Friday, March 29, 2024

An Interesting New Spin at Troy Laundry

One vital tool for saving historic buildings is finding new uses when their original functions no longer survive. The shorthand term is “adaptive re-use.”

An interesting new example of adaptive re-use is at 1025 SE Pine Street, where a 1913 brick structure that once housed Troy Laundry, home of the Pacific Northwest’s largest laundry businesses before the advent of convenient home washing machines, has been converted to into an upscale private athletic and social club called Soho House of Portland.

 The target clientele for membership is “young creatives” – or at least creative young people with the financial means to support dues that many of us couldn’t countenance. Amenities include a roof-top swimming pool, which one presumes could lead to jokes about getting soaked in a historic laundry, a 4,400 square-foot exercise space and upscale eating and drinking facilities. 

We’ll let social media debate whether Portland can support this financial trendiness.  Membership also entitles visitation to scores of other Soho locations around the world. You can learn more about the organization and see pictures of the completely revamped interior at Soho House Portland | Soho House.


Pine Street frontage

For Portland architecture buffs, the Troy building was an early work by prolific architect Ellis F. Lawrence, who later commuted by train on a regular basis to Eugene where he was dean of the University of Oregon’s architecture school. 

 Lawrence’s client in 1913 was James F. Tait, a Scottish immigrant, who opened his Portland laundry service in 1889.  In the following decades, Tait pioneered technological and managerial innovations to make Troy Laundry the biggest residential and commercial laundry company in the Pacific Northwest.

Lawrence’s colonial revival design reflected an era when even muscular industrial buildings could include attractive materials and architectural details. 

It is said that Troy Laundry served as many 10,000 customers on a regular basis.  In the following decade, Tait also built a major laundry building in Seattle.  The Troy Laundry building as added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

 Renovations to the 1913 building included seismic bracing, all-new mechanical systems and removal of awnings and a main-door canopy that were not original to the building. 

New apartments on SE Ash Street; Troy building to the rear

The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission approved plans for the Troy project in August, 2020.  The commission also had jurisdiction over the other half of the block because a proposed six-story apartment building planned by the same Chicago developer encroached on some of the Troy building’s lot.

 The new apartment with 132 units facing on SE Ash St. is nearing completion.  Its dark brick facades are a welcome addition to the neighborhood and should be pleasing to those who have grown tired of metal panels and faux wood paneling so common in contemporary apartment construction. 

---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, March 23, 2024

Welcome to the 'New' Central Library


The red brick bones of architect A.E. Doyle’s stately Georgian-style Central Library that have graced downtown Portland since 1909 remain largely intact after an extensive renovation, but the gran dame’s cosmetics and accessories are substantially different.

For instance:

 -- The lobby now includes a bright white unisex (multisex?) restroom with 10 stalls complete with full-length doors.

-- Nearby, a kiosk offers 48 laptop computers than can be signed out with a library card for up to two hours of use in the building.

-- Dozens of soft easy chairs dot the main reading rooms.

-- Scores of sit-down computer portals offer internet and library reference access.

-- More open spaces are available for community gatherings or meetings.

-- New carpets and brighter colors are found throughout.

-- A small, closed space is “reserved for writers,” in case anyone does that sort of thing anymore.

-- Tall bookshelves are gone, except for those backed up to walls.

-- The non-profit Friends of the Library organization has a glass-enclosed lobby space for selling library-related mementos.

-- New landscaping allowing for outdoor seating and gathering spaces.

-- A new, gentler weheelchair ramp.

-- Men roving slowly with identity badges hanging from their necks appear to be plain-clothes security, who, in the absence of the old tall shelves, have largely unobstructed views of patrons sitting or standing.

Brighter color, fewer shelves

And something else that’s different?  “There seem to be fewer books,” I said to a kindly librarian.  “About half,” he replied.  Presumably the other half are in storage and can be recaptured as needed.

In essence, the changes tell us that a modern library is as much a social service agency as it is a place to read books, magazines and newspapers.  The renovation acknowledges that people from all walks of life need computers not only for entertainment but for survival, even if they cannot afford to own one.

 Anyone in recent years who has been in the crowd waiting for the Central Library’s doors to open in the morning recognizes that many of those waiting made headlong rushes to the restrooms, not the reference desk.  It is a benefit that a library that is “free to all,” according to an inscription on the fa├žade, can provide in a time of increasing need.

Check out a laptop here

There are those among us who see a public library as one of society’s greatest agencies for its ability to provide information, truth, pleasure and entertainment all at once to everyone with no admission fee.  Let’s hope that all who use it will enjoy it, respect its advantages and protect it.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Friday, March 15, 2024

Another Hit on the Public Weal


Recent years have been tough on Portland’s works of public art.  Protests of one sort or another toppled statues of Presidents and damaged (seemingly permanently, at first) the beloved Elk statue and fountain.

 The latest victim is the smaller Shemanski Fountain located in the South Park Blocks between S.W. Main and Salmon Streets.  The attractive monument with the bronze statue of “Rebecca at the Well” is now surrounded by temporary chain-link fencing.

 “The fountain has been vandalized and has damage to the stonework – plus two of the three dog bowls are missing,” reports Mark Ross, a Parks Bureau spokesman.  “Portland Parks & Recreation is currently exploring restoration options with our partners at the Water Bureau and Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC).”

The monument was given to the city in 1926 by Joseph Shemanski, a Polish immigrant who founded the Eastern Outfitters store that served as a major Portland clothing and department store for more than 40 years.  The store closed about 1953, a few years after Shemanski’s death. 

In better days (Regional Arts & Culture Council)

Portland architect Carl Linde designed the trefoil stonework, and the sculpture by Oliver Lawrence Barrett, an art professor at the University of Oregon, was added in 1928.  Rebecca, shown with a water jug on her shoulder, was a Biblical character noted for her kindness to strangers and animals.

The monument has two layers of three fountains with bronze bowls, the lower three being at ground level intended for dogs or small animals.  Water service has been sporadic over the years as the Water Bureau places more importance on revenue-generating service than on public fountains.  The bronze bowls likely were stolen by people wanting to sell the metal as scrap.  The monument has been vandalized on earlier occasions and was substantially renovated in 2007.

Ross said figuring out a restoration plan might take a few weeks.  How long the repairs take after that is yet unknown.


Should you stop by in the near future, take a moment to remember how irresponsible behavior of the few can impair the beauty of the city and the enjoyment of all -- in a world of supposedly intelligent creatures. 

----Fred Leeson

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Everything Will Be New at Jefferson High


Heading for the dumpster

The people spoke.  The Portland School Board listened.

  As a result, a brand new Jefferson High School will rise somewhere on the school’s 14-acre North Portland campus, and the welter of existing old buildings dating as early as 1909 will be scraped off.

 Jefferson community members didn’t like the idea of their 700 students being shipped off to the old Marshall High School deep in Southeast Portland for three years while the historic Jefferson building was being remodeled – as well as possible – with historic architectural standards in mind.

The change in plans was all the more dramatic since architects and planners had already spent many weeks trying to figure the best means of preserving the historic 1909 building and adding new additions to the south of it.

“What was more important was keeping the Jefferson community intact,” Chandra Robinson, a principal of Lever Architecture, told the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission. 

There are some other factors to keep in mind, as well.  A new building is expected to be less expensive than restoring the old school and adding new elements it would need.    Further a detailed study by the Architectural Resources Group found that Craftsman-era architectural details of the 1909 that had been plastered over during a 1950s renovation were too damaged to be restored.  The unfortunate 1950s work also destroyed much of Jefferson High’s original roofline.

Original Jefferson High

Attempts were made to see if Jefferson students could be housed on or near the Jefferson site while the original restoration plans unfolded. Options were studied for using portable classrooms and spaces at the old Kenton School and Portland Community College, but no combination of options proved feasible, Robinson said. 

There is adequate space on the Jefferson campus to complete a new building before demolishing the old structures.   But the switch in planning poses a puzzle for the landmarks commission, which had jurisdiction over the project because the school sits in the Piedmont Conservation District.

One option for the commission would be to recommend revision of the historic district boundaries so that the school no long sat within it.  However, doing so would remove the landmarks commission as a body to hold public hearings over the new design that the community likely would want to attend.

 Another option is to leave the boundaries alone and declare the old Jefferson building to be “non-contributing” as a historic resource because its condition has been extensively changed from the original.  This strategy would let the commission continue to have a public review of the new plans, whatever they turn out to be.

 A key challenge to the new design will be what to do about the football field and running track that faces on N. Killingsworth Street.  Locating the school on the athletic site would put it close to the North Portland Public Library and Portland Community College.  The athletic filed could be moved farther south on the campus, but the field was funded years ago with a public fund drive. 

 One assumes that the Jefferson community will offer some opinions. Firmly, perhaps.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Rebuilding Keller Auditorium


(Henneberry Eddy Architects)

A citizen’s group blessed with resources, determination and clout hopes to convince the Portland City Council this summer that rebuilding an impressive new Keller Auditorium and adding a public plaza are vital keys to reinvigorating downtown Portland.

 The push to rebuild the city’s largest performing arts venue is headed by the Halprin Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that strives to preserve four Halprin fountains in Portland – including the large and famed Keller (nee Forecourt) Fountain that sits directly west of the auditorium.

 Under the conservancy’s plan, the auditorium would be structurally braced and enhanced with a bold new lobby, more restrooms and eating opportunities.  In addition, S.W. Third Avenue in front would be closed into a pedestrian plaza offering opportunities for outdoor events more direct involvement with the big – and sometimes roaring --fountain.

Scott Andrews, co-chair of the Halprin Conservancy, said the new Keller would be “a world class performing arts destination” – a destination, he said, “Portland desperately needs to get back on track.”

 Presentations will be made to the City Council next month about two other potential sites owned by Portland State University or within Lloyd Center’s boundaries.  Either the PSU or Lloyd Center options could be constructed while tenants such as Portland’s ballet and opera companies could continue operating at the Keller.


View from above Keller Fountain (Henneberry Eddy Architects)

Reconstructing the Keller would take 19 months, according to the conservancy’s estimates.  The Keller’s estimated construction budget of approximately $250 million would be less than building a new structure at one of the competing sites, and would be more environmentally friendly, Andrews said.  The City Council is expected to select a site possibly by late June.

The Halprin Conservancy has invested several years of time and money on the planning.  It hosted a design competition in 2018 that led the preferred new design with a bold, cantilevered addition in front.   The conservancy also partnered with the city on a seismic study to determine the best means of securing the building that dates to 1917.  It was remodeled most recently in 1967-68.

 So far, there appears to have been little discussion about what would happen to the Keller Auditorium block if one of the other sites is selected.  The dramatic Keller Fountain nearby was hailed as one of America’s greatest urban designs when it opened when it opened in 1970.

 From preservation perspective, it's important to recognize the context of the original fountain design.  It was intended to be a grand front door to the (then) Civic Auditorium, and to be a delight for viewers at almost all hours of the day.  It makes complete sense to keep the auditorium coupled with the dramatic fountain that was designed specifically to sit on the block facing the auditorium's frontage.  The Architectural Heritage Center’s advocacy committee has unanimously endorsed the “new Keller” plan.

 Sadly, the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Parks have had difficulty repairing a pump that circulates water at the fountain.  One hopes that the city can get it figured out.  Combined with the "new" Keller, the fountain would be an absolute "must" for visitors to enjoy.  

 ----Fred Leeson

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