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.
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