Friday, July 22, 2022

Move Along Folks, There's Nothing to See Here


Barring a seemingly impossible miracle, Portland State University this fall will start demolishing an attractive 5-story building that has been a compatible neighbor to the South Park Blocks for 90 years.

 While loss of the Parkway Manor is sad in itself, the fact that PDSU has no immediate plans or funding for a replacement building compounds the wound.  The site could sit vacant behind security fencing as an urban puncture for several years to come.

 “I wish I didn’t have to present this,” Jason Franklin, PSU’s vice president for planning, construction and property management,  told a Downtown Neighborhood Association committee as started detailing problems with the now-vacant building.  The 54-unit apartment has served as student housing since 1969, but has been vacant for over a year.

 Franklin said renovation for continued student housing would cost $25 million, and operations would lose $13 million over the next 20 years.  “Everything (inside) would have to be removed and put back.”  It is clear that the building has suffered from managerial neglect, with a leaking roof, broken elevator and inadequate plumbing.

 It wasn’t clear from his presentation whether PSU had considered any other potential uses for a renovated building, but he ruled out potential office space.  He said the university has plenty of office space already, and many employees like working from home.  Switching the building’s use would be “a big lift for us to do that.”

 Peggy Moretti, a longstanding preservation advocate, questioned the validity of Franklin’s gruesome financial picture.  “You can make numbers say anything you want,” she said.  Saving the building, she added, “Depends on whether there is a will to do so.”  She said demolition “feels morally irresponsible to me.”

 The building was designed by the prominent Portland firm of Bennes and Herzog.  John Virginius Bennes designed several buildings on the Oregon State University campus that are now a part of a National Historic District.  He and Harry Herzog also designed the prominent Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland.

 The Parkway Manor’s two public facades show a rather subdued Art Moderne Zig-Zag motif crafted with bricks.  There is nothing like it anywhere downtown.

 Franklin said PSU is “very cognizant of its location and the importance of its location,” and agreed that demolition creates a “hole” on the South Park Blocks.  But he said allowing the building to stand empty while PSU decides what should replace it “is a safety issue for us at this point.”  He said the empty building would be a threat for vandalism, graffiti and trespassing squatters.

 So just think of how much money is being saved while the vacant site scars what used to be one of the most pleasant urban environments on the PSU campus -- and in downtown Portland.  PSU has no current plans for the site, and when it does, it will have to await funding from the Oregon Legislature, which meets every two years..  And then any proposal will have to go through Portland's design review, taking most of another year.  

Meanwhile, enjoy the view. 

----Fred Leeson

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Friday, July 15, 2022

A Blockbuster in Northwest Portland


Apartment tower large version (TVA Architects)

The urban tension between “old Portland” and “new Portland” could play out dramatically on the historic Honeyman Hardware block where a developer hopes to plant a 23-story, 250-foot tall apartment tower near two historic landmarks.

 Call it a blockbuster proposal in more ways than one.  The tower would eliminate one historic structure and loom high above its two remaining predecessors standing at nine and two stories, each.  The 250-foot height is the maximum allowed under current zoning.  The block is bounded by NW Glisand and Hoyt Streets between Park and 9th Ave. 

 Because of the block’s historic designation, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission has design review authority over the proposal.  While the commission likes the idea of additional housing and vitality it would bring to the neighborhood, the 250 foot height was clearly the commission’s primary concern at a preliminary advisory meeting.

 “The scale is overwhelming,” said Commissioner Matthew Roman.  “I don’t know how you make a tower disappear.”

 The building is proposed by Evan Fields, a Los Angeles developer who owns the whole block.  His “preferred” plan would hold 295 units with parking buried below.  The footprint amounts to roughly half of the block, with a fin of the tower rising from within the two-story Bindery Building.


Apartment tower smaller version (TVA Architects)

At its first review, the landmarks commission preferred a slightly smaller building that would add 243 units to one quarter of the block.  This tower would sit on the site of the existing the Metro Building, which started life in 1903 as a livery stable for freight-hauling horses.  The two street-facing facades of the Bindery Building would be saved, though its interior would be wiped out to create underground parking and a new interior built.

The two other historic buildings include the Cotter Building, a seven-story reinforced concrete structure built in 1912 as the Honeyman Hardware warehouse.  Surprisingly, it was designed with potential conversion to a hotel in mind.  Decades later, the building was converted to apartments and a two-story penhouse was added.  The two-story bindery building, built in 1920, originally served as the Honeyman Hardware retail store. At one time, all three old buildings were linkied as part of Honeyman Hardware Co.   

 This once-industrial and transport-oriented neighborhood is on the cusp of a host of big buildings.  Two blocks to the north, the city has approved 400-foot height limits on the U.S. Postal Service site that soon awaits redevelopment.

Placing the proposed tower on the block with historic buildings struck Commissioner Andrew Smith as odd, since there are other potential sites sitting nearby.  “It’s like I’m the only person sitting in a theater and somebody comes in and sits on my lap.”

 Fields and his design team, TVA Architects, are expected to return at a date uncertain with more details about the smaller, quarter-block tower. 

 Melissa Darby, a former landmarks commissioner for eight years, testified that in her experience these public reviews often lead to better outcomes.  “This can be done better,” she said.  “It looks like any airport hotel.”

 Interestingly, Fields agreed.  “She’s right,” he said.  “Developments and architecture get better with feedback.” 

 At this point, the 250 height appears to be a necessity in Fields’ mind.  The question is whether TVA, a highly talented design firm, can devise a possibly more muscular-looking building that fits better with the block’s context.

 It’s also worth noting that rejection of a final plan by the Landmarks Commission could be appealed to the Portland City Council.  Such appeals are rare.  But given the general lack of interest --or downright antipathy -- usually xhibited by the current council for anything historic, approval would be a slam dunk.

 -----Fred Leeson

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Friday, July 8, 2022

Encouraging Work In Progress


Given the challenges many faced by historic buildings in Portland, it is refreshing to see work on two important restorations steaming ahead, two years after their plans were approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.

One is the Troy Laundry building, at 1025 SE Pine St., a rare industrial project dating to 1913 designed by Portland architect Ellis Lawrence.  Lawrence at the time was in the early stages of became a busy, productive and prominent architectural career.

 The other is the New Fliedner building, at SW 10th Ave and Washington St., which is downtown Portland’s best example of a Zig Zag Moderne design on its two public facades.  The building as we see it today was designed by Richard Sundeleaf, although the structure itself dated to 1906.  Until Sundeleaf’s colorful makeover, it had been the home of the Eastern Outfitting Co., one of Portland’s major apparel retailers of the era.

 Astute followers of Building on History will recall that both these renovation projects were described here as they went through historic design review by the landmarks commission in June and August of 2020, respectively.  Months passed while final plans, financing and building permits were achieved.

 The half-block Troy Laundry building was the culmination in Portland of the efforts of James F. Tait, a Scottish immigrant, who opened a laundry service in 1889.  As years passed and his business grew, Troy Laundry amassed as many 10,000 individual and business clients in the era before the presence household washing machines became, well, automatic. 

 Tait also expanded to Seattle, and is believed to have operated the largest commercial laundry business on the West Coast.  He was an early adopter of the 8-hour working day and provided a lunchroom for employees. +-

 Laundry operations folded, so to speak, in 1980.  The renovation will retain the historic characteristics of the public facades and the interior will be converted to a private athletic club.  The restoration is paired with construction of a 6-story residential building with 132 units and ground-floor retail abutting Troy Laundry on the north.

If all goes well, the 5-story, quarter-block New Fliedner building will be returned to its earlier status as an office building with ground-floor retail.  The office entrance will be through the stylishly-decorative portal on Washington Street.

 The building’s Zig Zag Moderne styling is a variety of Art Deco.  It varies from other Art Deco structures with its frequent cross-hatched designs at the main entry, at the cornice and on banding above the first floor.  Zig Zag lacks the rounded building edges intended to give Art Deco buildings an aerodynamic feel.  When finished, it should be a colorful and eye-catching sight.

 The New Fliedner was going through design stages at the start of the COVID pandemics.  The pandemic’s negative effect on retail and downtown office spaces has been dramatic.  Given the investment and attention to detail in the restoration, one hopes that the New Fliedner can still have a long and successful presence. 

-----Fred Leeson

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Friday, July 1, 2022

Going, Going...Soon to be Gone


Portland State University has filed its intention to tear down the Parkway Manor, a 90-year-old former apartment building, now used for student housing,  that faces the South Park Blocks at 1609 S.W. Park.

 Likewise, the university plans to demolish the Harder House, a one-time residence long ago converted  to offices that sits to the rear of Parkway Manor.  The demolitions will open a half block for future development.  “We have not released any plans for this 1/2 block, but it would likely be a new academic or residential building, depending on future need,” said Jason Franklin, director of the campus planning office.

The quarter-block Parkway Manor site is important because it is a public face on one of Portland’s most scenic, peaceful, charming urban spaces.  The Parkway is not a designated landmark, but is listed on the city’s historic resources inventory.  As a result, PSU must provide a 120-day window before demolition in case a buyer or someone comes up with a plan to save the building or move it.  Since the land is owned by the state university system, any option besides demolition is moot.

 Parkway Manor was one of two apartments facing the South Park Blocks designed by the Portland firm of Bennes and Herzog in 1931.  The other is the Jeanne Manor two blocks north at 1431 SW Park.

A PSU framework plan adopted in 2010 suggests that new buildings on the Park Blocks will be smaller than in other parts of the campus in deference to its park setting.  In past decades, the Portland Design Commission has paid rigorous attention to new buildings facing the Park Blocks, in an attempt to retain their calm, green, pedestrian-friendly ambiance.  One hopes the same close scrutiny will be given to whatever new building PSU proposes. 

PSU has served preservation in the past by restoring and finding new uses for Shattuck Hall, a former elementary school, and Lincoln Hall, which started life as Lincoln High School.  The framework plan makes a reference to historic buildings when it states, “While substantial new development will occur within the expanded University District, Portland State recognizes that historic resources are valuable cultural assets that contribute to the University District and, as such, should be protected.”

 That was not the case at Parkway Manor, which contains 41 apartments and 13 single rooms.  It has been victimized by deferred maintenance, including decommissioning of the elevator serving a five-story building.


 Both the Parkway Manor and Jeanne Manor were designed in a Zig Zag Moderne style, which falls into the larger Art Deco realm.  These buildings replaced grander mansions that earlier lined the South Park Blocks.  Their brick facades, attractive entrances and human scale helped create the atmosphere of gentle urbanity that has remained along the South Park Blocks for the intervening decades.  These graceful older buildings set the context for newer ones -- also heavily relying on complimentary brick facades – added in the 1980s with Design Commission scrutiny.

 Whatever firm designs the new PSU building, or buildings as the case may be, faces a heavy challenge.  People who care about Portland’s urban environment need to be watching carefully and speaking out, if necessary.

 Meanwhile, it is a shame that a building erected with quality design and materials lasts only 90 years in our modern throw-away society. We should know better – and so should PSU.

----Fred Leeson

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