Wednesday, December 27, 2023

New Life at The Sandy Jug


There is no need for architectural vocabulary to describe the Sandy Jug.  One glance says it all. 

After serving for decades as a strip club, this 96-year landmark at 7414 NE Sandy Blvd. is being remodeled into a new business where patrons and servers will be fully clothed.  More on that later.

 The Jug (also called by punsters The Sandy Jugs during its stripper era) was one of three unusual buildings erected in the 1920s that visually represented the businesses inside.  The Big Shoe at NE 20th Ave. (now long gone) was a shoe repair shop.  The Steigerwald Dairy building with its big milk bottle at NE 37th Ave. remains, but the bottle was encircled decades ago with a newer fa├žade.  (A little-known fact is that the bottle still survives inside.)

The Steigerwald Dairy before remodeling

 Both The Big Shoe and the Steigerwald Dairy were designed by the company owners.  The Sandy Jug was different.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Bennes & Herzog, well known in the era for Portland theaters (including the Hollywood), several imposing residences of differing styles and for several buildings on the Oregon State University campus.

One theorizes that the Jug did not rank highly to Bennes & Herzog on their personal list of accomplishments.  Nevertheless, it ranks as a well-known Northeast Portland landmark even without formal designation; losing it would have been sad, indeed.

 The jug originally served as a refreshment venue for an adjacent gas station, known as the Gusher, which presumably was the primary business.  To attract motorists, the small triangular lot included an 80-foot faux oil gusher that was removed long ago.    

 Today, the Sandy Jug is being remodeled by a company headed by Marcus Archambeault and Warren Boothby, who in recent years have revitalized several old-school bars in Portland including The Alibi, The Sandy Hut and Holman’s.  Their business philosophy is to take old so-called dive bars and to revive them into attractive, popular destinations.

 So far, the exterior of The Sandy Jug has been tastefully repainted and narrow vertical windows that were boarded up during the strip club years have been restored with glass bricks, largely restoring the jug to its original appearance.  A covered patio has been added with outdoor seating – for clientele when the weather is appropriate.  An opening date for the new enterprise has not been announced.

Those of us who enjoy a tall cold one from time to time may well be able to help usher The Sandy Jug into its second century. 

 -------Fred Leeson

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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Looking Back on 2023


Theater of Tomorrow

While some encouraging architectural preservation projects are currently in progress, 2023 was more notable for its losses than for completed successes.

 On the bright side, the former Oregon Theater, erected in 1926, has been returned to productive cultural use – after decades as a porn theater – as the new home of the Northwest Film Study Center.  It now bears the unwieldy name of PAM-CUT, with an associated title of Theater of Tomorrow.  (At least the latter makes sense.)

The thoroughly cleaned and brightened 376-seat theater will be the home of movies and live cultural entertainment, sponsored in conjunction with its corporate parent, the Portland Art Museum.  Saving the historic theater also preserves retail spaces fronting on the 3500 block of SE Division.  The best possible result in the preservation world is to restore an old building successfully to its original use.

The late Parkway Manor

On the downside, 2024 marked the demolition of the Parkway Manor, a charming Art Deco apartment building, later owned by Portland State University for student housing that faced the South Park Blocks.  PSU chose to let the building deteriorate over the years, until it could make the case that rehabilitation was too expensive.  The university has nothing in mind so far to replace it.  Thanks for the chain-link fence, PSU.

 Another loss was the closure of U.S. Bank’s historic and elegant banking floor in the historic building that once served as the bank’s headquarters.  At least the building designed by A.E. Doyle is still in good condition, and one hopes that a successful use can be found for the ornate main floor without compromising its aesthetic integrity.  One wonders that if the bank had not fled to Minneapolis many years ago whether management would have decided on closure. 

In its glory...

Back on the plus side, the owner of the magnificent but badly run-down neon sign marking The Palms motor hotel agreed to remove the sign, restore it and return it to the site when the motel is replaced with an apartment building.  The sign is a great example of 1950s exuberance when N. Interstate Avenue served as the main highway to and from Seattle.

 We finish with a win-loss scenario.  Heroic efforts by the Restore Oregon preservation organization to restore and find a new home for the former Jantzen Beach carousel finally met with success after several years.  Alas, the new home will be in The Dalles, not Portland.  It is unfortunate that Portland could not or would not find a location for it.

When a new building is completed to house the carousel, it will be another reason to visit the National Neon Sign Museum where it will reside.

 -----Fred Leeson

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Sunday, December 17, 2023

Progress on the Elk and Fountain


(Architectural Resources Group)

Yes, it is taking a long time for the City of Portland to return the D.P. Thompson elk statue and fountain to its historic location, from whence they were damaged by protesters and then removed by the city removed in 2020.

 Alas, the project is not as simple as it might seem.  Despite some dithering about which city agency would be in charge, the project requires some time-consuming steps.  Such as refabricating 17 pieces of granite that were either destroyed or too damaged to be repaired, and plumbing in a new water recirculation system.  A new concrete foundation must be laid and the elk sculpture itself be braced for an earthquake.

 Another difficult issue is determining what contractor is able to perform this challenging historical project.  The city is required to accept the minimum bidder, and the Water Bureau try will protect itself by qualifying eligible bidders who can demonstrate their expertise.

Shaded areas show granite to be refabricated.  (Architectural Resources Group)

 The City Council in May, 2022, voted to restore the elk and fountain after it had been removed two years earlier.  Current estimates suggest a completion time will be late next year.

 Historically, the fountain --gift from an early Portland mayor – was intended to provide drinking water for horses and dogs.  All four watering troughs were damaged beyond repair, in part from fires that were set when the fountain was dry.  A protective measure might be to let water sit in them even when not circulating, possibly with use of mild antifreeze. 

 Typically, the water was turned off for up to six months per year.  The recirculating water system is expected to save 6.8 million gallons if it were to operate all 12 months.  That would be enough water to service 146 houses, according to the Water Bureau.

William J. Hawkins III, a retired architect whose efforts ultimately led to the restoration plans, told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission that he has seen signs of destruction at the original site, which is now mounded with dirt and plantings.  “Perhaps someone is still out there to damage this fountain,” he said.

Peggy Moretti, a landmarks commission member, suggested that the final plan include bollards that could protect the fountain and statue from vehicular damage. 

 The commission reviewed the restoration plans at the 60 percent stage of design.  A final review will occur presumably in the first quarter of 2024.  “I think we are getting everything we want,” said Commissioner Matthew Roman.  When the work is ultimately finished, “This should be a proud moment.” 

 -----Fred Leeson

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Saturday, December 9, 2023

A Boost for Foster Road


Encouraging work is progressing on S.E. Foster Road to restore a 108-year old theater building into active use as a performing arts venue.

The Classical Ballet Academy located next door to the historic Ames Theater at 5516 S.E. Foster Road plans to reopen the re-named Foster Theater for the Performing Arts next year.  The renovation work has already cleaned up the exterior of the 1915 building and installed a new blade sign and marquee.

 Sarah Rigler, director the ballet academy, envisions the old theater as being used for community events and performing arts.  The theater was most recently known as the Day Music Co., which bought the theater in 1966 and used it mostly for displaying pianos for sale. 

 The renovation is a boost for the Foster Road neighborhood.  The vacant theater frontage after Day Music’s departure had become a target for graffiti painters and a site for homeless campers. 

The theater had an original seating capacity of 260.  It was built in 1915 by Charles A. Ames, who managed it for many years into the 1950s.  In 1929 he had new equipment installed for talking pictures, and the theater maintained its status as a first-run movie house into the early 1950s. 

(Oregonian advertisement, 1966)

 Day Music Co. had been founded in downtown Portland in 1929.  It moved to Foster Road in 1959 before it added the Ames building next door. 

Rigler intends for the ballet academy to continue teaching classical ballet as well as new dance forms including jazz and hip hop.  Fitness classes also are on the agenda.  She founded the academy in 2004.

 The marquee suggests that the theater space will become available in the fall of 2024.  In the meantime, we must hope that the newly-painted bright white walls will not become a new canvas for illegal artistic endeavors. 

---Fred Leeson

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