Friday, April 22, 2022

The Phoenix Flies Again on Foster

Matt Froman with a historic photograph

Think of Matt Froman as the man with a million-dollar smile.  Or perhaps really $1.1 million.

 Froman is a self-taught preservation expert who threw open the doors of the 100-year old Phoenix Pharmacy building last week to celebrate both its centenary and the near completion of a four-year restoration effort.

 There is likely no better-recognized structure along the angling SE Foster Road than the two-story brick building erected with a façade that curves gently along the most acute angle of its trapezoidal lot.  From its opening in 1922 until 1946 it was the home of the Phoenix Pharmacy, operated by the much-admired pharmacist, John Leach. 

 For the past years, two Froman has worked full-time on the project, returning the landmark back to its original appearance and to full occupancy with a retail store, Foster Outdoor, soon to arrive on the ground floor and five offices above.  Along the way, he tackled the duties of general contractor, manual laborer and leasing agent.


Early on, Froman was fortunate in partnering with two longstanding preservation experts, Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson, of Inner City Properties.  After acquiring the building from his father, Froman granted 51 percent ownership to his partners; now the plan is for Froman to refinance the building based on its ongoing revenue and retake full control.

 Until renovations began, the building has been largely vacant for about 20 years.  The roof leaked so badly, water had to be contained and then drained from the second floor.  Critical elements of the restoration included a new roof, seismic bracing, new electric and plumbing systems, restoration of the original storefront system and tall transom windows.  Original doors from SE 67th Avenue to the offices above and the stairway were stripped and refinished; many walls had to be replaced, as well as the water-damaged flooring on the upper floor. 

The project began with no knowledge as to the identity of the original architect.  It remains a mystery, despite research by Jessica Engeman, a historic preservation consultant.  The nomination she wrote for the National Register of Historic Places suggests that it was Richard Martin Jr., or Morris Whitehouse.  Whitehouse designed a house in then-rural Southeast Portland for Leach and his wife, Lilla, who was a prominent botanist.   

Ground floor, looking toward front door

After the demise of the Leaches, their home and extensive gardens on 16 acres near 122nd Ave. and Foster Road were accepted for public use by the City of Portland.  The site today is called the Leach Botanical Garden.

The Phoenix Pharmacy building was the largest along SE Foster when it was built.  The street, once a Native American path that runs at an angle from SE 48th and Powell Boulevard, was newly paved from a dirt road when Leach built it. 

 Given Froman’s restoration work and his desire to retain a longstanding ownership, one hopes the interesting flagship of Foster Road will become an inspiration for restoring other interesting old buildings along the street.

------Fred Leeson

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1 comment:

  1. the other building on foster that interests me is the old masonic lodge at Holgate and Foster. Well maintained,i am interested in its backstory. I remember Legal Aid operated out of there at one point, now SEIU owns it. any info on it?