Saturday, July 31, 2021

Two "Smash Hits" at City Hall

Awaiting demolition
 Advocates for preserving Portland’s vintage buildings and important public spaces lose more battles than they win.  It was not surprising, then, when the Portland City Council recently delivered two strikes against preservation in successive days.

 First was the 5-0 vote –without council discussion – on a 50-year “master plan” that would denigrate the historic qualities of the South Park Blocks.  The next day, the council gave tacit approval to demolish the former Blanchet House of Hospitality, the last building with historical significance on its block within the New Chinatown-Japantown Historic District.

 Truth be known, however, neither battle is entirely finished.

 The South Park Blocks case is the most interesting, in that there are no final designs or funding for most changes proposed in the plan.  There will be opportunities for public objections as these proposals approach finality.  Further, it goes without saying all or most of the current council will be long gone before many of the suggested changes occur.

Despite heavy public opposition in written and oral testimony, the council went straight to a vote without any discussion. It is possible there are reasons why the council members chose substantial silence.  

 Looking ahead, “I am sure the debate will continue to be robust,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler as he cast his vote.  The only commissioner to pose any concerns while was Dan Ryan, who said he had safety concerns about the proposed “green loop” bicycle lanes, which would remove one lane off Park Avenue West.  The recreational bike lanes would have to cross busy arterial streets at Jefferson, Columbia, Clay and Market.

 Eliminating car parking also would affect access and Sunday parking four historic churches along the route.  The churches were not involved in the lengthy planning process.

Safe for now...

 Another interesting tidbit for future concern arose with a statement to the council by Tate White, the chief planner.  She said creating a single, wider paved path down the center of some blocks would allow better access for maintenance vehicles.  Since the park has survived some 150 years without that pavement, adding more hardscape to the leafy, green blocks will become an obvious flash point.

 The “smash” will come sooner at the old Blanchet House of Hospitality, which operated earlier as the Yamaguchi Hotel dating back to 1905 or 1906.  The council apparently agrees that the three-story brick building should be demolished, but one member apparently was moved by testimony about travails in the Japanese immigrant community before and during World War II.

Commissioner Dan Ryan proposed that no demolition occur until a committee yet to be names recommends how the building and the history it represents can be memorialized at the same location.  Ryan’s proposed committee would include one or more representatives from the Japanese community, the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association, a historian, the developer of any proposed new building and a Blanchet House representative.  Since a Blanchet representative mentioned a desire to include a low-income health clinic on the site of the old building, a clinic representative was added to the group.  

 Blanchet moved from the old building in 2012 to a new structure on the same block. Blanchet  representatives contended earlier that the old masonry building is vulnerable to an earthquake and cannot be rehabilitated in any economically-viable fashion.

 Ryan, for one, seemed to appreciate the historical significance of the block its role in the relatively small historic district.  He was willing to craft a solution that, while far from perfect in a preservationists’ mind, at least recognized its historical value.  He may be the one member on this comparatively “new” City Council who has a sense for history and a willingness not to sit idly by as it is denigrated.

---Fred Leeson

If you would like to be added to Building on History's mailing list, write "add me" to


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Steeplejack Brewing: A Home Run for Preservation

 In a little over one year, a historic Northeast Portland church at risk of demolition has been transformed into a beautiful and creative example of architectural preservation providing an active new use. 

Starting July 31, the former Metropolitan Community Church (the fourth denomination during the building’s 112-year history) will open its doors as Steeplejack Brewing, offering food, many kinds of beer and an excellent architectural experience.  (We wrote about the history of this building earlier at

Both the interior and exterior have been restored, faithfully respecting the shingle-style architecture of the period.  The interior is bright, cheerful, and infused with light from stained-glass windows.  Inside, the original sanctuary remains as the main seating area, as well as side-rooms that can accommodate smaller parties as desired.

The idea for this masterful renovation came from Steeplejack partners Brody Day and Dustin Harder.  Architectural expertise was provided by Rebecca Morello of Open Concept Architecture.  From here, the story is best told by photographs.

Exterior work included a new roof, painting, replacement of rotting shingles and recreation of badly-deteriorated eave brackets.  "We thought of leaving the brackets off, but we knew it wouldn't look right," Day said. 

Looking to the west.

Inside, the original trusses dominate the room.  The floor has been refinished and much of the original woodwork has been retained.  Tables and benches were crafted from the church's wooden pews.

Looking toward the east, Brody Day has a lot to smile about

David Schlicker, a retired Portland stained glass expert, created 12 new stained glass windows that proceed around the top of the original apse.

Here is one of four smaller rooms available for parties seeking seating together.  One room has sliding doors that close.  Another has a fooseball game and large TV screens, presumably for the sports crowd.

Steeplejack was the name given to workmen who clambered up to erect and maintain tall steeples and chimneys.  Here, the steeple has been braced with steel tie rods and left open for public view.  (Climbing up is NOT encouraged.)

We finish with an "in process" image.  All shingles under the big western gable had to be replaced.  The new roof is on and the new eave brackets have been installed. Painting has been completed on the north side.  Protective lenses have been applied over the stained glass windows. 

You can see the beer and food menu at  However, regardless of one's proclivities for consuming beer, a visit to Steeplejack Brewing is a worthy experience just to enjoy its architecture inside and out.

---Fred Leeson

If you'd like to join building on History's mailing list, write "add me" to

Friday, July 16, 2021

Rose City Golf Clubhouse


Eastern Facade, Rose City Clubhouse

While navigating around the city, it’s always interesting to notice nice old buildings that would benefit from sensitive restoration.

 High on my list is the clubhouse at the Rose City Golf Course.  Finished in 1932 in the English cottage architectural style, the building reflects an interesting  moment in municipal golf and clubhouse design.  Rose City supporters delved deep into that history in compiling an application in 2012 that succeeded in placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.

 “The exterior of the clubhouse retains excellent integrity of materials, craftsmanship and design,” the application noted.  Alas, the building’s interior has been seriously abused and changed by renovations dating to the 1960s and 1970s.

  The building design, by Portland architect Herbert Angell, shows several classic English cottage elements:  a strong, steeply pitched roof, asymmetrical facades, large chimney, dormers, multi-paned windows, both brick and shingled walls.  Angell's original plan also included stone in the facades, another key element of the English cottage style, but stone was removed from the final plan to cut costs.

  Rose City is the oldest surviving municipal clubhouse among Portland’s five public courses, and is believed to be the oldest of the municipal variety in Oregon.

 Portland’s city government jumped into the golf business in 1918 with the opening of Eastmoreland Golf Course, where the original clubhouse has been replaced.  The object of municipal golf in the era was to provide an option for lower and middle-class citizens to participate in a sport dominated by wealthy private golf clubs.

 The first primitive nine holes at Rose City were laid out by golfers acting without permission on a portion of the Rose City Race Track, which early in the century hosted races involving cars, horses and motorcycles.  The city parks department took the hint and opened the first nine holes in 1923, followed by the second nine in 1927.

The purpose of a clubhouse, whether private or public at the time, was to provide a “home away from home” for golfers.  That meant lounges, food service, and lockers in addition to golf essentials.  In normal times, the Rose City clubhouse is commonly used for drinking beer, eating burgers, playing cards and watching golf on television.

 For whatever reasons, the interior at Rose City was remodeled for changes that have not stood up well over time.  The grand fireplace with a stone hearth was covered over by sheetrock, and could easily be restored.  Dropped ceilings have covered up the timbered ceiling, some of which remains above the second floor hidden from public view.

Western (rear) Facade

  A few years ago, Bill Hart, a principal of the Carleton-Hart architecture firm and a member of the Park Bureau’s golf advisory committee, prepared a preliminary plan for renovation of the Rose City clubhouse.  His plan would restore some of the historic elements of the interior, improve the dining facilities, and upgrade the patio into a more pleasant and functional space.   The proposed patio and dining room ostensibly could make the clubhouse more attractive for use by non-golfers.

 Alas, the city golf fund, which operates the five city courses without subsidy from the general fund, will never generate enough revenue to finance the extensive renovation.  At present, the golf fund barely covers operational costs, although the pandemic has boosted activity and revenue.  Renovation at Rose City would require fund-raising from some other source.

Hank Childs, the Rose City golf concessionaire, once proposed a public fund drive for the project, which he said included a major donor willing to assist.  However, the plan was never approved by the Parks Bureau. Undertaking a fund drive would require firm resolve from the bureau and the city commissioner in charge of parks.   

 In the past few years, responsibility for the bureau has shifted from Commissioner Amada Fritz to Commissioner Nick Fish, to  Mayor Ted Wheeler, back to Fritz and now to Carmen Rubio. With no firm hand on the controls, further deterioration of the clubhouse seems inevitable as time moves on.

 If you can think of notable old buildings you’d like to see restored for current or better uses, feel free to list them here.  Maybe public involvement can encourage positive change.

----Fred Leeson

South Park Blocks Master Plan update: After a lengthy presentation and testimony from more than 50 people on July 15, the City Council continued its discussion of the plan to the morning agenda on July 21.  Despite heavy opposition to the plan from citizens, the council showed no outward inclination to suggest or recommend changes.  However, even if the plan is passed, there will be opportunities in the future to make reasonable objections as implementation unfolds.  We'll discuss that in more detail later. 

To join Building on History's mailing list, write "Add me" to







Saturday, July 10, 2021

New Life for the Old Oregonian Pressroom


Two-story windows now enlighten the SRG Partnership

More than a year after churning out their final newspapers at 48,000 copies per hour, the 600-ton Hoe rotary presses were described by the editor of the Oregonian in 1976 as “unloved and unwanted.”

 The massive equipment sat idle for a long time in the two-story pressroom of the Oregonian building at 1320 SW Broadway.  The Oregonian was one of two major buildings erected in 1948 designed by Pietro Belluschi,  then on his way to becoming one of the world’s best-known architects.

 The other post-war structure, the Equitable (now Commonwealth) Building proved to be far more famous.  As the first high-rise to be erected with a glass curtainwall, it became a model for the International Style of modern buildings that swept major cities across the globe.

Meanwhile, after building a new home elsewhere for more modern presses in 1974, there was a gaping hole in the Oregonian building, where the Hoe presses, a 4,000 gallon ink tank, and bulky linotype machines once sat.  “There’s about a half a block of room, two stories tall and two stories deep – room for perhaps a multi-level mini-mall with shops, restaurant, a bank – you name it,” wrote J. Richard Nokes in 1976.

 At long last, a new tenant has been found for the old Oregonian pressroom.  SRG Partnership, a major architectural firm with offices in Portland and Seattle, has built a mezzanine and reconfigured the space for meetings and open offices.  SRG is one of Portland’s most prominent design firms; its recent projects include the new Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland.

 SRG created its own entrance at 621 S.W. Columbia St.  The building’s main entrance remains on S.W. Broadway. 

  Images of the remodeled pressroom can be seen here:   As a historic footnote, the remodel left in place the steel rails near the ceiling on which 1,400-pound rolls of newsprint once travelled.

 Finding new and successful uses for historic buildings is one of the biggest challenges and achievements in preserving important vintage buildings.  The Oregonian, which didn’t maintain the building to a high standard, moved out in 2014.  SRG becomes the second major tenant. AWS Elemental, part of Amazon’s digital empire of something-or-other, is the prime tenant.

 Thanks to new ownership and new tenants, the former newspaper building looks to be in the best condition since it opened in 1948.  It likely will achieve more attention from scholars and architectural devotees interested in Belluschi’s Portland projects. 

Another major Portland firm, SERA Architects, will renovate and move into another historic downtown landmark early in 2022 when it moves into the former Galleria – originally the Olds, Wortman & King department store.  SERA has a long history working on preservation/restoration projects.  

It is encouraging to see prominent architectural firms recognizing advantages in locating and bringing new life to historic properties.

---Fred Leeson

You can join Building on History's mailing list by writing "add me" to

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Blanchet House Lingers at City Council


Former Yamaguchi Hotel, right 

Representatives of the Blanchet House of Hospitality made two statements to the Portland City Council this week that could affect the council’s decision on whether to demolish the original Blanchet building that is part of the New Chinatown-Japantown Historic District.

First, the well-respected social agency that provides food and some housing for the homeless said that it wants to build a new community health center on the site of the old building at 340 N.W. Glisan St.

Second, the agency’s lawyer said Blanchet House is not willing to sell the three-story old building, even if a potential buyer wants to save it.

The revelation about a new health center took the city’s building department by surprise.  It suggests  that Blanchet House could be using the wrong strategy in trying to demolish the old building.

In most cases where someone wants to demolish a historic building, the loss of the old building is balanced against the public values to be gained from a new building that takes its place.  That is the strategy Blanchet House used in 2010 when it convinced the City Council to demolish the Kiernan Building that sat on the site of the new Blanchet House on the same block.  The proposed new building had been through historic design review and building permits were ready.

But this time, Blanchet House contends that the old building, erected in 1905, should be razed because it is in such poor shape it “deprives the owner of all reasonable economic use of the site.”  The trouble with that option, said Peggy Moretti, a preservation advocate for Restore Oregon, “There is no guarantee anything would replace this building other than a vacant lot.”

Preservation advocates are concerned that a precedent for razing a historic building purely on economic grounds would encourage benign neglect by owners who ultimately want to build something else.  Kristen Minor, chair of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, said it would be “alarming” to demolish the old Blanchet House without knowing what is proposed to replace it.

Although the old Blanchet House has been vacant since 2012, Tim Heron, a senior planner for the city’s Bureau of Development Services, said he had never heard about the proposed health center until two days before the City Council hearing.  “The new information about a concept is interesting,” he said. He noted that the suggestion is “an idea” and “not a building.”

After three hours of testimony, the council postponed the demolition request to July 22.  Some commissioners asked for more time to review the testimony, and Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was not present for this hearing, presumably will review it, too.

The old building was the Yamaguchi Hotel until 1931.  The neighborhood was an entry point for many Chinese and Japanese who immigrated to Portland before racial animus and World War II internments played havoc with their American lives.  Larry Kojaku, showing newspaper headlines before and after the war, said Japanese citizens were victims of “ethnic cleansing.”  Razing the old building, he added, would be “part of erasing this historic memory.”

 The only city commissioner to hint at a decision on demolition was JoAnn Hardesty.  Though she said she was “really torn” by some testimony, she felt Blanchet House had done sufficient “due diligence” in its demolition application.

Near the end of the hearing, Scott Kerman, Blanchet House executive director, indicated he had learned something new about the old building.  “This is a history I was not aware of.”  He added, however, the no one from the Asian community had approached the agency as a prospective buyer.

The New Chinatown-Japan Historic District is unique in Portland because its creation was based on the cultural histories of the Chinese and Japanese communities in roughly 10 square blocks that comprise district boundaries.  The city’s other historic districts are based largely on architectural history of varying time periods.

South Park Blocks Master Plan Update: The City Council hearing originally scheduled for July 7 has been moved to July 15 at 2.m.  Given heavy public interest in the South Park Blocks, it is difficult to imagine this matter being resolved in one session.

------Fred Leeson

You can join Building on History's mailing list by writing "Add me" to