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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  1. Fred,I am glad you posted this information. The Beaver Hotel is also nearby and should be saved.

  2. Saving some bricks and a door isn't saving a place.

  3. Reusing a doorway and some bricks do not preserve a building. Architecturally it is bland, but there is history here that can be learned by looking at it (and accompanying signs.) Bricks and a door stuck somewhere will be ignored and forgotten.

  4. One would assume, perhaps, that the building pieces can be included in some sort of interpretive display that references the history of the building and its role in the historic district. We don't know how that will unfold, but at least there are knowledgeable people at the table.

  5. I think Fred makes a good point about possible historic interpretation of the salvaged pieces of architectural fabric. It could be very well done….or not.