Thursday, February 24, 2022

Could This Possibly Work?


Convinced that full preservation is far too expensive to achieve, directors of the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center are negotiating a potential sale in hopes of saving three public facades of the historic former First Church of Christ, Science.

 The classical Roman-styled building, erected in 1909 in the 1800 block of NW Everett St., since 1977 has operated as a non-profit for several neighborhood social service agencies and later as home of the Northwest Children’s Theater.

However, with rehabilitation costs now estimated to exceed $10 million, NNCC is negotiating on a proposed $4.75 million sale to a Las Vegas development company.  If a sale occurs, proceeds would be held in trust by the Oregon Community Foundation for programs benefitting the Northwest neighborhood.

 Dan Anderson, NNCC president, told directors recently that negotiations are proceeding with Founders Development Inc., a firm that boasts on its website of being a high-end residential developer.  A request pending by the NNCC is requiring preservation easements on three facades as an element of the sale.

“We are not there yet, but we are close,” Anderson said at an annual board meeting.  He said a conclusion could be reached sometime in the spring.

   The building has been for sale for almost three years, but so far has attracted only one seemingly serious bid.  The building's problems include seismic bracing, electrical and plumbing replacements.  “This has not been easy, let me tell you,” Anderson said of the sales process.   Discussions occurred with local preservation experts to see if anyone was interested in buying the Beaux-Arts architectural landmark.  The responses, he said, amounted to, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

 So far, no proposed designs for what would replace the church have been disclosed.  If negotiations succeed, Anderson said drawings and perspective renderings would be shown to the board and all 500-plus people listed as building owners in considering a sale. 

 The Northwest Children’s Theater is the current tenant.  Anderson said its lease expires in September, and there is no word whether the group will renew.  He said the NNCC board and members “care greatly for this building,” but that the current owners are not able to meeting the building’s “enormous needs.”  Earthquake bracing and replacement of wiring, plumbing and mechanical systems are big-ticket items.

 The site is zoned CM-2, which allows for commercial and/or residential uses up to four or five stories in height.  Because the building is a local and national landmark, a new development plan would have to be approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and, if its decision was appealed, by the City Council.

 One believes it would take serious architectural abilities to blend the three historic faces into a taller, new building.  Such things are known to happen in some European cities, but it could be a new “landmark” for Portland.  While preservationists will agree that saving a full loaf is better than a part of a loaf, a new building incorporating the historic facades could set an interesting precedent in Portland architecture.

The question arises, however, as to whether Founders Development Inc., has the architectural chops to pull it off successfully.

-----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Through the Looking Glass at King's Hill Condominiums


Sometime in the near future, workers will descend on the King’s Hill Condominiums (nee: King’s Hill Apartments)  located near Providence Park and will start stripping all stucco off the 114-year-old four story building.

 Plans call for application of wall insulation, plywood sheathing to increase earthquake resistance, new roofing and a three-course stucco skin that should make the building look much as it did when it was completed in 1907.

 At first, the plans also called for installing new windows on all four floors.  However, Certa Building Solutions, a firm that concentrates on exterior envelopes for new and historic structures, came up with a solution that may set an interesting precedent on the condos at 731 S.W. King Ave. Instead of new windows, the old ones will be removed and rebuilt with insulated double-pane glass.

Reconditioning rather than replacing windows is a big deal in the preservation world.  Advertisements on television, magazines and the internet incessantly try to convince homeowners to replace their "old" windows with some new -- and made mostly from plastic.  

To preservation nerds, the only honest reaction to the hard window sell is "ugh." 

Reconditioned windows can be largely indistinguishable visually from the originals, as well as providing better insulation.  On this building, the improved windows also will allow removal of storm windows that were added later.

 While reconditioning wood windows has become more common on historic houses, the King’s Hill condos appear to be one of the largest buildings where all windows will be reconditioned rather than replaced.

 James Riley, director of architecture at Certa, said Viridian Window Restoration of Portland will do the window work.  “We will not be hiring a contractor with a pickup and a saw,” he told the Portland Landmarks Commission.  “That’s not how these things are done.” Viridian has a trailer brought to sites that has all the equipment needed for cleaning and routing sashes to accept the half-inch glass panes.  The firm also saves and reuses original hardware to the extent possible.

You can see the process here:

 The 1907-era building is a contributing element in the King’s Hill National Historic District, but its craftsman-era style is less elegant than many mansions and other apartment buildings near it.  It was one of 21 apartments designed and built by William L. Morgan between 1905 and 1911.  Those years were early in the big boom in Portland’s population following the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition.

Riley said the condo’s existing stucco had been patched many times as it suffered water damage.  He said his firm studied “targeted repair work” but concluded that a whole new skin was the better solution because it would be less susceptible to water damage.  “We’d really like this building to last another couple hundred years,” he said.

Riley said restoration work is intended to replicate the original design as closely as possible, right down to color choices.  “These are too valuable as buildings not to treat with care.”

 The landmarks commission, which is charged with approving exterior changes to historically-designated properties, approved the Certa plan unanimously.  “I’m so ecstatic that you are keeping the windows,” said Commissioner Maya Foty, a preservation architect who often cites the benefits of window restoration as opposed to replacement.  She said windows made with old-growth wood can be upgraded to the same thermal standards as replacements at a lower cost.  

 Commissioner Ernestina Fuenmayor, a historic preservation specialist, said she hoped the project would become encourage preservationists working on larger buildings to evaluate window reconditioning instead of replacements. 

 -----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, February 10, 2022

Is the Dome Doomed?

Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center 

Get ready for Portland’s first big preservation battle of 2022, which involves the potential sale and likely requested demolition of the former First Church of Christ, Science at 1819 NW Everett St.

On Feb. 15, the several hundred community “owners” of the 1909 Roman-style Beaux Arts landmark will have their first meeting to consider a proposed sale of the structure, which has been used as a community center rather than as a church since the mid-1970s.

Affection in Northwest Portland for the landmark building runs deep, but love alone can’t pay for the expensive earthquake bracing required to make the building meet current standards.  After a lengthy dispute about its ownership earlier in this century, the building has been for sale for at least the past four years without much of a nibble.

The nibble that has landed now is a $4.75 million proposal from a Las Vegas firm, Founders Development Inc.  The firm’s website lists company priorities as “high return development and income properties.”  Its only project so far in Portland appears to be the 18-unit Rosa Parks Condominium, a modern but architecturally uninteresting structure in North Portland.   Keeping a 113-year-old church with a sanctuary seating 1,100 would not seem to be a likely objective of the proposed purchasers.

The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing structure to the Alphabet National Historic District.  Demolition would have to be considered by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and potentially by the Portland City Council if a decision from Landmarks is appealed.  

The former church has admirable architectural qualities.  It is believed to have been designed by Solomon Spencer Beman, who became a prominent architect in Chicago starting in 1879.  He built several large buildings in Chicago and helped with designs for the famed 1893 World’s Fair, which is remembered as a high point in the United States for its classical architectural styling.  

Historic view of the sanctuary  (NNCC photo)

Beman helped design several Christian Science churches in Chicago and also designed an addition to the denomination’s “mother church” in Boston founded by Mary Baker Eddy. . 

The late Portland architect George Sheldon wrote the building’s National Register nomination in 1978.  “The Beaux Arts-style building is Roman in spirit,” he wrote.  “Exterior details and interior finish work convey a simplicity and restraint consistent with church doctrine.”

After church membership declined, Sheldon was instrumental in helping to save the church in the 1970s, which became home to a dozen or more non-profit agencies at various times.  The building has been used most recently by the Northwest Children’s Theater.

Ultimately, the current owners of the Norwest Neighborhood Cultural Center must whether they building can be saved or whether proceeds from the sale could accomplish other benefits for the neighborhood.  It is difficult to image the discussion proceeding smoothly and quickly. A magnificent landmark hangs in the balance. 

-----Fred Leeson

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Friday, February 4, 2022

What's Next at Multnomah Stadium?


Multnomah field, a sports venue dating to 1893, morphed into Multnomah Stadium in 1926 when Portland architects Morris White and A.E. Doyle completed the J-shaped sports venue with covered seating.

 Bought from the Multnomah Athletic Club by the City of Portland in 1966 (for what now seems like a paltry $2.1 million) and renamed Portland Civic Stadium, the building underwent major renovations in 1982, 2011 and 2019.  Yet the original basic plan is still plainly visible with its arcade of simple arches running along SW Morrison Street and 20th Avenue.

 The most dramatic change was the most recent, when a notable Portland architectural firm, Allied Works, designed a four tiered grandstand with an arched roof along what originally had been the “open” leg of the stadium along SW 18th Avenue. 

A glimpse of the new east-side tiers

Brad Cloepfil, the senior partner of Allied Works, is a soccer fan of many years who clearly appreciates the historic aspects of the old ballpark.  Though previously used for football, baseball, dog racing and occasional concerts, the venue is now used almost exclusively by Portland’s two professional soccer teams. 

Part of the inspiration for the new east stands came from an old prospective drawing that shows elements of the original stadium that were never built, including second decks on the east and west grandstands.  Therein lie some clues for the future. 

 An interesting consequence of the various renovations is that stadium capacity has been reduced from what once hit 33,000 down to 25,000.  Which begs the question: To keep pace with bigger Major League Soccer venues, what’s next for what is now called Providence Park?

 This is a difficult subject for Portland.  Since the defeat of the proposed Delta Dome in 1964, talk of a new stadium has focused occasionally on a few sites in the region, but nothing serious has ever materialized.  So the brain trust here at Building on History would like to offer a suggestion.

 The future Providence Park is…Providence Park.  Though the Northwest Portland and Goose Hollow  neighborhoods would go ballistic at the thought of more  traffic occurring at an enlarged venue, the stadium has good light rail access.  Those who care about history will enjoy recalling the Portland Beavers, the Portland Mavericks and the many football games played at the stadium by Oregon and Oregon State (and even Portland State) until on-campus venues grew larger in Eugene and Corvallis.    

Where the new east grandstand intersects with the old

Taking a look at Allied Works’ eastern grandstand holds the answer for expanding Providence Park:  Use the same strategy on the stadium’s west side, where the seating deck already is deeper.  One could imagine some basic engineering that would allow the new tiers to be cantilevered over the sidewalk on 20th Avenue and perhaps even high over part of that little-travelled street. 

 Creative minds at Allied Works would also need to figure out how to squeeze in modern restrooms and concessions spaces, which have expanded greatly in new stadia elsewhere.   

Our basic expansion concept would retain Doyle’s historic arcades that curve along Morrison and straighten along 20th, retaining the historic feel of the simple but elegant concrete walls.  It is not for simple minds like ours to guess what the ultimate capacity would be, but one can guess it would add several thousand seats.

We sent a message to the Timbers communications staff asking if the team had given any thought as to what happens next.  So far…no answer.  Building on History is pleased to take credit for this exciting proposal. As newsies liked to say in the told days, "You read it here first." 

-----Fred Leeson

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