really busted their butts for us,” Roy says.  He compliments the Portland Bureau of Transportation which had to approve the route and the Bureau of Development Services, which allowed permits for an oversized lot that was being halved. 

In its original location

Given the construction boom at the time, the house sat on a lattice of timbers for most of a year until a foundation could be poured for a daylight basement.  The basement became an accessory dwelling below the old house.  The first tenant moved in in 2015, and since then the rest of the repair work has been funded by rent from the lower unit. 

 Today, work continues on the upper portion of the house.  Much of the work and painting has been done by volunteers recruited from websites that trade temporary housing for temporary help.  So far, Roy says more than 100 people have helped out, one way or another.  “Some of them know all about a table saw, and some know almost nothing,” he says.  “But everyone has contributed something.  We just love doing this. That is really the new story of the Rayworth house.” The result is a network of lasting friendships for the Foxes, with people from as far away as Australia and Ireland.

Roy says woodwork details will duplicate what’s missing in the house, and that vintage lighting has been acquired.  But though the Foxes are experienced ion exacting preservation work, they are not planning to replicate an historical 1890s kitchen or bathroom.  Of course, all plumbing and wiring has been replaced.

 One of the next projects is to work through layers of wallpaper to see to what extent any of them were historic and, if so, could be replicated.  Roy hypothesizes that the paper layers may well have come leftovers from Edwin Rayworth’s professional work, but there is no way of knowing for sure.

 Roy says the plan is to make the entry to the house look as original as possible with the woodwork, lighting and wallpaper.

Looking ahead, Roy says, “I can’t imagine selling the house.  We’ve put so much into it.”  When the right time comes, he said the next owner likely will be one of his two sons.

Today the Rayworth house sits proudly in a neighborhood composed mostly of 1920s bungalows.  Its distinctive architectural presence tells a story in itself.  Not as much, however, than if the building could actually talk.


What followed Rayworth in Boise 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Gresham Historical Museum

No one would ever confuse Gresham, Portland’s largest eastern suburb, as being a bastion of interesting historic architecture.  Still, the smallish English Tudor gem at 410 N. Main Ave. is worthy of celebrating for its past, its present and its future.

The 1913 brick building designed by one of Portland’s leading architects, Folger Johnson, started life as one of seven libraries in Multnomah County built with grants from the extremely wealthy steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie.   After the Gresham Public Library moved to larger and much less distinctive quarters, the old library was taken over in 1989 by the Gresham Historical Society, making it the Gresham Historical Museum.

 At just over 2300 square feet, the building is smaller than many houses.  But it is filled with interesting details from the patterned brickwork, elegant entry and interesting leaded windows designed to reflect the commercial insignias of major book publishers of the era.  Many of the bookshelves remain from the early library era.

 Fortunately for old building lovers, the Gresham society has done a good job maintaining the museum without seriously affecting its historical qualities.  The society had hoped to ramp up its public profile with the hire early last year of museum director Mark Moore, who is well-known in region’s realm of ephemera, antique collecting, streetcar history and pioneer steam equipment. 

 But the pandemic hit just as Moore took charge last March.  “COVID really put a damper on our events and activities,” he said.  “When this COVID thing is over, we plan for more events.” 

 Though the museum is not open at the moment, a visitor can get a good look at the Carnegie-inspired details from the exterior.  Carnegie delegated building designs to local architects, but his foundation offered general floorplans and included a few specific requirements.

 One of the requirements was for stairs leading to the front door – to give the impression of library visitors being “elevated” as they entered.  Another requirement was prominent electric lighting near the entrance, to give the feeling of enlightenment.  Carnegie provided money to build approximately 2500 libraries – including 31 in Oregon and seven in Multnomah County – but local communities had to provide the land, the staffing, the books and money for maintenance.

Another requirement was that the libraries had to be free to the public.  It was a major advance in the library world because many libraries were operated on subscriptions paid by users. 

 Carnegie, himself an immigrant from Scotland at age 13, placed his libraries in small towns and neighborhoods, rather than building large libraries in major cities.  He wanted his libraries to be used by immigrants learning English and for general education.

 Carnegie’s personal story is one of the Gilded Era’s great adventures in capitalism.  He started working in a bobbin factory in 1848 at age 13, then learned telegraphy and learned about railroads when the nation’s rail network was improving its bridges from wooden structures to steel.  He then ventured into steel manufacturing and leaned heavily on technological improvements and rigid management as his empire grew.

 He sold his steel business in 1901 and embarked on an aggressive philanthropic strategy to give away many of his riches.  He wrote an explanation called the “Gospel of Wealth” in 1889 in which he said exceptionally wealthy people had an obligation to use their funds to improve society.

 Folger Johnson, the architect for the Gresham library, also designed Carnegie libraries in St. Johns, Arleta and South Portland.  Other architects designed East Portland, North Portland and Albina.  Albina, St. Johns and North Portland remain as parts of the Multnomah County system, while Arleta and East Portland have been sold off for private offices.  The South Portland library is now a Portland Parks Bureau office. 

 Johnson, a native of Columbus, Georgia, had been trained at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris before coming to Portland in 1911.  He was one of Portland’s most skilled architects, whose career was stymied by the Great Depression.  His other notable buildings include the Portland Town Club, an exclusive women’s club, and the Albertina Kerr Nursery.  He also was a consultant on Benson Polytechnic High School.

 Once the current pandemic resolves, Moore hopes to build the cadre of museum volunteers and people willing to offer financial support.  The museum survives at present on donations and a portion of a tax levy shared by several historical societies in Multnomah County. 

 “I’d like to see us get on a steady financial footing so in 20 years down the road this place will still be here,” Moore said.  It is, after all, a beautiful piece of history.