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
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
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
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
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
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.
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