Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Renaissance at the Harlow Block


From high hopes to hard times and back again, few of Portland’s historic buildings have seen the economic swings and racial animosity wrapped within the three-story brick building at 722 NW Glisan St.  The newly-restored Harlow Hotel is named for John Harlow, an early steamboat captain who built it in 1882.

Harlow, an early entrepreneur who also laid out and named the City of Troutdale, originally called his building the Grand Hotel, assuming it would draw customers from the proposed big new railway depot just few blocks away.

Alas, changes in plans meant the depot wouldn’t open for another 14 years.  That was the first of many bumps in the road for the hotel that originally was heated by wood stoves and lacked electricity.  Electricity didn’t arrive until after World War I.

 In the 1930s, the hotel and ground-floor storefronts were managed by Japanese proprietors, but all lost their businesses when Portland’s Japanese residents were sent to internment camps at the start of World War II.  Post war, the building was inhabited by low-income monthly tenants rather than tourists.  The upper two floors were closed to tenants in 1972.


The building remained largely vacant for decades. Though its condition deteriorated, many of its internal details including door and window casings remained.  The building was purchased in 2008 by Ganesh Sonpatki, who operates moderately-priced hotels under the Portland Value Inns brand.

 It seemed like the building’s bad luck continued, as restoration was slowed first by the 2008 recession.  Because the Harlow Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, design changes took longer than expected to be planned, approved and then accomplished.  The addition of an elevator  was a complicating technical factor.

 The upper two hotel floors were finished and ready for opening in 2019 – just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.  The street also has suffered from homeless people living in sidewalk tents. As a result, building’s reemergence as a viable hotel drew little attention.

 The ground floor originally contained five storefronts, with the hotel entry up a central stairway.  Now, with the exception of a coffeeshop, the ground floor spaces are devoted to lobbies and an exercise room.

Images of the attractive, renovated interior can be seen here:  https://harlowhotelpdx.com/

 The Harlow Hotel is believed to be the second oldest brick structure in the neighborhood.  The restored  Merchant Hotel at NW 2nd and Davis St. is two years older, dating to 1880.


Cast iron column, here painted black, were a frequent element in 1880s architecture 

The Harlow Hotel originally had an arched entry leading to the second floor hotel.  The arch was lost during a renovation in the 1940s when it was covered with stucco.  It now has been recreated.  The gently arched windows reflect also an Italianate design popular late in the 19th Century.  The original architect is not known.

 For all the bumps it has survived in the past, the Harlow Hotel could be headed to better days amid new, fancier surroundings.  The former U.S. Main Post office one block north of Glisan Street is being torn down and its large, soon to be vacant site is expected to sprout a combination of high-rise buildings in the future.

 Given the difficulty of its history and challenges in its restoration, the Harlow seemingly has earned a better life.  

 ----Fred Leeson

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