Page C2.2 . 26 August 2009                     
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    Preservation in Portland


    Just recently, Riverdale Grade School in southwest Portland, designed by Portland's two most historically significant architects, fell victim to demolition in July 2009. In the early 20th century, architect A.E. Doyle designed many of the city's most prominent works of architecture, including the Multnomah County Central Library and the Benson Hotel. His 1920s design of Riverdale is less prominent, but it was particularly noteworthy as a neighborhood landmark that will be dwarfed by its planned replacement school.

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    A later addition to Riverdale Grade School was designed by Pietro Belluschi, a protégé of Doyle's. Belluschi later rose to prominence, designing the architecturally-renowned Equitable Building in Portland — built in 1948 with a depth of modern style that still looks up-to-the-moment today — as well as the Pan-Am building (with Walter Gropius) and the Julliard School in New York, in addition to a host of acclaimed midcentury modern homes and churches.

    Demolished in that same month was an example of the postwar pop culture-influenced buildings along Sandy Boulevard on Portland's east side: the Chinese-style pagoda atop the recently closed Pagoda Restaurant. Key Bank bought the building and removed the pagoda as part of renovations to convert the building to a regional bank branch.

    In 2003, another preservation loss occurred when Reed College, one of the nation's better regarded small liberal arts institutions, demolished what may have been Portland's last remaining historic trolley barns, dating to the early 20th century, despite public opposition. The school cited contaminated soil beneath the building as reason for preservation not being possible.

    Another early-20th-century building, the Rosefriend Apartments (1913), was torn down in June 2007 as part of a project that one newspaper editorial called "a preservation triumph." That's because the building next door, the 1883 Ladd Carriage House, was spared after it, too, seemed to be headed for the wrecking ball.

    That was indeed a laudable reprieve for a historic building that should never have been threatened with demolition. But in allowing the Rosefriend to be razed by the First Christian Church and its development partners to make room for a half-block-sized condominium tower, the city lost one of its best remaining examples of early-20th-century courtyard apartment buildings.

    Portland architect Rick Potestio, who has been active in preservation efforts for Memorial Coliseum and other historic local architecture, laments what he sees as a lack of foresight in many Portlanders past and present. "I believe that, had we preserved our previous era of cast-iron buildings, we would have a riverfront comparable to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter in New Orleans," writes Potestio in an email. "Had we retained the Victorian houses that previously graced the city, our collection would have exceeded in quality and originality anything found in San Francisco."

    "They were seen as obsolete," Potestio continues. "Having no purpose in the present meant they could not possibly have any in the future. The real shame is that so many of the great buildings and houses were taken down for parking lots."

    Even so, many well-preserved examples of 19th- and early-20th-century buildings remain — and the threats to them continue. Also at risk are modern landmarks, such as Memorial Coliseum, which are often not yet recognized as "historic."

    Falsetto, the AIA Portland Historic Resources Committee chair, emphasizes that the advocate's battle is never over. "Preservationists are preserving time and fighting time, if you will," he says. "You always have to be vigilant."

    Taking Inventory

    Portland does have some protections in place for historic buildings. For example, the City of Portland's Historic Landmarks Commission reviews the design of new buildings proposed for historic districts and conservation districts in the central city — such as the Alphabet District, Skidmore Fountain/ Old Town, Kenton, and Ladd's Addition — and the commission has the power to prevent a building permit from being issued (although its decisions can be appealed to City Council).

    The commission also has the power to approve or deny requests to make alterations to local buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    In addition, the City maintains a list of Portland Landmarks and a Historic Resources Inventory. Still, according to Nicholas Starin, who heads the Historic Resources Program within the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, a National Register listing is still the best way to protect a building or district.

    Portland's Historic Resources Inventory has not been updated in over 20 years. "It desperately needs to be updated," says Val Ballestrem, education manager for Portland's Bosco-Milligan Foundation, a local affiliate of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    Regardless of its currency, however, the inventory confers no legal protection for buildings; it is simply a guide, Starin says.

    In contrast, for buildings on the Portland Landmarks list, an application for new construction or alteration on those sites triggers a 120-day waiting period, allowing preservationists time to pursue alternatives to demolition. "That is binding," Starin explains. "But when the delay period is over, the property owner can, if they desire, demolish it." In contrast, a National Register listing requires the building owner to go through a full demolition review with the City Council, which can approve or deny the demolition.

    What's more, Starin adds, even the 120-day delay for buildings on the Portland Landmarks list can be avoided. "All a property owner has to do is request [for the listing] to be removed, and they don't have to wait," he explains.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Although Union Station (1894) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, plans to demolish and replace it were under serious consideration until the mid-1980s.
    Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The Rosefriend Apartments (1913) in downtown Portland were torn down in 2007 to make way for a half-block condominium highrise.
    Photo: Brian Libby Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Spared from demolition, the historic Ladd Carriage House, neighbor to the Rosefriend Apartments, was removed from its site and stored on a nearby parking lot for the duration of the condominium construction.
    Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    In 2008, church administration removed the bell tower of the Central Lutheran Church (1950), designed by Pietro Belluschi, citing safety concerns that stemmed from deferred maintenance.
    Photo: Bart King/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    Despite the wide architectural recognition and historic status of the Central Lutheran Church building — and a City order to replace the bell tower — the church remains without a tower.
    Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The postwar Pagoda Restaurant in Portland's Hollywood district, before recent alterations.
    Photo: Dan Haneckow Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    In late June 2009, the decorative pagoda was removed from the eponymous restaurant building as part of a building renovation by Key Bank.
    Photo: Paul Hehn Extra Large Image

    ArchWeek Image

    The modernist Portland Visitors Information Center by John Yeon, with its new neon rose, is now home to the Rose Festival Foundation.
    Photo: David Owen/ Artifice Images Extra Large Image


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