Friday, June 23, 2023

The Case of the Missing Statues


For three years after the illegal removal of several historic Portland statutes by hooligans, the city government has dithered and dawdled about creating a public process to determine how or whether these landmarks should be reinstated.  

 The “easy” way out would be for the City Council to delegate the decision to the nonprofit Regional Arts and Culture Council.  That would be a dreadful mistake, since 1) the decision should be made by elected officials and 2) the nonprofit organization has already made its position clear without any public comment.

 Planning for public involvement has received a new boost, however, in the form of a $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation support a “robust series of community engagement activities to discuss current and future monuments,” according to a city statement.

This should not be a difficult mission.  Here is Building on History’s proposal for carrying out public engagement.  Its goal is to provide open, inclusive access for all thoughts and opinions and to provide the best possible information for the ultimate decision makers.

  1.  This is an important issue of public policy.  It must be decided by the City Council in a process that is open and transparent.
  2. The City Council should appoint an independent hearings officer to take testimony.  The testimony should be recorded and any written comments should be accepted and saved.  The role of the hearings officer is NOT to make a decision, but to take testimony under open, fair conditions.  The hearings officer should be polite at all times but be willing to maintain decorum if necessary.  
  3. Any group may submit testimony as a group, if they so choose.  This could include RACC or any other arts or history-related, civic or fraternal organization.
  4. At the end of the testimony, the hearings office should compile a summary of testimony for the City Council.  This summary should include all significant issues raised in the testimony.  This summary does NOT include a recommendation from the hearings officer.
  5. All testimony and written comments should be submitted to the City Council for council review.  The council could then request any additional testimony it might seek.
  6. The City Council then makes its decisions.

The City Council is expected to discuss the public process on July 20.  Anyone supporting the plan outlined above is encouraged to submit written or oral testimony to the City Council.

 -----Fred Leeson

 Join Building on History’s mailing list by writing “add me” to




Friday, June 9, 2023

An Interesting Possibility?


Doom often awaits an old building when its “for sale” sign lists potential development possibilities instead of the structure’s own assets.  It’s a not-so-subtle hint that the value lies in the land, not the building.

Such may be the case at 1326 SW 12th Ave., where one of downtown’s few remaining wooden houses dating to the late 1800s is offered for sale at $689,000.  The building currently contains two apartments on the second floor, a framing shop on the main floor and a basement that has been used as a beauty salon.

The sales pitch celebrates the fact that the land is zoned for high or medium-rise condos or apartments, which could be coupled with retail or commercial service space.  In other words, goodbye old house.

Fortunately, the exterior of the house retains its original characteristics with a two-story bay and a double-sided entrance.  Though not n outstanding architectural gem, it represents the tasteful Italianate design in a balloon-frame residence that used to be common fabric downtown.  Many of its original interior details where shorn off in 1973 (if not earlier) when the upper apartments were remodeled.

If there is any hope for saving this building, it sits next door.  The northern neighbor is the more architecturally interesting John S. Honeyman house, now used as a law office.  These two neighbors were erected in 1890.  The Honeyman house is a Portland landmark as well as a member of the National Register of Historic Places.  These designations make its demolition much more difficult to achieve.lot. 

One would think that a developer really wanting to build a serious high-rise would need both lots; if so, the Honeyman acts as a protective shield for its neighbor on a 5,000 square-foot lot. 

In Portland’s real estate market, the asking price does not seem outrageous for a nice old building with two or three rental units plus office space.  A further bonus is a paved rear yard offering parking.

One wonders: Could an entrepreneur with a preservation bent see an opportunity to save this piece of “old Portland’ and make it pencil?

---Fred Leeson

Join Building on History’s email list be writing “add me” to


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Home again?


An imposing house built in 1907 that has devolved into a neighborhood eyesore might thrive again as a residence a few blocks north of its current home.

 An Irvington couple, whose house they were restoring on N.E. 9th Avenue collapsed during a fire late last year, hope to move the much-abused 1907 house to the the vacant lot created by the fire.  The move would transport the Craftsman-era house from NE 9th and Weidler St. to its new location about 4 1/2 blocks away.

The short distance means less moving expense.  Still, it will require dropping several power lines standing in the way and will necessitate a strategy for minimizing damage to street trees that are heavily protected under city tree-canopy regulations.

The proposed move has survived a preliminary city intake examination.  If all goes well, the move could occur this summer.  If the move is successful, one hopes that the first order of business will be a new exterior paintjob to replace the current graffiti abuse.

 The home has been vacant and the windows boarded up for at least a few years. Graffiti scoundrels appear to have had free reign ever since.

 Squatters have plundered the interior of its hardware and much of its wiring, but much of the original interior woodwork remains intact, according to an article in the Irvington Community Association’s newsletter.

 If the move is successful, the 1907 house would be a good fit in the Irvington National Historic District.  Many of its neighboring houses are of the same vintage, making it a good aesthetic fit at the proposed location.

 The fate of the 1907 house in its current location was essentially sealed in the 1950s, when the City of Portland coverted NE Weidler and Broadway into a one-way couplet.  That sandwiched the house between two high-density traffic arterials.  At roughly the same time, the city changed zoning in the Lloyd Center area to commercial from residential, dooming houses sooner or later to being converted or demolished.

 People often wonder why historic houses are not moved to new sites when threatened. One answer is a scarcity of vacant single-family lots; the other is that the length of can a move  can push costs into the prohibitive zone, given difficulties with power lines and trees.

 A successful move in this case would be good news for the house and good news for beiong a compatible addition to its neighborhood.

 ----Fred Leeson

 Join Building on History’s mailing list by writing “add me” to