Saturday, May 8, 2021

Remembering Lee Gray Holden (2)


Northwest Portland

We continue in this article to look at fire stations designed by Lee Gray Holden, a Portland Fire Bureau battalion chief and later fire chief and amateur architect who designed 24 fire stations – some of them more than once – between 1912 and 1928.

It is said that 11 buildings remain, and only two continue to be functioning elements of the Fire Bureau.  Experts would not rate Holden as a great architect, but many of his buildings have survived for other uses because the nearby communities loved them and wanted them saved.  They are excellent examples of how interesting buildings can become important through time and create memorable senses of specific places.

The fire station above, erected in 1912, was one of four double-bay fire stations using clinker bricks to give a variegated texture.  This station in Northwest Portland has been masterfully restored as a single family house.  The Romanesque arch, bracketed cornice and geometric ornaments give these stations lasting appeal.  In this case, Holden accentuated the arch and the second-floor windows with cream-colored brick. 

Historic Kenton Firehouse

In 1913, Holden designed a smaller one-bay station in Kenton.  He applied geometric brick decorations to the stucco façade and firmly marked the building’s sides with brick quoins.  This station fell into disrepair for many years after the Fire Bureau left it, but citizens convinced the city to restore and save it.  Today it is home for the North Portland Citizens’ Committee and a community lending “library” for tools.

 Holden’s other architectural distinction was designing “bungalow” stations intended to fit comfortably into residential neighborhoods.  We looked last week at the first of these built in 1912 in Irvington.  The next year, Holden revised his bungalow template to include a taller gable and the porch supported by simple Doric columns. The taller roof form presumably opened some useable space on the second floor.

 By my count, seven of the "second generation" bungalow stations remain in existence. Two of the bungalows built in 1927 in Portland Heights and Lents remain in active service.  The Portland Heights station is used only by an emergency medical vehicle, while the Lents station had a shed-roofed addition erected to house larger vehicles.

Portland Heights (Portland Fire Bureau photo)

After reading last week's article, Randy Leonard, a former Portland city commissioner and former Fire Bureau lieutenant, brought to mind another bungalow station built in 1913 that clearly was a Holden design.  After it was no longer useable as a fire station, the Portland Firefighters Association acquired it for its union office, a function it still retains.

Holden added bungalow stations in Sellwood in 1920 and in Woodstock in 1928.  After fire equipment grew larger, the Woodstock building was saved by the city as the Woodstock Community Center.  The Sellwood station is now owned by the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League neighborhood association.  It also is used for public purposes.

(City of Portland photo)

The final Holden design was erected in 1929 in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, about a year after he retired as fire chief.  It subsequently was purchased and is operated by the non-profit Oregon Stamp Society.   The designs of these final bungalow stations are remarkably similar; clearly, Holden came up with a concept that was functional for the needs of the era.

Fire Station 7
 The last station we mention is Holden’s largest, built in the Buckman neighborhood in 1927.  Fire Station 7 was designed to be the administrative headquarters for East Portland and the site for East Portland fire vehicle maintenance.  The second floor contained living quarters.

Fire Station 7 remained in service into the 1980s, when it was sold and became an automobile repair shop for many years.  It was acquired, restored and converted to offices in 2010 by the late Art DeMuro, a key preservation figure before his sudden and sad demise.  

 After his retirement in 1928, Holden moved to Seaside in 1939. He returned to Portland in 1943.  While visiting Fire Station 7, Holden suffered a stroke that proved fatal.  He was 77. 

Holden was a progressive fire administrator in other ways, too.  He initiated fire boats on the Willamette River; created first-response medical cars;  and trained all firefighters in first aid.  While those achievements are easily forgotten, his buildings live on.


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