Thursday, May 26, 2022

Annual Preservation Report to the Portland City Council


The annual report by the Portland Landmarks Commission to the City Council generally is dispiriting for preservation advocates.  The reports are always well crafted, including ideas that would enhance the city’s physical environment and our understanding of its history.

The city commissioners always heartily thank the landmarks commission members for their work and their ideas and diligence.

And then:  Nothing happens.

It felt like deja vue all over again on May 25, when the landmarks commission reported on its work in 2021 and their thoughts for improvements they would like the see made in 2022.  Their suggestions included:

·        -- -Restarting an inventory of Portland’s historic buildings that has not been updated since 1984, even despite a major expansion of Portland’s eastern boundary;

·         ---Undertaking a cultural resources plan to find a preserve locations of cultural significance to Portland’s various minority communities, even if the buildings involved are not considered architecturally significant;

·       ---  Finding ways to help fund expensive seismic bracing for some 1,600 Portland buildings constructed of unreinforced masonry that are especially vulnerable to earthquake damage;

·        --- Establishing a legacy business program that would assist historic businesses in facing a variety of economic challenges from issues including the pandemic and gentrification.

Alas, the report did not identify funding sources or amounts of money needed to carry out these suggestions, noble though they may be.

As all the compliments from city commissioners rolled in about the quality of the report, Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty -- who has sat through three previous landmark commission annual reviews -- sounded the voice of reality.

“I hate to be the wet blanket in the room,” she said.  Given the city’s limited resources, she said, opportunities for funding are limited.   “We will have to be creative and thoughtful.” Hardesty added,  “We really need to have a plan if you want it to become reality. We don’t have that.”

Of course, it is the City Council that controls the municipal budget, not the landmarks commission.  Even if the landmarks commission could suggest funding sources, some member of the council would have to propose council action. 

What might be different this year is the stress on appreciating the history of Portland’s minority communities, and an understanding that those communities need to be able to take advantage of whatever incentives and benefits preservation programs can provide.

In a letter preceding the commission’s report, Landmarks Chair Kristin Minor wrote, “On the Landmarks Commission, we are aware that for many, historic preservation seems like a side topic; something that is an “extra”, not a need. Yet preservation directly strengthens community bonds and generational stability, which help people heal and rebound from stress.

“Historic preservation and adaptive reuse are far better for the planet than the typical redevelopment model, moving us from a “throw-away” society to one that repairs and adds to what we already have. Finally, if used intentionally to honor communities who have experienced loss, displacement, and erasure, historic preservation can begin to work towards justice.”

If you are interested, you can read the full report here:

----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Some Deeply-Felt Thanks


While there still could be obstacles to restoring the historic Thompson Elk Fountain at its original site, the May 11 decision by the Portland City Council was deeply gratifying to the preservation community.  Kit Abel Hawkins, a vibrant member of the ad hoc Save The Thompson Elk Fountain Committee, wrote eloquent thanks the council members.

Her thoughts were echoed by other committee members who signed below.

 Dear Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners Hardesty, Mapps, Rubio, and Ryan-- 

 I write with gratitude for your finding your way to making something right in this City last Wednesday -- your withdrawal of the Demolition Delay Permit that would have stripped the Thompson Elk Fountain of its City Historic Landmark protections and your unanimous commitment to its full restoration.  Your action will serve as a symbol not only of your further intentions but of your coming actions in bringing the city that is our home back from the combined destructive forces that have plagued us for the last many months.

 It took listening and courage, coordination and time, imagination and effort to make this happen.  I am grateful that Commissioner Ryan was willing to be the first to step forward to boldly assert his support of the return of this landmark. I am thankful for all your collective openness to an idea that was becoming lost in a sea of process and options that combined would have  put the City in league with the vandals. Thanks go to Commissioner Rubio and Commissioner Ryan for introducing the Resolution, and for the introduction of good humor into the proceedings with the declarations of intent signified by those green antlers on your monitors and then on your heads. Thanks go to Commissioner Mapps for a history of the artwork that has stood at the center of Portland's civic center for 120 years. Thanks go to Commissioner Hardesty, who might have preferred a straighter road, quite literally, as PBOT bureau chief, but who found the virtue in this resolution supporting restoration. And thanks go to Mayor Wheeler for his outspoken grasp of the simple fact that the City should return the landmark to its site as an example of the City's devotion to stewardship of its resources on behalf of its citizens. 

 As was testified to at the hearing, we are here to help. Bill and I and the other members of the  Board of Restore the Thompson Elk Fountain stand ready to raise funds from the thousands who lifted their voices on behalf of the rightness of this restoration. The People of Portland wrote to let you know their opinion on this matter, and we hope to encourage them to add to a fund to see to it that the missing and damaged parts of the Thompson Elk Fountain are refabricated and given to the City for the complete and beautifully crafted restoration of this landmark artwork.  Preliminary drawings and plans have already been created, stonemasons found who see the work as completely feasible using precisely the same granite from which the intact portions of the fountain are made. Bill is having a model made so that one and all can visualize just how this cleverly and artfully conceived structure can be reassembled.

 Perhaps even beyond the particulars of this symbolic and reassuring moment, we are most pleased to have been considered as advocates whose ideas are worthy of consideration and whose commitment to honorable engagement resulted in a sense of optimism about the possibility that we can confront our problems as a city with common purpose, resolve, and effort.

Gratefully yours,  

Kit Abel Hawkins

William J. Hawkins, III

Stephen Kafoury

Mike Lindberg

Fred Leeson

Jim Heuer

Brooke Best

Rod Merrick

Henry Kunowski

Wendy Rahm

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Victory for the Thompson Elk Fountain


Wearing temporary antlers, Commissioner Dan Ryan saved the Thompson Elk Fountain

Preservation advocates savored a rare and joyous occasion this week, walking into a Portland City Council meeting KNOWING they had enough votes to preserve the historic David Thompson Elk Fountain.

 The council’s 5-0 vote to restore the landmark at its original location was a far cry from so many council hearings, where preservationists wait anxiously for their 120 seconds of impassioned testimony to fall on deaf ears because the decisions are already “cooked” in advance.

The May 11 council vote ranks as one of Portland's greatest preservation victories in recent years.

 The 120-year old elk statue and the fountain over which it presided were damaged by vandals in political protests in 2020.  Though the council had promised to return the elk, the city had initiated paperwork to remove the historic designation of the fountain, which had been removed by city staff from its site on SW Main Street. . 

 Mayor Ted Wheeler said restoring the fountain was “more than a statement about aesthetics.  People who break things don’t have the final word.  We do.”  The council hopes -- along with preservationists -- that the fountain's restoration will mark a comeback for Portland's civic spaces, economy and reputation as an attractive city. 

 The hero hat in this case goes to Commissioner Dan Ryan, who was the first (and only) commissioner to advocate for the fountain’s restoration before the May 11 vote.  After weeks of encouragement that included thousands of emails sent to the city and private negotiations with an ad hoc fountain restoration committee, Ryan convinced Commissioner Carmen Rubio to file the council’s resolution with him.

 Nobody was happier about the council decision than William J. Hawkins III, a Portland architect and historian who had spent a year and a half talking and pleading with city officials about saving the fountain.  Hawkins has created a foundation to accept tax-deductible donations to help pay for fountain repairs.

 Checks may be sent to: 

             RESTORE THE THOMPSON ELK FOUNTAIN                          25 NW 23rd PL. STE. 6 #226                               Portland, OR 97210

The fountain in earlier years 

Hawkins had made little progress saving the fountain on his own until he connected with the ad hoc committee that included Portland political veterans Mike Lindberg and Stephen Kafoury.  Those two diligent people took charge of communicating with City Council members and their staffs, and found excellent help through Ryan’s chief of staff, Kellie Torres.

 The non-profit Portland Parks Foundation will undertake a study of how to return the fountain and also meet pedestrian and transportation needs on Main Street.   Now that the fountain’s landmark status is no longer at risk, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission also will have an important role in deciding how the various street needs are achieved.

 While celebrating their once-seemingly-impossible victory, Portland’s preservation community needs to study the tools that led to their success and try to determine how they can be used in future preservation battles. 

 The message to remember is that our city is not improved by destroying its best landmark buildings, municipal art and public parks.  If Portland wants to be a great city again, it needs to build on its history, not erase it.

 -----Fred Leeson

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Friday, May 6, 2022

Two Important Preservation Updates

Victory for the Thompson Elk Fountain 

In an apparent huge victory for citizen participation and preservation, the Portland City Council on May 11 is expected to approve a resolution calling for restoration of the Thompson Elk Fountain at its original location on SW Main Street. 

 The council’s action follows months of lobbying and apparently thousands of emails to council members supporting restoration of the historic fountain that was partly damaged in political demonstrations and then removed by the city in 2020.

 Next week we will discuss in more detail how this welcome decision came to pass.  The outcome clearly is one of the few times in recent history when public expressions of concern made a difference.


(HPA Architecture)

New Future for First Church of Christ, Scientist

Perhaps the only surprise about the vote to sell the Northwest Neighborhood Community Center (originally the First Church of Christ, Scientist) was the margin in favor: Community “owners” voted 53 to 3 to sell the building for $4.75 million to a Nevada development firm.

 Founders Developments plans to convert the former church two become part of a two-building “high-end hospitality product” with 98 rooms, a bar restaurant and other amenities.  The exterior facades and roof of the Beaux-Arts style would be retained, but the interior fully transformed 18 guest rooms.  The other rooms would be in an adjacent new building.

 The sale, expected to close in the fall, ends a long, tortuous process about what to do with the historic but ailing building.  Its vulnerability to earthquakes made its restoration as a community center largely impossible.

 The community owners essentially no choice but to accept the sale since no other reasonable purchase offers were received.  The sale proceeds will be held in trust to fund civic-oriented projects in six nearby neighborhoods.

“This building needs to be saved and by somebody with the assets to do it,” Dan Anderson, president of the NNCC board, told the Goose Hollow Foothills League a few days before the vote.

 The building’s current tenant, a children’s theater, has a lease that expires in September.  Some neighborhood residents will miss the building as a venue for theater, music and community events.

 Regardless, finding successful new uses for old buildings is a vital element in modern architectural preservation.  The leading example in Portland may be the McMenamin brothers, who have adapted a vacant school, county poor farm, movie theater, mortuary and other old buildings into successful venues for beer, wine, food, movies and concerts.  A more recent example is Steeplejack Brewing, which “saved” a Northeast Portland church by turning it into an attractive brew pub, restaurant and meeting venue.

 Designing and building the new hotel likely will be a slow process.  Plans for the new building and any changes to the exterior of the 1909 former church will have to be analyzed and approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.

-----Fred Leeson 

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