Friday, November 26, 2021

Visiting the Lloyd Center Ghost Town


If you’re a fan of oversized fake Christmas trees and huge dangling ornaments, don’t miss Lloyd Center this season.  It’s bound to be your last chance.

A year ago, Building on History wrote about the obvious decline of the big Northeast Portland shopping mall and offered suggestions for its future.  Other news outlets picked up on the story, leading to an outpouring of memories of shoppers who remember the mall in its prime.  While this blog generally concentrates on preservation of older buildings, the number of "hits" for the Lloyd Center post far exceeded any other in the blog's lifetime. 

 Portland author and filmmaker, Paula Bernstein, was so touched by peoples’ memories of the mall that she is working on documentary about them.  Her production schedule is not yet known, but there is a strong chance the mall will be padlocked before it’s finished.  Interested people can reach her through

In the meantime, the months have been difficult at the mall.  None of us knew a year ago that the Texas-based owners were already defaulting on their big debt to a powerful lender, who has now promised  foreclosure after the December seasonal “rush” concludes.

  A fire in the electrical station shut down the mall for a few weeks in the summer, and more stores have departed.  Managers of those that remain have heard nothing from the mall owner about the mall’s future.

KKR Real Estate Finance Trust said it plans to take possession “and prepare for long-term redevelopment of the site.”  What that means is anyone’s guess.  

The only obvious answer is that the mall’s future, like most other issues on American society, will be decided by Big Money.  You can be sure KKR isn’t interested in housing the homeless or maintaining a goofy little skating rink because a handful of people like it.  It also is improbable to think the mall could be reconditioned as a retail site, given the decline in on-site shopping in favor of the internet. 

The likelihood is that the mall will be replaced by towers for offices and affluent condominium owners, if private studies show there is suitable market for them.  Lloyd Center was an anomaly in the city's traditional grid layout in that it was a "superblock" imposed in the late 1950s on approximately 17 square blocks of "old" Northeast Portland.  It would be interesting to see streets blocked off by the mall be reopened to Portland’s traditional grid pattern.  That outcome might open the door for interesting and active street life in the neighborhood.  Or not.

In the meantime, take in the fake tree and monstrous dangling ornaments if they fit your fancy.  While you can.  

 -----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 19, 2021

Good News at Hollywood Theatre


Artist's rendering (Scott Baumberger)

 After a COVID-19-related delay for 15 months, officials restoring the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland are getting ready – again – to start restoration of the pedestrian-level façade.

 Workers are slowly peeling away fabric installed in 1965 under the big marquee when most of the original terra cotta details and original ornaments were either scraped off or covered over, presumably to give the erstwhile movie palace a more modern look.

 When it opened in 1926, the glorious and intricately-decorated tall big façade on Sandy Boulevard made such a big impression that the neighborhood for blocks around came to be known as the Hollywood District, a name that it still bears today.

 The pandemic-related delay to the $150,000 lower façade project proved to have some benefit, as it allowed time to find some original details that were thought to be lost.  Three bas reliefs in arches over the entry doors were thought to have been destroyed, but were merely covered up.  Likewise, a patch of original terrazzo tiles hidden by the earlier remodel will allow for new tiles to be ordered with the right colors.

Yet another surprise was found in what architect Paul Falsetto called the large barrel arch on the façade that is partially covered by the Hollywood marquee.  Colorful terra cotta decorations thought to have been lost in the arch turned out to be largely intact when subsequent screening was removed.

Historic view (Hollywood Theatre)

"I'm related elated about these discoveries," said Virginia Durost, the Hollywood facilities director.  “We’ve gotten to see what was under there before we start.” She said the original building was “designed as one cohesive whole,” but was "cut off at the knees" by subsequent remodels at the ground level.  The new project will not be an exact replica of the original, but it will be close enough to make the building stand as a unified architectural statement.  “The whole design will come down to the ground,” Durost said. 

An element that will not be replaced is the freestanding octagonal ticket booth that originally stood close to the Sandy Boulevard sidewalk.  However, its shape and location will be recognized on the ground in the entryway.

In a Zoom meeting, Falsetto said the lower façade improvements will restore the original symmetry, although not all of the detailing will be identical.  Stacks of what look like blocks, called quoins in architectural lingo, will define the east and west edges of the lower façade, and lighted poster cases will be set off against sleek porcelain bricks.

 The firm of John Virginius Bennes and Harry Herzog did the original design.  The two men were partners for nine years, during which they designed two other theaters that no longer exist.  Bennes is best known for several buildings he designed on the campus of Oregon State University that are included in a national historic district; Herzog also worked on Temple Beth Israel, another of the city’s most notable structures. 

The glitzy façade of the Hollywood Theatre is one of the best-known in Portland.  Falsetto said the  main entrance was angled along Sandy Boulevard – a street  that cuts through Northeast Portland on a diagonal -- so that it is especially visible to traffic heading east on Sandy, another reason for the building’s prominence.

 The non-profit Hollywood Theatre organization is now in its 11th year of gradually restoring the previously much-abused landmark.  By early next spring, if construction estimates are accurate, the exterior of the grand dame of Northeast Portland should be proud and shining again for many years to come.

Besides its devotion to showing new and old movies, the nonprofit deserves high regard for its careful persistence in restoring a magnificent architectural treasure.  

 -----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 12, 2021

Revisiting the Yamaguchi Hotel


340 NW Glisan St. 

The drama over demolition of the old Yamaguchi Hotel, later used as the first Blanchet House of Hospitality, didn’t end with the City Council’s decision in July to allow demolition of the 116-year-old building.

The council’s ruling was appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals by two preservation organizations and the Japanese American Museum of Oregon.  Their first motion was to stay the demolition while a full appeal could occur that attacked the council’s grounds for allowing demolition.

As Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher allegedly said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”  Except now it is getting closer. 

Pretrial negotiations led to a settlement in which the Blanchet House, a nonprofit that provides food and some housing to the indigent, agreed to save elements of the old building before demolition.  The pieces ostensibly can be incorporated into a new structure on the same site, or used elsewhere as part of a historic display.

The settlement states:

“At its sole cost and expense, Blanchet House will use all commercially reasonable methods and best management practices in the demolition of the 340 NW Glisan St. building to preserve the following historical elements of the Building:

·         “Exterior building doors and frames on Glisan Street Frontage, including transoms;

·         “Wood components of ground floor storefront system on Glisan Street frontage, including frames and sills;

·         “Wood components of upper level windows on Glisan Street frontage, including frames, sills, sashes, arched header and interior casings;

·         “Iron columns immediately behind the Glisan Street ground floor storefront;

·         “At least 100 original bricks.”

As part of the settlement, the Land Use Board of Appeals will reimburse Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center for $5,000 in legal fees.

It is easy to say the settlement nets only bits and pieces of what the appellants originally wanted.  On the other hand, it amounts to a “win” in that some of the historic fabric will be saved – a result that went beyond the City Council’s ruling.

During its tenure as the Yamaguchi Hotel, the building was a beacon for Japanese residents who during its 25-year span were subjected to immigration restrictions and bans, and were prevented from buying or owning property.

Oddly, the Blanchet House, a respected nonprofit with an excellent reputation for its work, apparently knew little or nothing about the Japanese history associated with the building.  The structure is listed as a contributing element in the 10-square-block Portland New Chinatown/Japantown National Historic District

“The settlement agreement is better than if no appeal had been initiated,” said Larry Kojaku, a board member of the Architectural Heritage Center.  He added, however, that a better long-term solution would be for the city to not consider demolishing a historic landmark without assessing the comparative value of a proposed building to replace it.  That is the standard recommended the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

Ironically, Blanchet House went through that exact procedure when it convinced the city to demolish another building in the historic district to make way for the new (current) Blanchet House adjacent to the old one. 

In this case, the Blanchet House did not offer a specific proposal in return for demolition.  At one point it did suggest building a community health center on the site, but there was no assurance that the old building would be more than vacant land for the foreseeable future.

At the City Council’s direction, Blanchet House is continuing to meet with a committee of historians and neighborhood leaders to discuss what should happen at the old Blanchet House site.  In an ideal world, they would find a way to rehabilitate the building so it could provide a community health center and  more housing for the Blanchet clientele. 

-----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Preservation Battle: Same Old, Same Old (So Far...)

Portland City Council (top two rows)

 Six hours of testimony before the Portland City Council this week reflected all the heat and little new light about changing how the city identifies and manages its historic landmarks and historic districts.

 The arguments for and against historic preservation showed little new from prior years, with the notable exception of who DIDN’T show up.

The homebuilders’ lobby and One Thousand Friends of Oregon, originally a farmland preservation group, have led the fight against historic districts for several years now.  They appear to have been replaced by new faces using the same talking points under the label Portland Neighbors Welcome.

Their pitch contends that historic districts stand in the way of affordable housing, and that standards for demolishing buildings for new development should be made easier. They want fewer building restrictions, faster government approvals and relaxed height standards.  They offer no proof, however, that their amendments create affordable housing. 

If there was truth in their contentions, you would think we would see results in many Portland neighborhoods where no historic standards are maintained.  Alas, we don't. 

 Lincoln Tuchow, a Portland Realtor, testified that rents in the plethora of new apartment buildings are more expensive than rents in old buildings.  He also said that whenever an old house is demolished, the unit that replaces it is more expensive. 

Both preservation advocates and the construction lobby have offered to the City Council amendments to the proposed Historic Resources Code Project under discussion.  The council is supposed to declare by Dec. 1 which, if any, amendments they want to consider at a council meeting on Dec. 15. 

It would be reading tea leaves to guess at this point if any amendments will be proposed.  Since three of the five commissioners are in their first year on the council, there is a perception that the "newbies" are unwilling to challenge measures brought to the council by another, for the sake of maintaining personal  relationships.  Alas, if that's true, it puts good public policy in potential jeopardy. 

As part of the lengthy hearing this week, Rod Merrick an architect and preservation advocate, listed 10 reasons why preservation is important.  If you happen to be new to the world of preservation they amount to a brief, informative primer.

1.       Preservation guides change to protect historic resources -our architecture, landscapes, and culture. 

2.       Preservation is environmentally and ecologically the most sustainable form of development.  

3.       Preservation promotes local craft skills and the local business that supply products for those crafts. 

4.       Preservation of existing structures limits demolitions that are the largest volume of material that is trucked to landfills. 

5.       Preservation protects the treasures of a city for the education and enjoyment of visitors and fellow residents. 

6.       Preservation promotes the sense of place that builds community and civic pride. 

7.       Preservation drives tourism world-wide. Portland is very much in need of preserving its appeal beyond providing a landing place for exploration of the beautiful landscapes beyond the Metro boundaries. 

8.       Preservation attracts investment in unstable and declining neighborhoods. 

9.       Preservation is an expression of appreciation and provides soul to every place where it is practiced. 

10.   Historic Preservation districts affect less than 3% of Portland's housing stock. They contribute to housing affordability by:

a.       Preserving existing housing stock which is often the most affordable housing

b.      Curbing speculative upmarket redevelopment

c.       Discouraging demolition and displacement.