Friday, May 26, 2023

Remembering "Broadway"


(National Register nomination)

In the middle decades of the 20th Century, Southwest Broadway glowed at night from the blazing signs of Portland’s major theaters – the Paramount, Broadway, Mayfair and Heilig.  Residents sometimes by tens of thousands gathered to see movie stars, parades and new productions.

 Portland’s latest nomination to the National Register of Historic Places recalls that era, not by enshrining a theater but by honoring the enlarged, palatial residence of J.J. and Hazel Parker, who took turns running Oregon’s largest independent theater company.

 “For 50 years, J. J. and then Hazel shaped the entertainment landscape in Portland. The theater buildings and the entertainment offered therein played an important role in the city—architecturally, economically, and socially,” according to the national register nomination.

 J.J. Parker started in the movie business in 1916, parlaying a $5,000 Louisiana Lottery payout -- a substantial amount of money at the time -- into real estate investments.  He came to manage several theaters in Portland and Astoria as part of several business deals before his death in 1941.

The couple visited Los Angeles frequently, where they socialized with the era's biggest stars and film executives.  Their connections help build and sustain their theater chain. 

Hazel Parker had not been involved in her husband’s management before his death.  When she decided to continue the business on her own, theater experts told her a woman wouldn’t survive in the rough-and-tumble movie  business.

“Through several key decisions, she built upon the solid business foundation that her husband had established and, under her leadership, the glitz and glamour of the movie industry was amplified with film premieres and promotions that brought the biggest stars to her palatial downtown theater—the Broadway,” the nomination states.

 Their Colonial Revival house that the Parkers purchased in 1924 was large but not unusually impressive.    The Parkers owned it from 1924 to 1951, and, with the help of architect Harry Herzog, made some dramatic changes to its structure and interior designs.  “Harry Herzog transformed the Parkers’ home from what was likely a typical Colonial Revival home constructed in 1917 to a house with a surprisingly unique and lavish interior,” the nomination states.  His revisions included “unique design elements that were expressive of the Parkers’ lavish taste including French-inspired boiserie paneling and moldings, wrought iron stair details, marble fireplaces, mirrors, and Art Deco bathrooms.” 

(National Register nomination)

In 1933, J.J. Parker took control of the seven-year-old Broadway Theater.  He transformed its interior, added bold exterior signs and converted it to a full-time movie theater as stage entertainment was dying out. The Broadway became the Parkers' crown jewel, bearing a tagline on the marquee that said, “There’s always a better show at Parker’s Broadway.”


Hazel Parker’s life changed as a corporate executive.  “I had to reach a decision in my life, and it was that if I were going to be a businesswoman, I’d give all my time to my business. It meant an end to my social life, which I had always enjoyed, particularly the entertaining part, but that’s the way it had to be.”

 She steered the theaters through a successful decade in the 1950s, but by the 1960s television had radically changed the movie business.  Hazel Parker gradually sold her various interests in the 1960s and 1970s.  Yet she had proved herself as one of Oregon’s top female entrepreneurs. “For these reasons, the Parker House also has significance in local women’s history,” the nomination states.

 Hazel Parker died in 1976 when she was 87.

Except for the Hollywood Theatre and the small Guild theater, all theaters managed by the Parkers in Portland have been demolished. 

 The National Register nomination will be presented to the Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation in mid-June.  Assuming approval, it will be forwarded to the federal Department of Interior for final consideration.

 -------Fred Leeson

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Friday, May 19, 2023

"Ground Floor, Otis Elevator"


Jokesters used to tease Portland as being a city where the Otis Elevator Company was headquartered in a one-story building.


Well, true dat.


The company in 1920 built its one-story building with Italian Renaissance styling on a 5,000-square foot lot at N.W. 10th Ave. and Everett St. The west end served as the office and the rear portion of the building was used for storage and fabrication.


The charming little building – which survives today in excellent condition – belies the importance of elevators in modern architecture. Paired with the advent of steel-frame construction, the elevator industry helped the world advance into the skyscraper era. The Portland Otis office was instrumental in assisting Portland’s early high-rise buildings such as the Wells Fargo Building, Meier & Frank, Jackson Tower, Benson Hotel, American Bank Building as well as many newer tall buildings.

Portland’s stylish Otis office was designed by an Otis company architect whose identity is now known. The firm was building many buildings around the nation at the time. The 1920 date is interesting because it came near the end of architecture’s tradition of using historic styles.


“Its classical facade expresses a central tenet of the Beaux Art influenced, classically derived architecture of the time, i.e., that even mundane uses should be housed in nobly-designed

structures,” states a history compiled for the National Register of Historic Places. “The Otis Building is noteworthy as a relatively late example of this tenet, since by the time of its construction it was already becoming common to house industrial uses in more functionally-designed structures.”


The west facade contains tall Romanesque arched windows office entry is decorated with an arched terra cotta pediment.  Above, a frieze, cornice and red tile roof are customary Italian Renaissance details.  The northern facade reflects the warehouse portion of the building with simpler design and fewer architectural details.


Otis used the building until 1975. The former office space is now home to a certified public accountant, and the interior by visual inspection (peeking in the windows) appears largely intact. The former warehouse is contains an artist-run art gallery.


Elisha Graves Otis invented his first elevator in 1852. The early ones were intended for hoisting machinery. By 1857 Otis elevators were adapted for carrying people; Otis also invented a safety mechanism that prevented the elevator from falling if its supporting ropes were severed.  His successful demonstration of the safety device launched his elevators as people carriers.


After 123 years, Portland’s Otis building reflects design, materials and craftsmanship of an architectural era that no longer exists. We should appreciate its presence and its charm --
and hope that its long life continues without harmful alterations.

And that’s no joke.


----Fred Leeson


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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Remembering the Barlow Wagon Road


Venturing outside our normal geographic  boundaries, an opportunity presented itself to take a quick look at the William Barlow House south of Canby. It was built in 1885 by William Barlow who, in his early 20s, helped his father Samuel create the Barlow Road wagon route from The Dalles to Oregon City.

 Created in 1846, the rugged Barlow Road gave Oregon Trail pioneers an option for leaving the Columbia River and travelling to Oregon City over the Cascade Range instead of journeying around the river’s treacherous falls and rapids.

 The Barlow House is a charming version of the two-bay High Victorian Italianate style.  It evidently was erected by a master carpenter without benefit of an architect. Lumber was cut and milled on the site.

 Preservation Consultant Bo Sullivan reports that the long-time owners, who have done a remarkable job of restoration, recently completed restoration of the iron fencing on the roof.  Known colloquially as a widow’s walk or captain’s walk, the device allows one to appreciate views from a high elevation.  Functionally, it allows easy, safe access for cleaning chimneys.

 Sullivan said the owners found fragments of the original railing, which provided a template for new fabrication.

 One can contemplate that inspiration for the house’s design came from San Francisco rather than Portland.  San Francisco was home to literally hundreds of Italianate houses while Portland had far fewer. Given the California gold rush and the active sea trade between Portland and San Francisco, it is easy to appreciate San Francisco’s influence.


(National Register of Historic Places) 

An older black-and-white image (likely from the 1970s) shows porches that were added at some point to the western and northern sides of the house. These greatly impaired the original architecture, and fortunately have been removed.

 The old photograph also shows two long rows of black walnut trees leading from the road to the main entrance.  According to Barlow lore, these were the first black walnut trees imported to Oregon.  Although none survive, Sullivan said the owners are thinking of replanting them.

 Sullivan said the house is occasionally open for viewing, but otherwise the owners wish not to be bothered by sightseers. Given their dedication to preservation and restoration, we should willingly limit our appreciation for their historic house and excellent work by viewing from afar. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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Saturday, May 6, 2023

Painted Ladies

NW Glisan Street

“Those Victorians must have had fun,” said my friend who likes old houses.  She was referring to the bright, multi-colored paint jobs on old houses that have come to be known as Painted Ladies.

 Alas, if the Victorians had fun with their houses, it WASN’T because of the vibrant pinks, purples, yellows and other hues applied to the architectural details.  No, the Painted Ladies arose from the Flower Power generation in San Francisco in the 1960s.

 The trend began in 1963 when an artist named Butch Kardum used multiple colors to accentuate the details of his mother’s house on Steiner Street. His creative paint job attracted criticism, but his neieighbors followed suit, creating a street widely photographed by tourists to this day.  The name Painted Ladies comes from a 1978 book written about the phenomenon. 

Steiner Street (Library of Congress)

An example of Painted Ladies in Portland occurs on NW Glisan Street, where four houses dating to 1906 – shown at the top – have four or more colors applied individually to various details.  (The bright yellow digging machine in the street is purely coincidental.)  These houses reflect the Craftsman era, where the overall designs were simpler than the Italianate and Edwardian designs that flourished in Nineteenth Century San Francisco.  Nevertheless, the colors do grab one’s eyes.

 In the original era of Victorian and Edwardian houses, color schemes generally included just one or two colors on the main walls and a third color for brackets, cornices and window and door surrounds.  The colors available at the turn of the 20th Century were more bland than the palette available now.

 Bright colors on the Painted Ladies are eye-catching in themselves.  But if you are accustomed to looking at architectural details, the vibrant colors help an observer appreciate the various parts that contribute to the architectural whole.  They offer a window into design techniques and craftsmanship from the long-gone era.

 In addition, the Painted Ladies also testify to the skill of the color designers and careful work y the painters.  Painted Ladies don’t come from spray guns.  One drawback:  The Sun's radiation makes the bright colors fade faster than the gentler, traditional hues.

If you know of other Painted Ladies worthy of our attention in the Portland area, feel free to add them in a comment. 

 ---Fred Leeson

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