Friday, June 24, 2022

Here's (Almost) Hollywood!


After years of planning, fundraising, careful demolition and unexpected COVID delays, the final touches on the Hollywood Theatre’s lower façade restoration are falling into place.

 For the first time since at least 1959, the 96-year-old landmark Northeast Portland theater will finally display a coherent exterior design that closely resembles its 1926 original façade.  A grand re-opening is set for July 17, to include displays of historic photographs, relics salvaged during the remodel and details of the multi-year restoration project.

When will the final touches be finished?  “July 16,” said Virginia Durost, an eternal optimist who is the theater’s facility manager.

 The theater was designed by the Portland firm of Bennes and Herzog.  Bennes is best noted for several buildings on the Oregon State University campus, while Herzog had a hand in designing some other Portland theaters.

 The Hollywood is said to be the last theater in Portland built both for vaudeville and movies.  Its playful tall, narrow, multi-colored terra cotta façade holds a plethora of funky byzantine details guaranteed to attract eyeballs from passersby.  The theater was an obvious expression of East Portland’s inferiority complex when compared with downtown’s upper crust.   While it may never have achieved parity with downtown, it was so notable that the surrounding business community adopted the name, “Hollywood District.”

Grand arch and bas-reliefs over the entry doors

 As frequently occurs when restoring old houses, careful demolition of the non-historic façade uncovered surprises.  One was three bas-reliefs that have been repaired and will glow under new lighting above the front doors.  Another key find was portions of the original terrazzo floor with checkered tile bands that once welcomed visitors as they entered under the marquee.

 The old floor allowed the theater to reproduce and original flooring and colors – while leaving two of the original floor fragments in place.  Demolition also uncovered three locked safes, which, after being hauled out and successfully opened – contained nothing.

A fragment of the original outdoor floor (top of photo) became a template for restoration

 A free-standing ticket booth that once stood near the entry could not be replaced because of modern access requirements.  However, it is remembered by a metallic octagon set into the terrazzo.  “We do not know its original exact dimensions,” Durost said.

 Lower façade details were designed by Paul Falsetto, a Portland architect known for his work on historic properties.  Durost also complimented the work of Architectural Castings Inc., a Portland firm that specializes in reproducing architectural details for historic buildings.

When the remaining architectural details are in place, "going" to the movies at the Hollywood Theatre will be an added pleasure in addition to whatever film awaits inside.  

 -----Fred Leeson

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Friday, June 17, 2022

Remembering Charles H. Carey


Charles Carey residence (National Register nomination form)

The next Portland-area structure likely to be accepted by the National Register of Historic Places is the Riverdale home of Charles H. Carey, who indisputably was one of the most important lawyers and political power brokers in Oregon in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

 Carey, who practiced law from 1883 to 1933, also played key roles in writing Oregon history, helping to establish the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Association, as well as founding the Multnomah Law Library, an institution that still serves as a research venue for local lawyers.

 In addition, Carey was one of the key backroom figures in the Oregon Republic Party, whose two factions battled one another ruthlessly in the era when U.S. senators were selected by state legislators.  Carey’s battles with the rival Joseph Simon faction could likely rank among the dirtiest in state history, when Senate seats to a certain extent were obtained by the highest bidder.

Perhaps the worst blight in Carey’s career is that he helped succeed in placing John Hipple Mitchell in the U.S. Senate.  Mitchell’s career and Senate term suffered a key blow when he was convicted in the 1905 timber fraud trials.  He died while the Senate was considering expulsion.

 As a lawyer, Carey represented banks and railroads and helped build what became Oregon’s largest law firm.  He wrote a lengthy “General History of Oregon” and “The Oregon Constitution.”  His constitution book is still used by lawyers today as it is the best collection of news accounts and other documents about the constitutional convention, where official minutes were not kept.

 Carey’s career of legal and social activities is so extensive, “It’s really deserving of a book,” said Liz Carpenter, a Eugene historian who prepared the National Register nomination.  Carey served as a Portland Municipal Court judge from 1892 to 1894.  Though the municipal court was the lowest rung on the judicial ladder, Carey was often referred to as “Judge Carey” for the rest of his life.

Carey library (National Register form)

 The Carey house was erected in 1902 and slightly expanded in 1904.  Its architect is believed to be Edgar Lazarus, who is best known for designing the Vista House at Crown Point.  The Carey residence is described as being a Colonial Revival style, with horizontal siding and a large porch supported by Doric columns.

 The house remains in the sixth generation of family ownership, and most of the interior is still in original condition.  The Riverdale neighborhood sits south of Portland's city limits close to the west bank of the Willamette River., 

 The National Register nomination is based primarily on Carey’s legal and social history rather than on the architecture of the house.  Regardless, the house is an excellent example of prime residential work in its era.  Carey was born in 1857 and died in 1941.

Oregonian, 1902

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, June 2, 2022

Is St. Johns City Hall in Jeopardy?


Buoyed by hopes of a prosperous future, residents of a village lying north of Portland voted in 1902 to incorporate themselves as the City of St. Johns.

 Though their dashed hopes led instead to a consolidation with Portland in 1915, the former city left behind a wonderful monument that still stands today as one of Portland’s most impressive  neighborhood landmarks: St. Johns City Hall, completed in 1907.

 The Georgian Revival architectural gem with its red bricks, heavy Ionic columns and large pediment, has served for decades as a police station and fire station, with the basement originally used as a jail.  Portland police used the building as North Precinct until 2009 and then used it for its training division until leaving in 2021, leading to some speculation that the historic building would be sold.

 Michael Q. Brown, president of the St. Johns Heritage Association, said the history group had displays on the top floor for nearly 40 years before being told by the mayor’s office to move out. "The threat from the mayor’s office was that we would be charged for transportation of our artifacts and charged for storage, if we did not remove our artifacts by August of 2021."

One of many displays formerly housed at St. Johns City Hall  (St. Johns Heritage Association)

 The heritage association has moved some of its historical displays to the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge.  When the St. Johns City Hall was renovated in 1978 with help from a $300,000 federal grant, Brown said one of the provisions was that the building had to contain some community use.  He believes the city has violated that agreement.

 Brown said he was told more than once that the building would be sold.  A speedy sale appears unlikely, however.  The latest tenant is the office of the Portland Park Rangers, an unarmed Parks Bureau staff that tries to resolve disputes and find answers for a variety of potential issues arising in city parks.  A Park Rangers representative said the agency has a five-year lease on the building.

 The building has an interesting pedigree.  Its architect was W.W. Goodrich, who came to Portland in 1903 in poor health when he was 62.  His earliest claim to fame was as a naval architect on the Monitor, an iron-sided vessel that fought the well-known battle with the iron-sided Merrimac in the Civil War in 1862.

 The Monitor had been built with private funds before the U.S. Navy bought it.  “The boat was launched in New York amid hisses and sneers,” Goodrich recalled in a 1905 newspaper article.  “Everyone believed it would sink when launched and were greatly surprised when it righted.”

 Goodrich said in 1905 that he was on the Monitor during the 3 1/2 hour battle with the Merrimac, won by the Monitor.  He claimed he suffered a burst ear drum and a broken hand.  However, obituaries after his death in 1907 stated that he was not present during the fight. 

 Regardless of the veracity of Goodrich's memory,  “This fight made navies of the world obsolete and useless,” he said.

 Goodrich also practiced architecture in New York, Denver, Berkeley and Atlanta before coming to Portland, as he tried to find a climate that would improve his health.  Goodrich died before the St. Johns City Hall was finished.  His son, Clenath L. Goodrich, supervised its completion.

 “To sell the building would be terrible,” Brown said.  “There is so much history there.  It is one of the few buildings we have left that absolutely says, ‘This is St.  Johns.’”

------Fred Leeson

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