Good news appears to be in the offing for one of Northeast
Portland’s most attractive landmark buildings, the Multnomah County Library's Albina branch located at 216 NE Knott Street.
A renovation plan nearing a final proposal would restore the
interior of the Spanish Renaissance-style building to make it the children’s
reading room connecting to a proposed larger, two-story new library building facing one
block to the south on NE Russell.
The historic Albina branch was built in 1912, under the
design of a young architect, Ellis Lawrence, who went on to have an impressive
career both in academia and private practice. It was one of seven branch libraries funded in the early 20th Century by
steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.
For a time, it sat in the heart of Portland’s Black
community, that later was sundered by the Interstate-5 freeway and the
unsuccessful Emanuel Hospital urban renewal project. “This is what the community remembers,” said
Chandra Robinson, an architect for LEVER Architecture who is working on the renovation
and expansion plan. “They’d like to see
their grandkids have the same experience" in the old library.
Given all the neighborhood changes, the Albina branch was
moved to the first of five subsequent locations in the mid-1950s. In 1954, the interior of the historic
building was serious impaired by closing in arched portals in the main
room. Those portals will be reopened
under the renovation plan.
|(LEVER Architecture) |
The building “has some beautiful detailing,” Robinson told
the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission recently. Robinson’s firm is expected to return with a
final proposed library plan in upcoming weeks.
The Carnegie-funded building served as a library until 1960, when the branch was first moved to other locations. The historic building was returned to library service a year ago, but has been hampered somewhat by COVID-19 restrictions.
As it stands now, the new building facing on Russell would
have two stories, and would be connected to the historic building by a hallway
allowing direct access between the old and new buildings. Because of a change of grade in the block
between Russell and Knott, the new “taller” building would hardly be visible behind the historic entrance on Knott.
The new building would include the reading room and stacks
for adults as well as library offices and a room for community use. The new building would replace a warehouse
and bindery that was erected behind the historic building in the 1950s.
Though Ellis Lawrence’s firm designed more than 500
buildings during his 40-year career in Portland, the Albina branch was his only
library building. He also was founder of
the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, and served
as its dean from 1914 to 1946, commuting on a regular basis between Portland and Eugene by
The original attractive plaster ceiling and much of the
woodwork details remain in the Albina branch, and presumably will be
incorporated into the restoration. One
would hope the plan will include replacement of the standard fluorescent lights
with something stylistically closer to the originals. According to a construction schedule, the new building and renovation of the historic structure should be finished late in 2024.
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