Saturday, August 26, 2023

What's Next?

By the time wealthy entrepreneurs can afford to build their mansions, they often don’t have many years left to enjoy them.  

 That certainly was the case of the Pittock Mansion, completed in 1914 for Oregonian newspaper publisher Henry Pittock, who died in 1919.  Same with the imposing Robert F. Lytle house, built in Irvington in 1912 as a summer residence for the wealthy Washington state timber owner, who died only four years later.

Then what happens?

After years of decline, the Pittock Mansion eventually was acquired by the City of Portland as a museum and event space.  What’s to become of the Irvington mansion, often called Portland’s White House, remains to be seen.

It is now for sale with an asking price of nearly $3 million, should you be interested.  You’d be buying a two-story Colonial Revival/Mediterranean style house with 14 rooms, oodles of excellent original interior details, a separate remodeled carriage house and lots of interesting history.

One answered puzzle is why the uber-wealthy Lytle chose the flatlands of Irvington for his mansion, when Portland’s upper crust residents were dotting the Southwest and Northwest Portland hills and Northeast Portland’s Alameda ridge with mansions that featured glorious views from on high.  While Irvington grew into a stable, middle-class neighborhood, nothing among its 2,800 properties rivals the Lytle house.

The Lytle design is the only known work of David L. Williams, a son of the much more historically prominent Warren H. Williams.  The elder Williams designed two Italianate houses that survive for Morris Marks, a 19th century shoe merchant, and the carpenter-gothic Old Church that survives as a concert venue.

 After Lytle’s death, the house was owned by William P. Hawley, a paper-making consultant who built the huge (and now gone) Hawley Pulp and Paper Co. at the Willamette Falls in Oregon City.  Another subsequent owner was Harvey Dick, who is well-remembered for turning the old Hoyt Hotel into a rollicking restaurant and nightclub venue in the 1960s.

 The Lytle house’s history then became more muddled.  One prospective owner wanted to turn it into a wedding venue, but neighbors objected.  It is said to have operated for at least a few years as a women’s dress shop, apparently without benefit of a city permit.

 Starting in the early 1980s, successive owners made sensitive improvements and operated it as the Portland White House Bed & Breakfast, but a third owner got clobbered by the pandemic and decided to sell.

 In 2021, a high-tech person from Berkeley bought it for $2.58 million and returned it to a single-family residence.  Maintenance still appears to be good. Now, however, the owner is moving to Europe and put the house on the market a few months ago for $3 million.  Hot as Portland’s housing market is said to be, nobody was lining up to offer $3 million.  The asking price is now $2.895 million.

 Pictures of the interior are available here:

 Using the property as a business requires a conditional use permit from the City of Portland.  The local neighborhood association will pay close attention to any conditional use application.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Monday, August 21, 2023

A New Horizon Ahead?

 Given their limited finances, artists hoping to create a synergistic community of their brethren usually don’t look for space in high-end neighborhoods.

Cyrus Cole and Adewale Agboola didn’t bother with the Pearl when they wanted to find a building where artists and musicians, especially from the BIPOC community, could create and display their work in a supportive and vibrant venue.

The three-story masonry building they found and bought sits on the edge of the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District in the 400 block of NW Glisan St.  It bears a sign of Columbia River Ship Supply Inc., although it isn’t clear when that company occupied the building believed to have been erected in 1905.

Fortunately, the old building appears to be in good shape, with arched windows, unusual 12-over-12 lite windows and an interesting corbelled cornice.  The architect is not known.  At various times, the building has been used for manufacturing, storage and more recently as an architecture office. 


An interesting cornice 

Cole, a graphics designed, and Agboola, a photographer, hope to make the first floor a gallery space with a coffeeshop and retail.  Creative spaces on the upper floors would be rented to artists on a daily or 10-day or monthly basis.  The basement they envision as a jazz bar with performance space for musicians or the spoken word.

 Cole and Agboola call their acquisition the Horizon Enterprise Building.  Cole said they are in the final stages of obtaining building permits for the interior work.  Fortunately for them, seismic upgrades were made several years ago, saving them a significant expense.  Intior work is expected to take five or six months, once the pair generate adequate funding.

 “It’s a great building,” said Maya Foty, a member of the Portland Landmarks Commission where Agboola and Cole explained their plans.  “It seems like a great spot.”  She called their plans “exciting on every level.”

 “It’s a little rough around the edges,” Cole said, “but most diamonds in the rough are.”

 The building is listed as a contributing element of the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District, although researchers who wrote the district history said there was no apparent ethnic connection to the Chinese or Japanese communities.  The federal listing said the building contributed to the district because it represented the architecture and commerce of that historic era.  It sits close to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and the Lan Su Chinese Garden, two institutions that celebrate Portland’s early 20th Century international connections.

There have been times when collections of artists working in proximity have generated additional economic interest in their neighborhoods and lifted property values.  When that happens, the arrival of Starbucks often means it’s time for the artists to move elsewhere. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Progress at Anna Mann

Anna Mann House (1910)

 Sometimes, good plans DO come to fruition.  A quick trip to the one-time Anna Mann retirement home in Northeast Portland, circa 1910, showed that two new companion apartment buildings for low-income residents are at or near completion.  Restoration of the original building has a few more months to go.

 When finished, the 3.1-acre complex at 1021 N.E. 33rd Ave., will contain 128 apartments.  Of those, 42 will be rented to residents who earn less than 30 percent of the region’s median income, and 86 will house residents earning up to 60 percent of the median standard.

 Innovative Housing Inc., a Portland-based non-profit housing developer, cobbled together a complex funding package and won planning approval from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission almost three years ago.  The developer has a good track record for respecting historic architecture, and will prove it again by preserving the exterior and many interior details of the original Mann house.

The original Anna Mann building was designed by Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, one of Portland’s most prominent firms of the era.  Their other notable work of the period included the University Club and Lincoln High School, now Old Main at Portland State University, and the original Jefferson High School.


New apartment east

The style of the Anna Mann house is considered Tudor Revival or English Elizabethan.  Notable elements include brick walls, steeply pitched roofs, and cast stone lintels and sills at the windows.  The public rooms were trimmed with dark-stained Douglas fir, a common treatment for Arts and Crafts interiors in the Portland area.  Pleasingly, those interior details have been well-preserved.

 The separate new buildings sit on the southern and eastern edges of the site.  While no one will confuse them as “old” buildings, they were designed by Emerick Architects to be compatible with the site’s doyen.  Alas, the budget did not allow for as much brick facing on the eastern building as originally planned.

New apartment south, at left

 When finished, the Mann building will contain 38 apartments, plus communal spaces that will retain many of the original interior details. 

 While senior citizens likely will rent many of the 66 one-bedroom units, there will be numerous two and three-bedroom units that could provide family housing, in addition to a single four-bedroom unit.

 Overall, the project is an excellent example of finding a new use for a worthy piece of historic architecture – and providing a new source of essential housing.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Saturday, August 5, 2023

Careful Changes on Foster Road

(Courtesy of Matt Froman)

After Matt Froman’s crash course in preservation proved successful last year at the old Phoenix Pharmacy building, he has moved a few blocks down Foster Road with plans to restore and revitalize a whole block of storefronts between S.E. 59th and 60th Aves.

 “Obviously, I believe in the neighborhood,” he said.  “I grew up in it.  I’ve always kind of liked it.”

 Froman and a partner, Shawn Morgan, a real estate lawyer who also devoted to the Foster neighborhood, bought the property when the former owner decided to retire.  The architectural highlight of the block is a single-story commercial building dating to 1927 with an arched entrance at S.E. 60th, a crest of red tiles at the roofline and terra cotta decorations on the pilasters.

 The storefront building holds an important role in the history of the Portland-area economy.  In 1935, a young Franklin High School graduate opened the M.J. Murdock Radio and Appliance Company.  The following year he hired another young radio technician, Howard Vollum.


The Murdock Era

Savvy readers will know that after World War II, Murdock and Vollum created a company that came to be known as Tektronix, Oregon’s first big high-tech firm that made oscilloscopes and electronic measuring devices.  Murdock remained as a top executive until 1971 when he was killed when a seaplane he was piloting overturned in the Columbia River.

 For many years Tek was one of the state’s largest employers.  Froman plans to see if he can find further historical evidence of Murdock’s years on Foster Road. 

 Froman’s goal in the project “will be to restore the first three retail spots to look as historically accurate as we possibly can,” he said.  He is currently working on city permits and hopes to have most of the restoration completed by early next year. 

 His plans for the block call for it to continue to be a hub for small businesses.  An antique store, tacqueria and bicycle shop that are current tenants will remain.  The bike shop will move from the primary corner at 60th, and Froman is seeking a new tenant for the arched entrance at 60th.

 “I believe in small businesses and their importance to the economy,” Froman said.  The existing firms have already proven a commitment to Foster Road, and Froman isn’t about to evict them.  “We have been working with them and they have been working with us.” 


Froman's Earlier Project

A few blocks to the east, Froman last year completed restoration of the former Phoenix Pharmacy building, where its curving fa├žade at the sharp corner of S.E. 67th had been a neighborhood landmark since the 1920s.

 The Foster Road corridor has not seen the dramatic impact of new construction that has changed the ambiance of some other Southeast Portland commercial corridors.  Maybe that is good; it provides opportunities for dedicated entrepreneurs like Froman who appreciate the neighborhood and make careful improvements with less disruption.

 ----Fred Leeson

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