Friday, September 30, 2022

Right-Sizing on a Historic Block


(TVA Architects)

A developer who had proposed building a glassy, 23-story apartment tower on the historic Honeyman Hardware block in Northwest Portland has scaled down the plan to a 12 story building sitting on half of the block at 555 NW Park Ave.

 “What we heard loud and clear…it was simply too big and overwhelmed the remaining block,” Eran Fields told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission on Sept. 26.  The revised plan reduces the total number of apartments from 223 units to 123, and the total building height from 250 feet to 135.

The commission holds design review authority because the full block is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  At an earlier meeting, the commission showed no interest in the taller tower, shown below. 

The earlier plan (TVA Architects)

The proposed building would sit adjacent to the Honeyman Hardware warehouse built in 1912 that has since been converted to housing.  The new structure also would hover above the two-story bindery building that was part of the Honeyman complex of three buildings.  The quarter-block stable building, dating to 1903 and heavily changed over the decades, would be demolished.

Landmark commissioners still have concerns about the development scheme, but they expressed consensus for accepting the 12-story, half-block building.  “We really appreciate the scale of change,” said Landmarks Chair Kristen Minor.  “We’re really just focusing on the details now.”

 After two advisory meetings with the commission, the developer will return for a third and possibly final hearing at a date yet to be determined.

 The new building would essentially hover over half of the bindery building, the insides of which would be substantially demolished to provide structure for the new building.   One of the challenges raised by the landmarks commission is to what extent the rest of the new base should look like the adjacent bindery building.

As part of the project, exterior details of the bindery building are to be cleaned and restored, as well as the historic exterior elements of the former warehouse, now known as the Cotter building.

The new building would face a block – now used for parking – that is planned to become a new addition to the North Park Blocks. 

 Robert Thompson, a principle of TVA  Architects, said the design of the new building reflects the “very clear, simple expression” of structure common to other buildings dating to the early 20th Century in what was then primarily an industrial neighborhood.  The plan calls for underground parking on two levels for approximately 120 cars.

 Several neighborhood residents and business people testified in favor of the revised plan.  “It’s amazing to see the reduction in program to make it more contextual,” said David Dysert, speaking for the Peal District Neighborhood Association’s planning committee.  Unlike many developers, Fields had met more than once with residents and business owners on the block. 

 Honeyman Hardware was a leading Pacific Northwest hardware dealer for many years a century ago.  Although built at different times, the three buildings on the block were linked together for commercial purposes.  The full block was added to the National Register of Historic Places in regard for its commercial importance in the era.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Friday, September 23, 2022

Around and Around We Go


(Images courtesy of Restore Oregon)

A decade has passed since children -- sticky fingers and all -- clambered aboard big wooden horses for their last circular rides on the Jantzen Beach Carousel.

 The 20-ton relic from the early 20th Century entertained family and children from 1928 to 1970 at the Jantzen Beach Amusement Park and then at the Jantzen Beach Mall until 2012.  Plans to return the carnival ride to a revised shopping mall were never carried out.

 Those of us in the preservation world know what happened next.  But many people don’t, and the question arises frequently on social media.  What happened to the C.W. Parker “Superior Park” model carousel?

 After five quiet years in storage, the carousel’s owner donated the deconstructed pieces in 2017 to Restore Oregon, a statewide preservation organization, in return (no doubt) for a sizable tax deduction.

 While it seemed that many potential sites loomed as new homes for the historic carousel, reality proved otherwise.  At 67 feet in diameter and standing 29 feet tall, the carousel would need a building with a clear roof span of 77 feet on a lot probably measuring 100 by 100 feet.  In short, that’s a tall order and expensive order.

 In 2020, Restore Oregon announced a potential partnership with the Portland Diamond Project, a group attempting to lure a major league baseball franchise to Portland.  The proposed site for a new stadium and the carousel was to be along a retired shipping pier on the Willamette River in Northwest Portland.


Alas, the pandemic and other problems arose.  The Diamond Project is now quietly considering other sites. Stephanie Brown, Restore Oregon’s carousel project manager, said the carousel remains part of a potential stadium plan, but she cannot reveal any details.  Given Portland’s history with professional baseball, the Diamond Project’s plans are far from a slam dunk.

In the meantime, the 82 carousel horses and two chariots have not been sitting idle.  Thanks to some aggressive fund-raising, Restore Oregon is making detailed investigations into structural problems and original paint schemes.  All the work is intended to return the carousel to optimum condition for renewed operation -- someday.  The early results are spectacular. 

The Jantzen Beach carousel will return to the public consciousness this fall with opportunities for enthusiasts to learn more about its history.  These events include:

·         Oct.7 to 9: Pop-up exhibit at the Portland Fall Home and Garden Show at the Expo Center;

·         Oct. 13: Lecture by Barbara Fahs Charles, a co-founder of the National Carousel Association, at the Architectural Heritage Center, focusing on the Jantzen carousel history;

·         Nov. 18 through April 30, 2023: Interpretive exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society.

One can hope that someday children who rode the carousel at Jantzen Beach someday will be able to enjoy it again with their children – or grandchildren, as the case may be. 

-----Fred Leeson

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Friday, September 16, 2022

Sprucing Up The Palms


(Image courtesy of Kate Widdows)

No matter how many times you have travelled N. Interstate Avenue in Portland – especially at night – the glowing neon sign shown above no doubt is lodged in your memory.  Standing more than 50 feet tall, and carefully designed with artful lettering and many neon colors, the sign was an exuberant reflection of 1950s automobile-inspired culture.

Cars had taken over the roads from streetcars.  Interstate Avenue at the time was Portland’s highway to Vancouver, Wash., and Seattle before construction of the Interstate-5 freeway.  Motorists needed places to sleep. And the Palms Motor Hotel was there to reel them in with a dramatic sign and welcome rooms for rent.

 These days the neon no longer glows. Paint is fading and peeling.  The motor hotel is on its way to being demolished and being replaced by a complex of more than 200 apartments.

Help needed these days...

There is good news, however.  Though the big sign will be removed stored during construction, the sign’s owner pledges to replace it and repair it.  That means sometime in the future it should glow again.

 Yet the removal and restoration poses a number of questions.  Where will it be on the site?  Since the new building will not be a motel, does the sign’s wording have to be changed?  Can the creative historic letter fonts be retained? If moving electronic letters are to be added (a proposition believed to be under consideration) can it be achieved with the least possible damage to the original sign?  

 These are some of the questions raised by Kate Widdows, a member of PDX Neon, a non-profit organization devoted to preservation of many Portland neon signs, of which The Palms is one of the most iconic. “A good neon sign is a public work of folk art that anchors community and adds beauty to sense of place,” she says.

 Ideally, Widdows would like the sign to be preserved as close as possible to its original condition, including the colors, wording, letter types and – yes – the multiple neon colors.  How could the wording NOT change if the building is no longer a motel?

Widdows said one example of a solution occurred in San Francisco, where a former motel became housing for art students.  She said a gate was placed at the driveway and the former motel’s “No Vacancy” sign remains lit at all times to deter visitors from seeking rooms.

 The Palms sign bears no formal historic designation that would help with preservation.  However, the City Council some 20 years ago recognized the visual importance of eight neon signs along Interstate Avenue that are allowed to be retained or moved despite not conforming with the city’s extensive sign regulations.

 The Palms sign was singled out by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a planning work session last October.  “I love these signs so much,” he said.  “They really are touchpoints.”  He described The Palms sign as “so tacky and fanciful, you can’t help smile by looking at it.”

 Recent revisions to Portland historic code regulations conceivably could let the sign itself be designated as a Portland landmark, apart from any other structure on the same site.  At this point, however, no such effort has been initiated. 

Assuming that the apartment plan will have to be approved by the Portland Design Commission, public testimony could be taken concerning return of The Palms sign and proposed changes could be discussed.  Commission deliberations always include signs related to a new project.  All this, however, is a ways down the road.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

A Good Save Downtown


Alderway Building -- A Few Years Ago

In times of economic distress, smart money looks for “bargains” that will pay off when times improve.  That is good news for one of downtown Portland’s most interesting old buildings, where the purchaser appears to be motivated by long-term gain rather than short-term riches.

The four-story Alderway Building is named for the prominent downtown corner where SW Broadway intersects with Alder Street.  It was built by Portland entrepreneur Fred G. Meyer, best known for his big chain of one-stop shopping centers bearing his name in Oregon and a few other states.

 Before the Great Depression intervened, Meyer planned to be a commercial property developer.  However, the Alderway Building and crash of 1929 forced Meyer to concentrate full-bore on groceries and retail.

 In 1928, Meyer took a 99-year lease on the failed Pantages Theater, a vaudeville house that had been on the site since 1911.  Meyer planned to demolish the theater a build an office and retail building.  Demolition was in progress when engineers advised Meyer that the theater’s underlying steel structure could be left in place and reused.  Ever mindful of expenses, Meyer agreed.

 The building as it stands today was designed by the Claussen & Claussen firm that continued to work with Meyer remodeling old buildings into Fred Meyer stores during the Depression that followed.  The Alderway building is a clear example of  the "Chicago School" architecture, with a clear expression of the steel frame, masonry cladding, expansive tripartite windows and rather minimal decoration.

 The revamped building was completed early in 1929.  Meyer moved in his corporate office and planned to rent most of the other three office floors.  On the main floor, he introduced Fred Meyer Toiletries & Remedies, his first venture into a self-service drug store.  Adjacent was the Fred Meyer Thrift Laundry where customers brought in clothes for laundry and dry cleaning and picked them up the following week.  (Meyer contracted with others who did the actual cleaning.)


Early 1930s Fred Meyer storefronts

Meyer had just moved into the new Alderway Building when the stock market crashed in October, 1929.  As a consequence, he was unable to lease the vacant space and eventually had to forfeit the lease.  Meyer by nature never discussed his failures, so how much he lost on the Alderway project is not known.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the rest of the Great Depression worked out reasonably well for Meyer.  He added several stores during the era and was one of the few companies to add employees during the painful economic era.  After World War II, he continued expanding aggressively until his death in 1978.

 The new owner of the Alderway Building is Melvin Mark Investors, a branch of the Melvin Mark real estate companies that have been active in Portland since 1945.  The company plans to do some renovations to the building that likely will not jeopardize its historic feel.  The Hennebery Eddy architecture firm that will design the changes has a solid reputation working on old as well as new buildings.

 The gamble for the Mark firm is that the business environment around the Alderway will improve with new towers under construction nearby, and that Portland ultimately will get its act together in recovering from the pandemic and rampant sidewalk camping.  In the meantime, at least, the Alderway Building is not in jeopardy.

----Fred Leeson

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