Saturday, April 24, 2021

New Life at Olds/Rhodes/Galleria/Target


Perhaps the best hope for an excellent vintage building is that it can have as many lives as the proverbial cat.

We mention that today in reference to Olds, Wortman & King, which begat Olds & King, which begat the Rhodes department store, which begat the Galleria, which begat Western Culinary Institute, which begat Target (1), which begat Target (2).

Of course, our subject here is the five-story full-block steel-framed, terra-cotta coated building that has stood on S.W. 10th Avenue since 1910, when its six hydraulic-powered elevators and big skylight were the talk of the town.  The Olds, Wortman & King store is significant historically because it marked a westernmost expansion for a major retailer downtown. 

In the latest iteration, Target has abandoned the second and third floors of the building and now operate a smaller store on the first floor with an entrance on S.W. Morrison Street.  The four floors above will be rented for offices.  One floor will become the new home of SERA Architects, a firm with an excellent track record of renovating historic buildings.

The smaller Target on the main floor is actually a plus for pedestrians and shoppers.  Under the earlier version, shoppers entered on Morrison and rode escalators to the floors above.  Now the majority of the Morrison frontage is well-lit, with large windows literally glowing with retail items for sale. 

Target on Morrison Street

The former department store is best remembered these days as the Galleria, created in 1976 after Bill and Sam Naito bought the empty shell left by the departure of Rhodes in 1974.  Working with a predecessor of the SERA firm headed by the late George (Bing) Sheldon, they reopened the skylight that had been closed off and created spaces for restaurants and boutique shops on the first three floors.

The Naitos also converted the basement for parking and put offices on the top two floors.  For several years the Galleria thrived as a trendy shopping venue, holding as many as 48 shops and eateries.  The glory years subsequently ended with the opening of the Pioneer Place mall in 1990, the death of Bill Naito in 1996 and a long-running feud involving members of the surviving Naito families.

Western Culinary Institute, a cooking school, used the building for several years including a main-floor restaurant before shutting down.  Target came to the rescue in 2013 and the building’s owners took steps to recapture some of the building’s historic features.

Under the building’s revised plan, the second through fifth floors will become offices.  The building’s major entrance on S.W. 10th Avenue is now locked shut, but presumably will lead to elevators travelling to and from the offices.  Regrettably, the large atrium that was closed off after the glory days of the Galleria apparently will remain closed. 

While the new Target will be smaller than the old one, it offers the most vibrant main-floor shopping experience since Galleria.  It makes Morrison Street a more attractive retail environment for the vacant retail spaces directly across the street on the ground-floor of a renovated multi-level parking structure.

 The original building, largely intact on the exterior, was designed by a Seattle architect, Charles Aldrich.  A.E. Doyle, on his way to becoming one of the most important architects in Portland history, managed the project and designed the interiors.

Aldrich’s design scheme to some degree is an offshoot of Louis Sullivan’s famous Carson Pirie Scott department store, opened in Chicago in 1899.  Sullivan used a steel frame that allowed large windows to flood the floors with natural light.  Sullivan’s work was a new concept for creating a merchandise palace with a contemporary rather than historic style.

Within the same few years as the Olds Wortman & King building, Doyle was using the same basic concepts in his designs for the Meier & Frank and Lipmann & Wolfe department stores.   Both of those buildings have graduated to other uses, as well.

There is now way to predict how long the newest “chapter” of the Olds & King building will last.  One would assume, however, given its excellent location, good bones and flexible interior space, that, in necessary, it should be eligible for further “begats” in the years ahead. 

--Fred Leeson 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

One Year Done...Light a Candle


This month marks the anniversary of Building on History.  The blog began with the goal of encouraging interest in protecting Portland’s wonderful collection of vintage buildings and their role in our history and unique sense of place.

 Mission accomplished?  Journalists seldom learn about the impact, if any, of their work.  Sometimes they learn that public response is the opposite of what they had hoped. The intent here was to help people understand the texture that good old buildings provide to our community, in addition to economic and environmental benefits.   If nothing else, these articles have given your correspondent welcome opportunities to get out of his house during the pandemic to take pictures.  

 During the year, the blog page has been opened more than 50,000 times.  Some articles have been reprinted in the Oregonian and the Northwest Examiner.  I believe the blog also has prompted some media outlets to take their own look at issues raised here.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the most-read articles have been about buildings that are well recognized. The most popular one so far has been about the obvious decline of the Lloyd Center.  Other most-read articles were about the restoration of important neighborhood buildings such as the former Phoenix Pharmacy, conversion of the Metropolitan Community Church into a brewpub and restoration of the former Gordon’s Fireplace building.  Perhaps the latter three projects will encourage other businesses to see value and bottom-line benefits to saving architecturally-worthy buildings.

The year also included important plans for renovating the old Troy Laundry and the former Multnomah County Courthouse.  One hopes that the impressive preservation schemes can be carried out.  The same goes for the proposed expansion of the Anna Mann House property into a low-income housing project, expected to begin later this year. 

 A few readers have submitted suggestions for buildings to write about.  Ideas are always welcome.  Are these articles too long?  Too short?  Are there buildings you would like to see reviewed here?  You can reach me at

 An interesting list of topics awaits as Building on History enters its second year.  But first, let’s look at updates on subjects discussed previously:

 LLOYD CENTER:  Despite the growing number of vacant storefronts, owners of this large mall think it can still be saved as a retail center.  So far, they have shown no interest in converting it or reconfiguring it for other uses.

 MORRIS MARKS HOUSE:   Restoration of this Italianate wooden house from the 1800s that was moved to a new site has been completed and sold to a group of lawyers as an office.  This is a successful adaptation to a new use, and should preserve this elegant structure for many years ahead.

 CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY CAMPUS: Vacant since its sudden closure last year, this Northeast Portland small-college campus ostensibly will be put up for auction in June.  However, since it is a considerable asset tied up in financial litigation over the college’s demise, it is unclear whether anyone will risk bidding on it.  Change to some other use other than as a campus would require a zoning change by the Portland City Council in a neighborhood that otherwise is strictly residential.

 HOTEL GRAND STARK: Renovation of the four-story former Schleiffer Furniture store on Southeast Grand Avenue has been completed.  The hotel is advertising for its first visitors as of May 1.

U.S. CUSTOM HOUSE: Our article questioning whether this grand early-20thCentury building could survive as a WeWork site given the problems raised by the pandemic and by WeWork’s own financial troubles may have proved sadly prescient.  The company has since said it will close either the Custom House or the Pioneer Place location as offices for small businesses and solo business practitioners.  One or the other will need to look for new tenancy. 

HENRY BUILDING: An excellent restoration of this six-story, quarter-block downtown building has been completed, and low-income tenants are moving in.  Great work by the skilled preservation team and by the owner, Central City Concern. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A Star Coming to Broadway?


N.E. 33rd and Broadway

At long last, renovation has started on 105-year old retail and manufacturing building in Northeast Portland, best known to the current generation as the former Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

Will the project become a hit on Broadway (3300 N.E. Broadway, that is)?

InterUrban Development, a Seattle-based firm with a history of working on historic buildings, hopes so.  Their plan calls for 8,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor with offices on two floors above.

The building has been vacant since the last tenant, Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, announced its closure and final sale in 2016.  Since then,   Gordon Malafouris, the store owner, had been at the Broadway location since 1990, after having operated several other outlets since 1960.  In addition to fireplace accoutrements, the well-known store included an eclectic mix of interior home products, including grandfather clocks and light fixtures.

As our two contemporary images indicate, the building has suffered extensively from vandalism and graffiti while planning has been proceeding.  The work will include earthquake bracing in addition to restoring the original facades.  Although clearly intended as an industrial building, it contains interest decorative brickwork atop the eight pilasters spaced along the primary frontage.

Southern Exposure

The building’s three stories have 18-foot ceilings, and expansive windows on the southern exposure that provide for extensive interior natural light.   Some of those windows on the ground floor were replaced with walls years ago.  An architect’s rendering (below) suggests the possibility of a penthouse being added, but recent word says it probably will be a roof-top deck, instead.

Why should we care about this project? First, the design and materials add texture to the neighborhood that likely could not be reproduced.  Second, it gives us a historical sense that life DID occur before us, and that we are just another step in history.  Third, the building provides a definite "sense of place" that separates N.E. 33rd and Broadway from anywhere else in town. 

Oregon Home Builders Inc. erected the structure in 1916 when the home-building market had been booming in the comparatively recent nearby high-end Alameda, Irvington and Laurelhurst neighborhoods.  The building also has been known for years as the “aircraft factory” because it was used for construction of wood-and-canvas airplane wings and pontoons used by World War I aircraft.

Oddly, Oregon Home Builders went bankrupt soon after the war.  The building housed a furniture store for many years before Gordon’s moved in.  The upper floors have been used mostly as warehouse space.

InterUrban Development operates in Seattle, Portland and Spokane.  Its major Portland projects include renovation of the former YMCA building near Duniway Park into the corporate office of the Under Armour sports apparel firm, and creation of the Pine Street Market in an 1886 building downtown.  (Old-timers will remember that building as home of the original Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant from 1969 to 1984.)  

A successful project would add new life to a stretch of Northeast Broadway that has seen turnover among tenants in recent years and a long-vacant fast-food property looking for a buyer.  The pandemic may well have an impact on demand for office space if employers retain the concept of more employees working from home.

Penthouse doubtful (InterUrban Development) 

One must hope, however, that the pandemic is long gone once this building is ready for new life.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Historic Gem Waiting, Waiting....

Bank of California

 People who care about Portland’s architectural history frequently see a significant building that needs  preservation or a new use – or both.

Thus we hear from Portland historian Dan Haneckow whose attention is drawn to the 1925 Bank of California building designed by A.E. Doyle.  The three-story, Italian Renaissance palace was erected late in Doyle’s career, probably when his life already was threatened by the kidney disease that took his life in 1928.

 “It’s a conundrum; a beautiful building, long vacant, in an area with little need for a bank,” Haneckow notes.  “It looks like it would be a great space, but for what?  Every time I walk past it I consider the problem but as of yet, have not come up with a solution.”

Nor has anyone else, sadly, in the last 15 years or so since its last tenant moved out.  The Bank of California departed for a new tower in 1969.  Subsequent tenants included insurance and brokerage houses.  At some point, the name "Three Kings" was placed over the original bank sign.  A polite notice  in the window says the building is for sale or lease, should you be interested.

The renaissance palace concept obviously had a strong hold in Doyle’s mind at the time.  The Bank of California was followed quickly by the much larger Pacific Building which remains a vibrant office and retail venue downtown.  The 10th story penthouse at the Pacific Building also served as Doyle’s last architecture office, although his failing health restricted his activity there.

The Bank of California sits in an interesting position, directly across the street from Doyle’s Roman Corinthian temple he designed earlier for U.S. National Bank.  Each of them, and the two together, rank among the city’s best examples of architecture reflecting historical styles.

U.S. National Bank

Both were built in an era when a bank was intended to impart feelings of culture and financial strength for customers entering to make important transactions.  Now we do business on electronic gadgets in our pockets or purses.

Although the Bank of California looks like it is faced with stone, the material is terra cotta, a molded clay product that is fired at length at high temperature.  Doyle loved terra cotta, and used it in many of the 20 buildings he designed downtown, including retail stores that old-timers will recall as Meier & Frank, Lipman-Wolfe & Co., and Olds, Wortman & King.

One beauty of terra cotta is that it survives well in a wet climate like Portland’s.  Another is that glazes can be selected for certain colors.  Both attributes are showcased at these two buildings straddling S.W. 6th Avenue.

 Despite its prolonged vacancy, the Bank of California has some assets that have served it well.  Its tall, strong Florentine arches resist temptations for cheap, easy changes to the facades.  The elegant, two-story banking lobby also has survived intact.

 Another survival benefit has been its ownership by a firm headed by Fariborz Maseeh, a successful high-tech entrepreneur who has been a major donor at Portland State University.  Though long vacant, the building appears to be in good condition.

Speaking about the building in 2006, William J. Hawkins, a Portland architect and architectural historian, told a news reporter, "It's an exceptionally fine building by Doyle.  It set a high standard for Portland design for decades."

 One hopes that somewhere, someday, a new tenant once again will make good use of this architectural gem.