Thursday, May 23, 2024

A New Era at the Architectural Heritage Center

Heather Flint Chatto

A new era of community-based architectural preservation advocacy in Portland appears to be in the offing with the hiring of Heather Flint Chatto as the new executive director of the Architectural Heritage Center.

 After engaging in the proverbial nationwide search for a new executive, directors of the non-profit heritage center found Flint Chatto close by in Southeast Portland, where she has been deeply involved in neighborhood planning.  The center's mission is to encourage preservation of important historic buildings and public spaces.  

 Flint Chatto brings 25 years of experience as a professional planner She brings over 25 years of experience as a professional planner and urban designer, with special interests in green design, planning for resiliency, zero energy buildings and sustainability policy.  Heather is known to many in the preservation field through her work as owner of Forage Design + Planning and as co-founder and Director of PDX Main Streets, helping communities to create main street design guidelines and identify their important historic buildings.

Flint Chatto is a strong advocate for creative ways to reuse vintage buildings as a key to curbing carbon emissions. She also values preservation for the social value of retaining a historic sense of place. 

 Most recently, Flint Chatto was principal of Forage Design + Planning and director of the not-for-profit PDX Main Streets, assisting neighborhoods in creating design guidelines that identify and retain important historic buildings. 

 Flint Chatto assumes her new post on June 1, succeeding Peggy Moretti, an interim executive who managed the AHC for the past 10 months.  Moretti will remain as a consultant during Flint-Chatto's first few months as executive director.

“I envision AHC as a convener of community thought leadership, fostering inclusive engagement, new partnerships, and expanded programming around diverse histories and cultural identities,” Flint Chatto said. “I look forward to advancing how preservation and rehabilitation of special buildings can be a catalyst for cultural placemaking, social uplift and economic vitality.”

 In 2015, and 2019, the Daily Journal of Commerce honored Flint Chatto as a Woman of Vision for her passion for education and design literacy, community planning work for main streets, and creative community engagement. In choosing Flint Chatto, AHC directors were impressed by her range of professional involvement and connections with many figures involved in Portland’s planning, design and development communities.

 She holds a master’s in urban planning from the University of Washington and early in her career worked as an urban planner in Santa Barbara, CA. While community outreach and education will be key elements of Flint Chatto’s new job, she also will be responsible for management of the AHC’s historic building at 701 S.E. Grand Ave., a staff of four and fund-raising and financial management. It adds up to a very full plate, indeed.

 ---Fred Leeson Join Building on History’s mailing list by writing “add me” to

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Can There Be New Chapters?

Loyalty and Hamilton Buildings

The recent auction of two historic Portland office buildings offers further evidence of the economic trauma affecting a downtown now lacking the employees and shoppers that used to dominate the central city.

 Bargain hunters had chances to bid on the 12-story Loyalty Building at 317 SW Alder St. and the adjacent Hamilton Building at 529 SW Third Ave.   Both are designated Portland landmarks and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 The Loyalty Building was erected in 1928, under the direction of Claussen & Claussen architects, a firm tht is now largely forgotten.  The six-story Hamilton Building dates to 1893 and was designed by Whidden & Lewis, the city’s best-known firm at the turn of the century. 

 A California investor bought both buildings late in 2013 for $12.45 million.  Today they stand vacant.  Results of the auction, which presumably ended on May 15, are not yet known.


A closer look at the stylish Hamilton

Given frontages on both Alder and Third Avenue, one has to wonder whether the Loyalty Building could be converted to apartments.  Conventional wisdom says “no,” the work would be far too expensive. 

But wait!  An article in the May 6 New Yorker magazine, “Design for Living,” discusses in detail how  a New  York developer, Nathan Berman, has found success transferring obsolete office towers “into warrens of one- and two-bedroom apartments.”  Since 1917, Berman has converted eight former office towers into some 5,000 apartments.  The tallest is 30 stories. 

 Berman targets his developments for young tenants who likely are renting for the first time, and who likely will stay no more than a few years.  The apartments are small, eccentrically shaped, and offer minimal kitchens, based on the premise that most young tenants won’t be doing extensive cooking.

 But Berman also knows his tenants want some shared spaces in the building – places where they can meet with others for exercising or socializing.  He also doesn’t scrimp on lobbies, recognizing that tenants and their guest will appreciate an attractive, welcoming space.

 Of course, Portland isn’t New York.  Is downtown Portland a place where young tenants hope to begin and advance their careers?  One also wonders: Would the same formula – small apartments, minimal kitchens, elevator access and social spaces – be an attractive environment for seniors?

The Loyalty Building seems to offer an attraction lacking in newer office towers.  It has operable windows on both frontages, which should be a bonus for residents liking fresh air that isn’t blown in by machinery.

 Coming months should tell us what the new owner (if there is one) of these two buildings has in mind for their future.  From the preservation perspective, three buildings on the western side of Third Avenue – the Loyalty, Hamilton and Dekum – offer one of downtown’s best examples of an interesting urban streetscape dating to the late stagecoach and early automobile era.

 One can hope that these charming structures can find useful new lives.

 ---Fred Leeson

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Thursday, May 9, 2024

Celebrating the South Park Blocks


Robert Wright, Wendy Rahm and Brooke Best celebrate a rare achievement

Several of Portland’s most dedicated preservation enthusiasts met in the South Park Blocks for the celebratory unveiling of a plaque recognizing the park’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

 It was the happy culmination of a three-year effort led primarily by volunteers to provide documentary evidence of the park’s 153-history as a centerpiece of graceful natural beauty and respite in the heart of downtown Portland. 

 In a city as big and convoluted as Portland, citizen-based initiatives always face a huge challenge.  The Downtown Neighborhood Association took on the task of earning national recognition for the park, and stayed the course right down to buying two new bronze plaques, located at each end of the 12-block park.

 Not surprisingly, perhaps, no one from the municipal government or Portland Bureau of Parks bothered to attend the ceremony.  Just as well.  It would have been a long stretch to find anything positive to say about their role in the detailed designation process.

 As Brooke Best, one of the key authors of the National Registration nomination noted, the city government had talked on a few occasions dating back to 1985 about seeking national recognition for the long, narrow urban park.  But never bothered to follow through.

Under direction of downtown residents Wendy Rahm and Walter Weyler, the Downtown Neighborhood Association took on the task in 2021, summoning volunteers to take on the necessary detailed research.  Ultimately, preservation consultants Best and Kirk Ranzetta steered the nomination through the state and national channels.

 As the process unfolded, the Parks Bureau tried to derail it in public meetings.  The bureau had begun its own 50-year masterplan that would change the historic planting scheme and allow some of the historic elm trees to die out without replacement. 

The 50-year plan also would remove on-street parking in front of four churches that face the South Park Blocks.  The planning committee that approved that recommendation did not include any representatives of the churches – certainly some sort of breech of reasonable planning policy. 

What happens to the 50-year plan is not known.  The city lacks funding to start carrying it out at present.  The National Register listing would prevent use of any federal funds for making changes without a formal historic review.  And one wonders if a new 12-member City Council that comes to power in 2025 might decide not to carry out a flawed plan approved by its predecessor.

 In the meantime, the five axial rows of elegant elm trees as laid out by pioneering horticulturalist Louis  Pfunder will continue to rule the blocks with their welcome canopy of spring, summer and fall foliage. 

 While no one from the Parks Bureau attended the celebratory event, the bureau did issue a press release in advance.  “The park remains one of the city's most distinctive, valued, and significant historic open spaces – a place for respite and enjoyment of all,” it said.

 On that point -- if the Parks Bureau truly believes it -- the preservation community can joyfully agree. 

 ---Fred Leeson

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Friday, May 3, 2024

Trying to 'Fix' Rosemont Commons


Despite its 107 year history, many Portlanders have never seen one of the city's most charming Georgian revival buildings that sits at 597 N. Dekum St. 

 Known at various times as Villa St. Rose, St. Rose Industrial School, Home of the Good Shepard and Rosemont School, the former convent and school for orphans and “troubled young women” became a preservation success story 20 years ago when it was converted to 100 housing units for low-income seniors called Rosemont Commons.

 Alas, trouble arose in 2021 when water in the building proved to be carrying Legionnaire’s disease and all residents eventually were forced out.  Since then, efforts to find enough money through some combination of city, state, regional or national funding have fallen short of the $6 million repair price.

 The latest grim wrinkle is a request by the building operator, Northwest Housing Alternatives, to ask the City of Portland to remove an affordable-housing covenant that would open the door to a potential sale.


The building itself probably is not in jeopardy.  One suspects that condominium developers would relish a chance to convert it to market-rate units.  Designed by one of Portland’s best-known architects of the era, Joseph Jacobberger, the building stands as “an excellent example of twentieth century Georgian style architecture,” according to a history compiled for the National Register of Historic Places.

 Jacobberger open his Portland office in 1910, and two years later added a partner, Alfred Smith.  The two designed numerous churches and other buildings for the Catholic Church, including St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Jacobberger also designed the North Portland Branch Library which bears many features architectural features of church of the era.

 During the Catholic Church’s tenure, an estimated 7,500 girls received a combination of housing, education and job training at the building.  The church moved out in 1979 when it no longer could provide a staff.  The building fell vacant in 1993 after another non-profit school departed.

The city’s development arm, then called the Portland Development Commission, acquired the site in 1998.  The PDC engaged in extensive talks with the Piedmont Neighborhood Association to devise plans for the 7.6 acre site.  The neighborhood pushed hard for senior housing, and the PDC complied.

 A large wing was added to the west end of the historic building and 65 market-rate housing units were constructed.  The planning process was considered a marvel at the time, and served as a model for subsequent redevelopment of New Columbia, the former World War II housing site called Columbia Villa.

 The neighborhood association would like to see the Rosemont apartments returned for housing by the seniors.  Needless to say, so would the seniors who were forced out.

 While some bureaucrats have not given up hope on finding a solution, it is a sad commentary for the public and for the former residents to think that their layers of government can’t figure it out.  The cost of repairs is chump change compared to the cost of funding 100 new units elsewhere. 

 ----Fred Leeson

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