Friday, July 28, 2023

All's Square at Oblique


Behind any successful architectural preservation project stands someone with extraordinary passion, dedication and perseverance.  Without commitment, preservation doesn’t happen.

Jack Chandler is a prime example.  Back in 2007, he noticed a two-story wooden building dating to 1891 at the southern edge of the Kerns neighborhood.  The old store with living quarters above was listing some 22 degrees off center and the City of Portland wanted to demolish it.

Chandler had other ideas.  He liked the idea of living above a business and he liked the old building and the history it represented as a neighborhood store through few different iterations. Relying on his background in construction management, he spent the next three years straightening and repairing the structure and revamping the plumbing and electricity.

 Architecturally, the two-story building is the kind of carpenter-built structure often found on the western American frontier where wood was the most common and available building material.  The flat frontage is topped with a simple bracketed cornice; the walls are clad with dutch lap siding.

With renovation complete, Chandler opened Oblique Coffee Roasters at 3039 SE Stark St., in 2010, roasting beans and selling individual drinks in a pleasant environment filled with a smattering of antiques and an oaken piano from 1903.  The original fir floor bears the patina and charm of its age.

 Chandler took the name “oblique” from the slant of the building as he found it.  But you only see the name on a small a-frame sign near the door.  Chandler restored the original store’s name on the large “Wm. Landauer” grocery sign painted on the eastern fa├žade. 

 As it was for many small businesses, the three-year pandemic was tough on Oblique’s business.  “There was no way I could see that coming,” Chandler said.  Because the building predates Portland’s zoning code, it is grandfathered as a commercial use in a residential neighborhood.  Alas, that also means there are no nearby businesses that might attract coffee drinkers to it; Oblique’s most frequent customers are pedestrians enjoying the neighborhood.

 Still, Chandler has no regrets.  “I love the building.  I want to own it forever,” he said recently.

 Chandler has enjoyed the coffee business.  But in a city with some 200 individual coffee roasters and many better-known coffee houses, running Oblique is no straight line to financial success. Chandler at some point conceivably could lease the storefront for another commercial use, while still living upstairs.

 If you’re in the neighborhood, take time for some good coffee in a novel, charming environment.  If Jack is behind the counter, thank for a job well done restoring a historic piece of the city.

--Fred Leeson

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Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Public Statues -- Again

Gone, but not forgotten

Leadership has not been an apparent trait at City Hall in recent years.  That appears to be changing, thanks to the one commissioner who is probably the most mild-mannered of the five council members, Dan Ryan.

Last year, Ryan quietly negotiated unanimous council approval to restore the historic David P. Thompson elk statue and the granite fountain upon which it sat.  (The elk and fountain are expected to return early next year.)  Now, since being given charge of the Portland Parks Bureau, Ryan has taken unexpectedly bold steps.

On July 19,  during council testimony about restoring – or not – historic statues that were toppled by protesters, it became clear that the city-funded Regional Arts and Culture Council would NOT be the agency to determine the future of Portland’s public arts policies.  RACC long ago had decided in its infinite wisdom (for itself) that the historic statues would not be returned to public places because of flaws in some of the historic figures’ conduct.

 Soon thereafter, Ryan also announced that city funding for RACC would terminate at the end of the fiscal year next June 30.  Rather than RACC making public art decisions, the City Council will precede with a lengthy community process involving tours, public discussions, and programs hosted by a monuments review panel.

 How long the process will take and what the eventual outcome will be are anyone’s guess.  On the plus side, all sorts of opinions and historical aspects can be analyzed in public, rather than delegating the decision to a small group whose collective mind was already firmly entrenched.

Ryan’s non-combative demeanor no doubt has helped him negotiation council consensus.  One might wonder, however, who has his “ear” on matters of art and preservation.

 While Building on History has no inside information, an ad hoc group calling itself Concerned Citizens has been communicating with Ryan and his staff for many months.  The group includes members with backgrounds in politics, the arts, history and city government.  One of its members is Mike Lindberg, who served on the City Council from 1979 to 1996. 

 While some public advocates shout from the rooftops and try to generate publicity for their cause, others – like the Concerned Citizens – work quietly behind the scenes to influence the levers of governmental power. 

 Ryan’s firm grip on the Parks Bureau was demonstrated recently in yet another way.  He convinced the City Council to rename O’Bryant Square in honor of the late Walter Cole, who built a lengthy and honorable reputation as a drag queen known as Darcelle.  His downtown nightclub was known for its good humor and respect for people of all walks of life.

Being a nice guy, it appears, is worthy of public honor while defeating slavery, winning a revolution against oppression and creating national parks and public forests might not qualify. 

----Fred Leeson

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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

New on the Honeyman Hardware Block


NW Park Ave/ frontage shows new apartments above the creamy brick facade of the historic bindery building at lower left.  (TVA Architects)

What started out as a potential glassy, 23-story apartment tower has been trimmed to eight stories on the historic Honeyman Hardware block in Northwest Portland under revised plans approved by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.

 If erected, the new building would contain 165 apartments and sit partially above the two story 1920s structure known as the bindery building that was part of the three-block Honeyman complex in the 500 block of NW Park Avenue.

The proposed addition to the Honeyman block follows the demise of another apartment project approved by the landmarks commission in 2007, but died as a consequence of the 2008 recession.

Under the new plan, the oldest component of the Honeyman complex, a livery stable called the Metro building built in 1903 and remodeled many times, would be demolished.  It fronts on NW Park and Hoyt Sttreet. Its place would be taken by a new half-block frontage erected as part of the apartment complex.

 A third building on the block, built as a Honeyman warehouse in 1912, has seen been converted to apartments and will remain. The top of the new apartment, rising 87 feet, roughly matches the height of the former warehouse now called the Cotter Building.

Hoyt Street frontage shows Cotter Building, right, and north facade of new apartments (TVA Architects)

Robert Thompson, a principle of TVA Architects, said the two remaining historic buildings “are in really good shape,” though dirty.  He said their exteriors will be cleaned and the Cotter Building will be repainted as part of the development.

The eastern frontage of the block faces on what is planned to be an extension of the North Park Blocks.  Directly north lies the large vacant site that formerly housed the Main U.S. Post Office.  No development plans have been announced for that multi-block site, but zoning rules could allow high-rise buildings as tall as 400 feet.

The block at present (TVA Architects)

Honeyman Hardware was a leading Pacific Northwest hardware dealer for many years a century ago.  Although built at different times, the three buildings on the block were linked together for commercial purposes.  The full block was added to the National Register of Historic Places in regard for its commercial importance in the era.

Eran Fields, who owns the Honeyman block, met several times with residents and the Pearl District Neighborhood Association.  Despite some quibbles from the neighborhood group, four people testified in favor of the latest plan.  Fields earned compliments for his willingness to listen to concerns and to make changes.  “I think we have come up with the best iteration yet,” he said.

Upper stories of the new apartment feature large windows and a horizontal emphasis on its structure.  The horizontality is a nod to the industrial architecture of the early 20th Century as reflected in the Cotter Building.  Composite metal cladding in a red shade will cover the vertical and horizontal structural members.

 -----Fred Leeson

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Saturday, July 1, 2023

'Old' Becomes New on Division


A new layer of entertainment history awaits a 97-year old lately-vacant theater that will bring more life to SE Division Street.

 The former Northwest Film Study Center, now going under the new name of PAM CUT, (whatever that means) plans to offer videos and multimedia events at the former Oregon Theater at 3510 SE Division St.  Until three years ago, the old theater was best known as a long-running home of explicit sexual movies.

Tomorrow Theater, as it will be called, expects to begin programming in the 300-seat venue in the fall. The film group will no longer be using the Whitsell Auditorium in the Portland Art Museum. 

 It will be roughly the fourth iteration for the building erected in 1926 by an early Portland movie operator, Isaac Geller.  The theater originally was intended for vaudeville, but soon shifted to movies.   Geller also built and operated the Aladdin and Walnut Park theaters in the 1920s.

All three of Geller’s theaters later operated as porn houses, run by his son-in-law, Sol Maizels.  The Aladdin was the most famous of the three, largely because of a 1975 court case in which Maizels was accused of violating an obscenity law by running the movie “Deep Throat.”

 He testified that he sold more than 100,000 tickets to the movie from 1973 to 1975, a number that helped convince jurors that the move had not violated “community standards --” and thus had not broken the law. (And yes, the movie was played for the jury.)

Geller died in 1976 at age 83.
  The Walnut Park Theater closed in the late 1980s and later was torn down.  The Aladdin changed hands and has become a successful concert venue for popular music.

 Kevin Cavenaugh, a creative designer and developer, bought the Oregon Theater in 2020.  The name he chose for his ownership papers – Double Scrub LLC – hints at the interior condition as he found it.  Cavenaugh’s other notable buildings include the Fair-Haired Dumbell and the Zipper on Sandy Boulevard.

Osmose Design of Portland is designing the internal theater space.  The theater building also includes two storefronts that will remain facing on Division.  This follows a trend in that era when theaters had their front doors on a busy street, but the auditorium was tucked in behind so other uses could be offered on the high-traffic street.  

 In the past 15 years, Division Street has emerged as one of Portland’s leading new urban streets with many apartments and new storefronts.  It is encouraging to see a viable old building be retained for something close to its original purpose.  The theater obviously will add even more vitality to the neighborhood.

 But the vitality comes with a warning: Good luck finding parking.

 ----Fred Leeson

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