Saturday, March 27, 2021

Harry Green House (Part 2)


Standing as a monument to the Roaring Twenties when it was designed and built, the impressive Harry and Ada Green mansion on the edge of Laurelhurst Park and its short list of owners have seen the same ups-and-downs common to the larger society.

Green, who had become the second president of the 1000-employee Doernbecher Furniture Manufacturing Co. in the 1920s, bought the oversized lot next to the impressive brick home of former mayor H. Russell Albee and recruited architect Herman Brookman to design a mansion.

“The Harry A. and Ada Green House was commissioned in 1927 on the heels of the Frank Estate and by a wealthy social climber,” states the mansion’s submission to the National Register of Historic Places.  “The house is one of few that falls into the early revival period of Brookman's work, as the stock market crash of 1929 brought the lavish spending of the 1920s to an end. It is the only design of that period to fully explore the Spanish, Mediterranean, and African influences during the height of the Spanish revival craze that was fueled by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 --- which brought the architecture of Southern California, Mexico, Spain, and Italy, as well as Muslim details to national attention…”

It was a busy time for Brookman, who had been recruited from New York to design a lavish estate for M. Lloyd Frank in the Southwest Hills.  At the same time, he was working with other leading Portland architects on Temple Beth Israel, the Northwest Portland synagogue that truly ranks as one of Portland’s finest buildings.

The Green house and landscaping cost $430,000, which an inflation calculator says would be about $6.5 million today.  The Greens, who had been married as teenagers in 1909, moved in with six servants.

How long they enjoyed their grand residence is hard to say.  In 1950, Ada Green sued for divorce, claiming alcohol and drug abuse by her husband.  There were times, she said in court, when he locked her out of the house.  The number of servants had declined from six to three.  Harry Green, who was removed as president from the Doernbecher firm the same year, did not contest the divorce.

A judge ordered payment of $320,000 to Ada Green and half of the house, then valued at $400,000.  Newspapers described it as the largest divorce settlement in Oregon to that date.

Waiting to buy the mansion was Robert Bitar, a native of Lebanon who had come to Oregon as a teenager.  He and his brother, Frank, opened a grocery store and Robert delivered groceries by bicycle to the Greens, and he vowed someday to own it.   The two men later branched into construction and real estate development.

 The Bitar ownership lasting until 2000 marked good years far for the house, which soon became known as the Bitar mansion.  Robert Bitar became an honorary counsel for Lebanon in 1957, and the basement ballroom was used for many quasi-diplomatic events.  The family remodeled the kitchen twice during those years, and learned to manage the mansion without servants.  The house was a popular site for children on Halloween, because of the generous treats given by the Bitars. 

(National Register)

 Robert Bitar died in 2000 and it was clear the family would not retain the house.  A small contingent in the Laurelhurst neighborhood hoped the city would buy it as an event location, but the suggestion generated no traction.  The mansion was finally sold in 2006 to its third owner.  Trouble awaited. 

 “The first decade of the twenty-first century brought the greatest changes to the property as the third owners began some repairs and remodels including removal of the garage doors, refinishing of the pool, repairs to patio roof beams (locations unknown) and stucco, refinishing of the wood floors throughout, and electrical upgrades,” the National Register registration says.  “The kitchen was gutted, but the remodel was never finished and ultimately the property was left to neglect and vandalism. Many of the plantings and site features such as fountains also fell into disrepair during this period.”

 After five years and disputes with neighbors, the third owners gave up and allowed the mansion to go into foreclosure.  While the house was empty, the Architectural Heritage Center included it on a home tour in 2011.  The kitchen was down to the studs and light fixtures were missing.

Even so, the grandeur of the house (and its tiled bathrooms) was unmistakable.  “It looks like a movie setting,” one visitor said.

At present, the house is being carefully restored by Karla Pearlstein, a historic preservation consultant.  Its future use is yet to be determined.  It is zoned for single family use.  Converting it to a bed-and-breakfast or some other commercial use, possibly as an event center, would require a conditional use permit from the city.  

Of course, nothing would prevent it from once again being a single-family residence.  For a family with means....

Pool and bathhouse





Saturday, March 20, 2021

Harry Green House (Part 1)


Front Entrance

After years of vacancy, decline, intentional plundering and threat of demolition, one of East Portland’s largest and most luxurious mansions is undergoing what appears to be a deliberate, careful restoration.

 Originally known as the Harry and Ada Green House, this 17-room architectural confection comprises just over 10,000 square feet.  It perches on the northern edge of Laurelhurst Park on a sloping parcel seven times the size of a standard Portland residential lot.

The walls are stucco; the roof, tiled.  There are five brick chimneys and a towered dome over the central entrance, encountered after one passes through an ornate wrought iron entrance gate.  There is a semi-circular bath house and swimming pool.  The architectural style is called Mediterranean Revival or Spanish Eclectic.  Or, if you like, some combination of both. 

Completed in 1928, the impressive two-story structure with a basement ballroom is a reflection of the wealth and celebration of the Roaring 20s, which were soon to end.  As an example of the opulent era, three bedrooms were assigned to servants.

 The house was designed by Herman Brookman for Green, who was the second chief executive of Doernbecher Furniture Manufacturing Co., one of the largest furniture companies in America.  Its massive factory was located near N.E. 28th and Sandy Boulevard, less than a mile away from Green’s new home.

Brookman had been recruited to Portland from New York earlier in the decade to design a massive, English-inspired mansion for M. Lloyd Frank, which bore the name of Fir Acres.  The Lloyd mansion was an instant hit with Portland’s wealthy class; most of Brookman’s career became devoted to residential architecture.   Today the well-preserved Fir Acres is a part of the campus at Lewis & Clark College.

 Brookman’s Spanish/Mediterranean influence for Green’s mansion presumably came from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  The exhibition buildings prompted new interests by architects in an era when revival of historical models motivated designs of many of the nation’s fanciest homes and buildings.

 “Every detail was carefully designed by Brookman -- from the overall form and massing of the building to the highly crafted interiors and detailed site design,” says National Register of Historic Places submission written by Carin Carlson, a Portland preservation architect, in 2013.  “Specialty craftsmen - such as metal artist Iohann Konrad Tuerck -- were commissioned for the elaborate wrought-iron work, wood carvings, stone and plaster castings, and light fixtures. Unique to this particular residence are the exotic details - including imported African faience tiles, Egyptian shell, leaf, and flower motifs, and Moorish patterns and forms.”

(National Register submission form)

 While decorative tile appears frequently both inside the Green house and on the exterior, the most memorable tiling is in the bathrooms.  The colors are dramatic, vivid and unforgettable.

 Fortunately, Brookman’s detail sketches and drawings have been preserved at the University of Oregon’s architecture library.  They will prove invaluable as the careful restoration work continues.  Fortunately, much of the bathroom tiles appear to be in good condition.

The history inside the Green house is not always pleasant.  We will speak more about that next week.  Suffice to say, after two ownerships the house in 2006 was acquired by a third owner who was not able to repair the house.  The kitchen was stripped to the studs and original light fixtures and hardware were sold.  By 2011, the ailing building became subject to foreclosure.

 The current owner is a limited liability company managed by Karla Pearlstein, a Portland historic preservation consultant with a history of careful, well-researched and detailed restoration projects.  She spent several years restoring the Italianate home of Gov. George Curry, Oregon’s last provisional governor before statehood.  Long before Pearlstein’s ownership, the house, which had been built in 1861, had been moved to the Multnomah neighborhood.

 In a subsequent major project, Pearlstein remodeled an early 20th-century firehouse in Northwest Portland into an interesting residence that attracted coverage by the Oregonian newspaper and won a restoration award from Restore Oregon in 2019.

 As with any thorough restoration, basics should be dealt with first.  City of Portland records reflect permits for mechanical, plumbing and electrical work at the Green house.  Repairs have been made to the roof. 

 The interesting work that lies ahead will be finding appropriate wall papers and lighting as Pearlstein tries to recapture the mansion’s original character.  Herman Brookman’s detailed notes and sketched likely will play an important role as that work unfolds.

Back door facing Laurelhurst Park

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Laurelhurst Club


A Craftsman-era building in the Laurelhurst neighborhood with an interesting pedigree could be headed to a new future if the owner can find the right person to attract and manage events.

 The Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association recently took possession of the Laurelhurst Club near the northeast corner of Laurelhurst Park with the hope of returning it to its roots as a community center – and earning enough income to manage upkeep of the building erected in 1914.

 The building was originally funded by subscriptions from homeowners in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, then one of the fanciest developments on Portland’s east side.  Fundraising and development of the club occurred simultaneously with planning for Laurelhurst Elementary School and with completion of amenities in the landmark Laurelhurst Park.

 Newspaper articles from the era suggest that the original construction budget would be $14,000, but that number rose to $20,000 and then to $25,000 by the time it was finished in December, 1914.  Proponents talked about a community center as grand as the Multnomah Athletic Club, but in the end of the result was considerably smaller and offered fewer facilities than the MAC with its region-wide clientele. 

 However, the same architectural firm, Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, designed both clubs.  The architecture firm was one of the city’s most prominent of the era, designing Jefferson High School and the original Lincoln High School, which now serves as Lincoln Hall at Portland State University.

 The firm also was well-plugged in to Portland’s social circles.  Its other work included the University Club, Waverly County Club and the city’s Eastmoreland golf club.  The Laurelhurst Club comprises a ballroom and small stage under an open-trussed roof, with a few smaller meeting rooms in a wing at the rear of the lot.

  Photographs indicate that the ballroom was a later addition, but it blends nicely with the original structure.  From a preservationist’s perspective, the building unfortunately was wrapped at some point in vinyl siding but that is not an irreversible harm.

 The club opened with festivities on New Year’s Eve, 1914.  The Oregonian reported, “The big fireplace at the end of the hall gives a hospitable appearance.  The furnishings are in perfect taste.  The decorations for the opening night were greens and holly.”

 The club originally included tennis courts, but those later gave way to residences.  A landscaped side yard on the west makes an attractive location for parties and outdoor events. By the 1930s, neighborhood interest waned in the community center, and it was taken over by a group promoting dances and dance lessons.  The pandemic shut down dance operations, and the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association agreed to take possession.

 As the neighborhood association looks for a manager, one can think of many opportunities for the building.  The formal dances are expected to return, and the ballroom could be a good venue for tango and contra dancing.  Small music and drama groups might be recruited as well.  Smaller rooms might work for meetings, daycare or a preschool, and the building and side yard are attractive for weddings and parties in good weather.

 One hopes that this historic building sits on the cusp of new life, new activities and community success.


Friday, March 5, 2021

Is This the Look of a New Burnside Bridge?

Two conceptual views of an "unbalanced" Burnside Bridge show the cable supported option, above, and the tied arch. (HDR)

 Unbalanced. Asymmetrical.  Funky?

An advisory discussion by members of the Portland Design Commission and the Historical Landmarks Commission suggests that a new Burnside Bridge should be divided into three parts, and look unlike any other bridge spanning the Willamette River.

The 650 feet at the east end likely will be supported by two towers with cable supports or a tied arch.    The center of the bridge would have a bascule mechanisms based within two piers extending deep into the river bed.  The western portion of the bridge would consist of a truss structure positioned under the surface deck, thus keeping views unobstructed for west-bound travelers heading into the Skidmore-Old Town Historic District.

Members of the two commissions reached a tentative consensus on a three-part bridge based on unstable soils on the east side and the disparate urban environments on the river’s two sides.

“You are entering two different worlds,” said Don Vallaster, an architect on the design commission.  While the west side has a largely 19th Century feel with its old historic buildings, the east side has become modern, angular, tall and glassy. 

 “This is an asymmetrical context,” said Andrew Smith, an architect on the landmarks commission.  “It almost seems like an asymmetrical design is needed.”

 Brian McCarter, a landscape architect on the design commission, said bridges typically are designed to be balanced, rising to a structural peak at the center.  But here, the geography and the presence of railroad tracks and the freeway on the east side mitigate against a single balanced structure.  “It’s a real struggle to make a single beautiful composition out of the whole thing.”

 A similar “unbalanced” design could be accomplished with a tied arch at the east end, looking like a smaller version of the Fremont Bridge.  Members of the two commissions said they preferred the cable supported concept, where the two towers would be landmarks signaling entry to the east side.

The Burnside Bridge was identified by regional officials in 1996 as the primary emergency route connecting 19 miles of city streets in case of a major earthquake.  Several other bridges are expected to suffer serious damage or route obstructions in a magnitude-9 quake.  The existing Burnside Bridge is expected to collapse at that magnitude.

 “I love this bridge,” Drahota said of the current Burnside. “We tried our hardest to keep it.”  But he said studies showed too many problems for a retrofit to work.

Yet for bridge designers, the bridge needs to be more than a passage for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.  They want it to represent the heart of Portland and the vital dividing line among four city quadrants.  And they would be pleased if it can be attractive enough to draw favorable attention as a landmark and even be a draw for tourists. 

 All designs showed at the March 4 hearing were conceptual in nature rather than detailed.  Steve Drahota, technical leader for the HDR consulting team, said he would bring three-dimensional renderings to a future meeting.

 Julie Livingston, the design commission chair, said the three dimensional studies would give the panels a better view of bridge views from all angles.  Drahota said public comments on the conceptual drawings so far are heavily split between the cable supported approach and the tied arch.  A final bridge design is supposed to be made by City of Portland and Multnomah County officials in the coming summer.

  A funding package has yet to be identified for the project.  In theory, the new bridge is to be finished by the end of this decade.