Thursday, March 23, 2023

Where's Waldo?


If you tell Portlanders that one of downtown’s best examples of architectural preservation is the Waldo Block, the response likely will be, “The WHAT block?”

A recent paint job that does a better job of accentuating the details of a building erected in 1886 makes the slender structure at SW 2nd Ave and Washington St. look its best since, well, maybe 1886. 

For 30 years it was best known as the home of the Elephant & Castle restaurant, but that run ended in 2003.   The Waldo Block was erected in 1886, near the end of Portland’s adventure with cast iron construction with Italianate detailing.  It featured retail on the ground floor and two stories of housing above.

The building was erected by, and named for, John Waldo, an early Portland lawyer who served one term on the Oregon Supreme Court from 1880 to 1886.  The original architect is not known, but the building includes interesting recessed balconies on the third floor of the SW 2nd Avenue façade.

Sometime in the 1890s, the building became a key element of Portland’s original Chinatown, providing both housing, social events and gambling for Chinese community.  Chinese owners possessed the building from 1943 until 1980, when a subsequent owner found opium scales and gambling equipment and furniture.

 As the building changed hands over the years, its 19th Century cornice and some other details were shorn off, no doubt by owners hoping to reduce maintenance costs.  By 1980, as a historic photograph shows, it seemed that its future likely was to include a wrecking ball.  Portland’s Chinatown had moved north of Burnside and the downtown business district had moved a few blocks to the west.

An excellent restoration in the mid-1980s, however, replaced the cornice and returned the Waldo Block to its former glory.  The housing was converted to offices with the restaurant as the primary ground-floor tenant.

Perhaps one reason the building isn’t better known is its unfortunate location at the westbound off-ramp from the Morrison Bridge.  A parking lot lies across directly across Washington Street.  Coupled with the rush of traffic off the bridge, the wider Washington street exposure is not an especially pleasant pedestrian experience.

 Regardless, the Waldo Block is an excellent piece of downtown Portland’s cast iron architectural history.  Take a look the next time you whiz past.

------Fred Leeson

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Good News in Northwest Portland


(Hartshorne-Plunkard Architecture)

One year ago, demolition of a notable landmark church in Northwest Portland loomed as a possibility as its owners looked desperately for a buyer.

One year later, the former First Church of Christ, Scientist now looms as one of Portland’s most notable preservation successes.  Under plans approved by the Portland Historical Landmarks Commission, the 1909 beaux-arts structure at 1819 NW Everett should be painstakingly restored and paired with a new five-story hotel behind it. 

 Though the two buildings will not physically touch, the three-story historic church will become an accessory of the hotel, containing a lounge, coffee shop, event space and spa for the 80-room hotel to be built on a quarter-block parking lot at the rear of the church.

 Finding adaptable uses for old landmarks that have outlived their original purposes is one of the toughest challenges in the preservation world.  That process is even tougher when the landmark is a church that once held up to 1100 parishioners for Sunday services.

Preservation of the church building will include earthquake bracing, repair or replacement of deteriorated stonework, a new roof and full renovation of large, leaded windows of opalescent glass that dominate three public facades of the building.

(Hartshorne-Plunkard Architecture)

The hotel, with its front door at the corner of NW 19th and Flanders St., will be finished in stucco with gentle does of historic European architectural details.  Chicago architect Andrew Becker said the hotel’s design was intended to be sympathetic to the era of the church without trying to be flashier than the historic building.  The final design was a toned-down version from plans submitted a few months ago for an advisory hearing.

 Both buildings will be outfitted with roof-top terraces that will give visitors outstanding views of downtown Portland.

Landmarks commission members lauded detailed plans for fixing the run-down church while finding a successful new life for it.  “I’m so thrilled this building has a future,” said Commissioner Peggy Moretti.  Adding a religious flourish, she added, “Hallelujah!”  Commissioner Matthew Roman suggested that seismic additions at the church could become a model for retrofitting many of Portland’s old, unreinforced masonry buildings.

The First Church of Christ Science left the building more than 50 years ago as its membership declined.  The building served subsequently as a community center, a home for several nom-profit agencies and later as a theatrical school for children.

Sale of the building and its parking lot to a Las Vegas development company has been held in abeyance until the development plans were approved.  After the commission’s unanimous approval, Becker, the architect, said, “We are anxious to move as quickly as we can.”

-----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Jantzen Carousel: The Clock is Ticking

(Restore Oregon)

 Dozens of brightly-painted wooden horses that once comprised the Jantzen Beach carousel are starting now to look like --- white elephants.

 Restore Oregon, a statewide preservation advocacy group, took possession of the dismantled carousel in 2017 hoping to restore its parts and find a new location for it within five years.

 Three years ago, Restore Oregon reached an agreement with the Portland Diamond Project to include the carousel as part of development of a major league baseball stadium.  That agreement has come to an end – and hopes for landing a major league team have yet to reach first base.

 We want it up and running again,” said Stephanie Brown, the carousel project manager.  “Everyone who loves it wants it up and running again (and that includes the nice folks at PDP.) But full restoration is going to take a few years because we have dozens of horses still in need of repair. The sooner full restoration can begin, the sooner people can enjoy the carousel again.”

 But there is no guarantee that a new home will be found in Portland.  Restore Oregon has talked extensively with public agencies and private developers – and found no serious interest.  Putting it up for sale likely would attract interest and a sale to some other city.

  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.

 After five quiet years in storage, the carousel’s owner donated the deconstructed pieces in 2017 to Restore Oregon.  The September date would mark the end of the sixth year in Restore Oregon’s custody.

 A major challenge to finding a new location is that the carousel, measuring 67 feet in diameter and 29 feet tall, needs to sit in an enclosed building of roughly 10,000 square feet. 

 The carousel, a "Superior Park” model built by the C.W. Parker company, is five years away from its centennial anniversary.  Brown said finding a permanent location is the key to raising enough money to complete its restoration. 

 Newly-built carousels in cities such as Missoula, Montana and Salem have proven popular for adding family-friendly activity within the city.  Somewhere, someday, the same will be said of the historic Jantzen Beach carousel.  But where? 

-----Fred Leeson

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Good News at Duniway Elementary School

(IBI Group)

 Like many other jurisdictions, Portland Public Schools long held a bad reputation for abusing original architectural details when periodically “modernizing” its older buildings.  Fortunately, that’s not the case with repairs in store for Duniway Elementary School in the Eastmoreland neighborhood.

 The school’s status as a local Portland landmark meant repairs to the roof and a series of exterior architectural details had win approval from the Portland Historical Landmarks Commission. The volunteer panel takes a close look at proposed change, with an eye towards retaining the original look and materials of historic structures.

 PPS took the project seriously, hiring people with genuine preservation experience to examine the school’s renovation needs while staying faithful the schools 1926 “collegiate gothic” design by George H. Jones, the school district’s in-house architect at the time.

 Duniway’s construction occurred at the midpoint of Jones’ 14-year career at the district.  His busy tenure included design of 25 Portland schools, including Irvington, Vernon, Portsmouth, Ockley Green, King and a 1200 seat auditorium at Roosevelt High School.

 Duniway ranks as one of Portland’s most attractive schools of the era, and makes a welcome contribution to the Eastmoreland National Historic District.  Retaining its historic feel is a plus for the neighborhood and for people travelling along Southeast Reed College Place.

 The renovations will include replacing the multi-colored tile roof and replacing parts of the decorative balustrades of cast stone that have suffered from nearly a century of wet weather.  Identical pieces of the balustrades will be replaced as necessary by new ones made of glass fiber reinforced concrete, a product that is expected to endure Portland’s climate. 

The colorful sketch below shows the extent of work to be done on the school’s primary west façade.  The landmarks commission approved the plans by a 4-0 vote, after complimenting the design team for its work. Key players in the planning included Matthew Braun of the IBI Group and Matthew Davis of Architectural Resources Group.  


(IBI Group)

While talking in historical terms, we must not forget Abigail Scott Duniway, for whom the school was named.  An early proponent of voting rights for women, Duniway fought valiantly at the Oregon Legislature from 1872 until 1912, when voters made Oregon the seventh state to approve women’s rights to vote.  One of her primary opponents during that long fight was her own brother, Harvey W. Scott, editor of the Oregonian newspaper, who editorialized stridently against her.

Duniway was honored by becoming the first woman in Multnomah County to register to vote.  She died in 1915, five years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended voting rights nationwide, regardless of sex.

 ----Fred Leeson

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