Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Dirty Duck and a Test of Local Preservation Policy

As noted in Monday’s Daily Journal of Commerce, the Portland Development Commission City of Portland has applied to demolish the old Dirty Duck Tavern building – a contributing structure in the New Chinatown/Japantown National Register Historic District. As proposed, the project would replace the Dirty Duck building with a new 3-4 story building for the Blanchet House, who currently occupy the only other building on the block. There are several things we are concerned about on this issue:

First, as noted above, the building is recognized as a contributing structure in the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District. This designation is the only reason for the demolition review. In other words, if this modest building cannot be protected from the wrecking ball, then what can?

Second, there are only two buildings left on this entire block which represents the northeastern corner of the historic district. Removing the one structure would likely doom the old Blanchet House building as well and thereby weaken the overall integrity of the historic district.

Third, the fact that there is already a bunch of empty space on most of the block should not be ignored. Apparently, the PDC City has a long-term lease with NW Natural to use that empty space as a parking lot. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to put that parking area to highest and best use by renegotiating the lease and using that space for a new Blanchet House?

The Portland Landmarks Commission will be reviewing the demolition request on Monday, January 11th. This represents a real test of the demolition review policy established by the City back in 2004. We encourage anyone concerned to let the PDC and the City Council know about it. More information about the proposal can be found here.

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Updating the Language of Preservation

In a recent essay in Period Homes magazine, Clem Labine, the magazine’s founder (he’s also the founder of the Old House Journal), pointed out the need for historic preservationists to “reset” their vocabulary in order to adjust to the changing perceptions of younger generations as well as current economic conditions.

In the same vein, noted preservation economist Donovan Rypkema has asserted the need for the historic preservation movement to better align itself with the rest of the world by becoming more about “heritage conservation, rather than historic preservation.”

Certainly we need to engage younger audiences in historic preservation (or heritage conservation if you prefer) if we hope to keep the cause relevant in the coming decades.

I hope you’ll take a look at the links I included above, so we can begin this much-needed dialogue. And please, let us know what you think should be done to address changing demographics, vocabulary, and the preservation movement.

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Update on Washington High School – Proposed Community Center

Last week, Bosco-Milligan Foundation Board Vice President Fred Leeson attended the latest meeting of the Washington High School Community Center Citizen’s Advisory Committee.  Here is his take on the latest events surrounding this important Buckman Neighborhood landmark:

A month ago, preservationists’ hopes rose when they heard that an
unidentified developer with strong preservation credentials was interested
in buying the old Washington High School, converting most of the building to housing and allowing Portland Parks & Rec to lease some or all of the ground floor as part of a a new Southeast Portland Community Center.
By comparison, an earlier plan calling for three stories would have been more expensive to build and would have blocked more views to and from the old high school, whatever its eventual use turns out to be.

Schultz said he has not met yet with the unnamed developer, and does not
know details about what the developer has in mind for Washington.  Susan
Lindsay, chair of the advisory committee, said the developer told her he is
looking at building 45 to 50 housing units, and plans to keep the
second-floor auditorium intact, along with many of the existing hallways and public spaces.  Lindsay said the developer would like to find a use for the auditorium that does not attract large numbers of cars to Buckman’s crowded streets; she said rehearsal space for performance groups is one idea.

Just a few weeks later, progress seems to be being made at a rapid pace.
The developer, still not identified publicly, has met with the Portland
Development Commission to discuss housing options and is exploring all
available historic preservation tax credits.  PPS has commissioned an update of an appraisal on the building, which is supposed to be finished by
middle-January.  The district also plans to issue a “request for
information” to see if any other developers are interested in buying the
long-vacant high school.  Doug Capps, a PPS facilities manager, told an
advisory committee on Tuesday evening (12-1) that an offer on the building
could be submitted to the School board as soon as March or April.

Meanwhile, SERA Architects of Portland is working with Parks and the
citizens committee on tentative plans for the community center.  At this
point, SERA is suggesting one version that would include about half the
ground floor of Washington with a new building with pools and a gymn nearby; and a second version that would be a free-standing, all-in-one “fallback” version if the deal with Washington High does not materialize.

The scheme that includes Washington has some obvious benefits.  Schultz
proposes putting meeting rooms, art rooms and “passive” activities in the
old high school, while the new building would have a gym, two pools, locker rooms, administrative space and all other “active” uses, including exercise rooms.  Using the old high school would keep the new building to a single story, which would save construction costs and be more compatible with the neighborhood, Schultz told the advisory committee.  His tentative plan also includes potential for an attractive public plaza between the school and the new community building.

Schultz also recommended that the “fallback” version be limited to a single
tall story by placing fitness rooms in a loft overlooking the gym.  The
advisory committee members liked the lower profile of both options, but
clearly preferred the idea of using the ground floor of the old high school,
if possible.

Overall, “The news is good,” Lindsay said.  “There haven’t been any major
roadblocks so far.”

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More on the Portland Plan

The City now has a link for folks to download and print (if you don’t mind printing hundreds of pages) Background Reports for the Portland Plan. Included in these reports are a couple of important documents discussing Historic Resources. We certainly encourage anyone interested to check these out and give the City your feedback. Here’s the link: http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/index.cfm?c=51427

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