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

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