Friday, November 25, 2022

Exciting New Life at Yale Laundry


(Emerick Architects)

A pleasing restoration and lively new activity in Southeast Portland is headed for 800 S.E. 10th Ave., where a historic industrial laundry building will be renovated into a showplace for the celebration of Native American arts and culture.

 The Native Arts and Culture Foundation acquired the Yale Laundry building last year and is now starting on final designs for revitalization of the L-shaped building built in phases dating to 1909, 1927 and 1929.  Architects for the various phases are not yet known. 

 The most notable visual element of the building is the 1929 addition at the corner of 10th and S.E.  Belmont, where the new laundry office of that era was erected with an Egyptian Revival architectural theme.  The Egyptian motif was a popular in the late 1920s, thanks to new discoveries of ancient Egyptian ruins.  However, the decorations also celebrated the historic use of the building with cast-stone representations of workers doing various stages of the laundry process.

The foundation envisions the building as a place to encourage, display and sell Native American art and to produce events in a “black box” theater.  The theater’s entry will replace a garage door on the Belmont side that had been used for vehicle access.  The building also is expected to include a dining venue, as well as offices for the foundation that provides grants promoting Native American arts and culture.

“We are doing our best to retain as much as possible of the historic building,” Brendan Hart, an architect with Emerick Architects, told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.  The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the early 20th Century laundry industry.  The landmarks commission will review the renovation because of the building's historic designation.

 Between 1900 and the end of World War II, industrial laundries were heavily engaged in residential laundry as well as serving businesses such as hotels and restaurants.  Widespread introduction of home washing machines after the war led to the industry’s decline.

Art celebrating laundry workers (mostly women)

The Yale building followed a common thread of basements being used for generating steam that heated water and powered large washers.  The floors were built extra-study to hold the heavy equipment; large windows were common for available light. By coincidence, the former Troy Laundry building located a few blocks away is currently being renovated to become an athletic club.

Because the commercial laundry industry relied heavily on women who worked long hours in difficult conditions, it helped spawn laws in Oregon and many other states regulating hours and wages for women.  The rules were challenged by the owner of another Portland laundry company, but were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme court in Muller v. Oregon, 1908. 

 The Yale building also is interesting for an unusual reason.  It was built with a creek that runs through the basement.  According to preliminary plans, rain water will be routed from the roof to a courtyard and then to the stream in the basement.   “I hope there will be an opportunity to see the water, if that’s possible,” said Kristen Minor, the landmarks chair.  Native plans will adorn the courtyard.

 Emerick Architects will return with final plans for the landmarks commission at some future date.  Approval likely be speedy and enthusiastic. 

 At the end of an advisory meeting, landmarks commissioners were impressed by what they had seen.  “It’s an awesome project,” said Maya Foty.  “I’m loving this thing,” said another, Peggy Moretti.  “I’m really excited about this project,” added a third, Kimberly Moreland.

----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 18, 2022

Reimagining Jefferson High School

Architectural preservation clearly wasn’t a priority when Portland Public Schools remodeled Jefferson High School in the early 1950s.

 As the image above shows, the renovation sheared off  portions of the original roof, blew out mullioned windows, obliterated artistic architectural details, erased a balustrade, eliminated some arches and  scraped off decoration at the main entrance.

 Further, the addition of an all-weather running track funded with neighborhood support near the original northern front entrance means that primary entrance to the 1909 building is largely unusable, pushing normal access to the east and west ends.  The track and football field will remain in their present locations under any new plan.   

What remains is shown below.

 “I weep at what was done to it in the 1950s,” said Peggy Moretti, a member of the Portland Historical Landmarks Commission.  Still, keeping what’s left of the old building is important to the Jefferson neighborhood and alumni.

“People remember what it was when they went to high school,” said Matthew Roman, another landmarks commissioner.  “They want to go back to it.”   Given the passage of time, few Portlanders will remember the building’s original appearance.  One proposed option of tearing down everything on the site and starting over appears to be dead.  

The landmarks commission will have some jurisdiction over the major redesign of Jefferson now underway because the school is a contributing element of the Piedmont Conservation District.  

 The renovation project is the most difficult design challenge yet for the school district in its on-going renovation of Portland high schools.  The Jefferson campus is a hodgepodge of buildings added in 1928, 1953, 1954, 1964 and 1968 on a 13.56 acre site.  “All of these buildings are in various states of mild disrepair,” said Chandra Robinson, a principal of Lever Architecture, a firm working on the renovation plan.  Many of the additions no longer serve the purposes for which they were built.

 Architects and school district planners have held several community meetings about the Jefferson project.  As yet, however, there is no firm recommendation for what the plans will look like.  Robinson more details likely will be available for the landmarks commission next spring.  She estimated that construction would start in 2024.

Elements not likely to change include the original building, a gymnasium added in 1964 and the track and football field.  Many of the other buildings likely will be razed, to make way for new classrooms, science labs and performance spaces.

Robinson said the design will be intended for a student body of 1700.  Jefferson’s current enrollment is about 700.

 Suggestions from the landmarks commission about renovation of the 1909 building included looking for architectural details that may have been covered up instead of destroyed; adding some historic elements to the east and west entrances; possibly restoring a more original look to the north fa├žade windows; making new additions more attractive to the facing neighborhood streets.  The commission also seemed to favor creation of an open courtyard south of the 1909 building.

 Sadly, restoration of the 1909 building will not achieve the preservationist’s goal of honoring design, materials and craftsmanship of a particular era.  As Robinson put it, the school district is not expecting to replace what has been gone for so long. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Adventure of Sir Francis Drake


We venture many leagues and a few centuries outside our normal preservation bailiwick to ponder just where it was that Sir Francis Drake stopped on the West Coast in 1579 to repair his ship, the Golden Hind. 

Our expedition is prompted by “Thunder Go North,” a fascinating historical, ethnographic and linguistic study published recently by Portland archeologist and anthropologist, Melissa Darby. Historians agree that Drake stopped for repairs during the first circumnavigation in which the commander survived the whole trip.  Drake described his stop as being at a  “fair & good” bay.  Californians like to think it was in Northern California, possibly at a location now called Drake’s Bay.

Darby’s message:  “Drake most likely was not in California waters at all.”  Her extensive research clearly suggests Drake’s stop was on the central Oregon coast, although Darby isn’t willing to “guess” exactly where. “I’m not willing to make the same mistake the Californians made by naming a single bay where there is no physical evidence,” she says.

 Much of California’s claim is based on the work, determined by Darby to be fraudulent, by a respected University of California history professor, Herbert Bolton. Bolton possessed a brass plate believed to be inscribed by Drake and posted at the bay where he stopped for repairs.  Many years after Bolton’s death, metallurgical study in 1977 proved that the plate was not authentic.

Darby’s evidence suggests that Bolton protected the plate from careful study during his lifetime, and prevented a University of California anthropologist, Zelia Nuttall, from publishing her evidence that Drake has sailed as far as the 48th parallel (northern Washington state) looking for the nonexistent Northwest Passage. Nuttall’s work also would have minimized California’s claim about a Drake landing.

According to Darby’s research, Bolton’s intellectual malfeasance bolstered his ego as being involved in prominent historical breakthroughs and drew attention and donations to the University of California.  She also suggests that a group of his supporters wanted to prove an early Caucasian influence in California history.

The contention that Drake’s “fair & good” bay was in Oregon is bolstered by descriptions from those on the Golden Hind about canoes used by the indigenous tribe, their houses, and diets and animals, all incompatible with Northern California tribes.  Darby’s work appears to be the most comprehensive analysis to date using ethnographic and linguistic evidence to try to place Drake’s landing.

The linguistic analysis brings us to “thunder go north,” a chant seemingly heard by the Drake mariners.  Darby’s research advises that the chant was used during thunderstorms by central Oregon coastal tribes urging thunder, the god of fish, to attack northern tribes less respectful of fish.  Cannons fired from the Golden Hind easily could have been construed as thunder.


Is this Whale Cove?  Map from 1595

Readers will note several references to Whale Cove, which was suggested ibn 1979 by a British engineer, Bob Ward.  The shape of the cove is similar to that shown in a map published 1595, and depth soundings indicate that a ship of the Golden Hind’s size could have entered it.  The cove also has a secluded beach where the vessel could have been laid sideways for caulking.

 The cove was heavily used by bootleggers during Prohibition importing alcohol from Canada.  While that proves the cove’s accessibility as certain times, it also means any potential evidence left from Drake’s visit could have been destroyed.

Darby recognizes Whale Cove as a likely spot for Drake’s stop, but she would desire an archeological search to look for physical proof.  Short of discovering Drake’s GPS, we must await conclusive evidence by other means.

 “Thunder Go North” can be purchased through the University of Utah Press.  Its pages carry the salt of the sea and the piece-by-piece evidentiary construction of a crime story.  Darby will sign copies at the Oregon Historical Society’s Holiday Cheer book sales event from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Oregon History Center.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Restoring the Elk Statue and Fountain


Orange pieces would be newly created

Potential return of the historic David Thompson elk statue and fountain has reached a significant new step with a proposal from the Portland Parks Foundation to repair the fountain and restore the historic landmark to its original location on S.W. Main Street.

The non-profit foundation’s “preferred alternative” also would restrict motor vehicles to the southern lane only on Main and allow pedestrians closer opportunities to observe the fountain.

 Alas, restoring the fountain and the street changes both carry price tags.  Restoring the fountain with a recirculating water pump is expected to cost about $900,000 and the street work another $640,000. 

 Randy Gragg, executive director of the parks foundation, hopes that a public and private fund-raising effort can reach the goal. He said the city has received about $750,000 from an insurance claim about the fountain damage, which occurred during public protests in 2020.

 Gragg said evidence suggests that the popular elk and fountain were never targets of the protests but suffered as “collateral damage.”

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will be presented evidence about the fountain restoration at a public hearing on Nov. 7. There is every reason to believe the commission will be supportive of the work, but there could be quibbles about the amount of granite that has to be replaced.


Cars and buses would use south lane; north lane for bikes and pedestrians

Fortunately, “new” granite can be obtained from the same quarry in Vermont as was used originally when the fountain was built in 1900.

 The fountain was donated to Portland by David P. Thompson, a former Portland mayor, school board president and successful businessman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.  “He had a pretty good track record for a man of his era,” Gragg said. “There are no real problems with him.” Four statues of U.S. presidents at various locations in Portland have been removed without legal approval given their comments or behaviors involving racism.

 A historical review as part of the parks foundation study showed that the elk was often the scene of public debates over the years over many issues. Gragg said it could again become a popular gathering spot as it sits between Lownsdale and Chapman Squares.

 Gragg said restoration of the statue and fountain could be a “unifying civic gesture” capable of achieving widespread interest and support.

 The fountain is composed of 50 pieces of granite, 18 of which need to be recreated, according to the foundation’s plan.  Many of the “new” pieces are among the largest.  For an accurate restoration, as many of the historic pieces should be used as possible.

 Ultimately, the Portland City Council will decide on replacing the fountain and to what extent street changes will occur. The council in May resolved unanimously to restore the elk and fountain, but budgetary consequences were not known at that time.

It took an outpouring emails to the city council (many inspired a a blog post published here) to achieve the council's attention. It was proof that the city's important historic fabric is indeed important to our memories and to our unique sense of place, and thus worthy of saving. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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