Sunday, November 26, 2023

What's Next at Jefferson High School?

Original Jefferson High School main entrance

Architects working on a massive Jefferson High School renovation would like to bring back some of the distinctive architectural elements that once graced the school when its first building opened in 1909.

Tentative plans call for the restoration of a hipped roof over the main entry and suitable embellishment of the three Romanesque arches that mark the main portal.  Designers also considered trying to salvage decorative diamond and circular brick patterns in the original fa├žade, but found that the heavy-duty plaster that buried them during renovation in the 1950s made salvage impossible.

“This is what we really want to do,” Chandra Robinson, a principal of Lever Architecture, told the Historic Landmarks Commission at a recent advisory meeting, referring to the hipped roof and the arches.  The latest iteration also would remove berms that hide some of the lower facade. 

It is not known, however, whether the budget will allow these restorations – or whether the Jefferson community wants them.

Several citizens at an earlier neighborhood meeting said they would be willing to sacrifice the historic building if a new structure could be built without sending students off campus for two years while the overhaul occurs. 

“It’s not a choice we’ve ever been given,” Robinson said of a new building replacing the 1909 structure.    The outcome, she said, ultimately has to be decided by the Portland School Board.  Students at other Portland high schools have been bussed to the old Marshall High building in Southeast Portland while construction occurred.

Today's stripped-down version

Robinson said a final proposed plan for Jefferson likely will be finished early in 2024.  The latest plans call for removal of a gymnasium built in 1928 that sits south of the 1909 building.  While the old gym has some attractive architectural details, it fails to meet for modern needs and stands in the way of plans for a new gym, theater and classrooms that would sit behind the 1909 building and an open plaza.   The current football field and running track would remain in place.

 Members of the Landmarks Commission expressed support for restoring the 1909 building to the extent possible.  “The 1909 building is the kind of structure that we’ll never get back,” said Commissioner Kristen Minor, who is ending an eight-year term on the commission.  “It’s really hard to look at it in its current form.”

 Commissioner Kimberly Moreland said the old building “represents a really unique design for schools of that era.”  Despite the unfortunate design changes made decades ago, the school remains a neighborhood landmark and is a contributing element of the Piedmont Conservation District, where city regulations attempt to protect historic qualities.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Portland Monuments: Your Turn to Speak Out

Should Abe be restored?

 At long last, citizens have a chance to say whether historic monuments that were removed illegally some three years ago should be returned or replaced. 

The Portland City Council will make the ultimate decision sometime in 2024.  Whether monuments that were removed should be replaced has been a hot-button issue ever since.  Never willing to wade into controversy, the City Council set up a committee that eventually will make recommendations.

In the meantime, the citizens’ first opportunity to weigh in comes in the form of an internet questionnaire, which you can find here:

A series of public meetings also are to be scheduled early next year.

Preservationists who would like to see the most important monuments returned are viewing the questionnaire with a moderate dose of skepticism.  So far, notice of its existence has been scant, suggesting that perhaps it is being skewed to a certain audience.  The questions regarding ethnicity also raise the possibility that its results will be filtered through the lens of equity, diversity of inclusion – code words that have come to raise the possibility of exclusion and discrimination. 

For sure, quibbles can be raised about all the figures honored by the monuments – some more than others.  This is not necessarily a zero-sum game – some monuments could be returned and expanded upon with further information, while others get permanently removed from public view.  It also is obvious that some elements of Portland’s diverse population have not been included in the city’s collection of monuments.

The public conversation deserves to be thorough and honest.  So, take the survey.  Let’s try to obtain the most comprehensive public thoughts.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Friday, November 10, 2023

Elegance Loses Out


A century-long tradition of banking in Portland’s most elegant business location will end Nov. 30 when U.S. National Bank permanently closes its historic Main Branch at 321 SW 6th Ave.

 First opened in 1917 and expanded in 1923, the Main Branch resided in the ground floor of the magnificent Roman Corinthian-style temple designed in two stages by architect A.E. Doyle.  The banking floor extended a full block under a ceiling some 30-feet high.

US National has closed several other branches as the banking business moves heavily to the internet.  In the bank’s earliest days, customers dressed in Sunday attire to do their banking.  Now we move pixels on a tiny screen, instead.

“Understanding that clients’ banking behaviors are changing, we continue to adapt how and where we operate,” a district manager wrote to branch customers.  “As a result, we have decided to close this location permanently as of Nov. 30, 2023.”

The late architect George McMath once wrote, “The marble floors, the mezzanine balustrade, the tasteful marble, plaster and bronze ornament, all crowned by the high coffered ceiling subtly painted in Classical colors, combine to display the sense of grandeur and wealth that was required of banks in the early 1900s.” 

 But no more. 

The building itself is not in immediate danger.  U.S. National sold it several years ago and merely has been a tenant.  The building has rented office space on floors above the grand banking space.  The current owner is a foreign limited liability company with an address in Sandy, Utah. 

Because of its historic landmark status – not to mention its ornate architectural design --  changes to the exterior of the bank are unlikely to be proposed or approved.  Alas, there is no specific protection for the elegant banking floor.  One imagine that a new tenant might be found in the realms of insurance or real estate of investment brokerage.

After Nov. 30, pedestrians will still be able to enjoy the heavy, curving bronze doors that feature bas relief panels related to Oregon history.

 Until Nov. 30, if you haven’t seen the lobby, make it a point to walk through it entering either from SW 6th or SW Broadway, and crossing to the opposing street.  You won’t regret it. 

 ---Fred Leeson

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