According to this announcement at the city’s Bureau of Development Services website, plans are underway to demolish the old Powell’s Books technical bookstore building and replace it with a new seven story mixed use building with retail on the ground floor and apartments above. The existing building at 33 NW Park Avenue is a two-story structure from 1916, that has no historic designation, but is a classic example of 1910s automobile-related architecture.
In 1916, the automobile was rapidly changing American culture and just as in other cities, auto-related businesses were popping up all over the Portland. Just two years earlier, the Ford Motor Co. had opened an assembly plant in southeast Portland and the construction of garages and showrooms were entering a boom period that continued at least until the Great Depression. In the midst of this boom, the White Automobile Company of Cleveland, Ohio chose to open a showroom on the North Park Blocks, enlisting the architectural firm of MacNaughton and Raymond. MacNaughton and Raymond are possibly best known as the firm whose alterations to the 1890 Marquam Grand Opera House, may have led to that building partially collapsing in 1912. It was after that incident that most of the firm’s work was relegated to smaller warehouse and showroom type buildings, many of which were built in Northwest Portland. Included in their work during this period was also the recently demolished Kiernan Building – longtime home to the Dirty Duck tavern.
Within months of the building opening in 1916, a fire at the White Automobile showroom, destroyed 23 cars, but apparently did little damage to the building itself. Within weeks, the White Automobile Co. was back up and running with frequent ads in the local newspaper touting their fine luxury cars. However, White only remained at their NW Park and Couch location for a few years. By the early 1920s, they had relocated to north Portland as their business also began to shift more toward freight trucks.
In subsequent years, the old White Automobile Co. building became a warehouse – housing the Stubbs Electrical Co. for many years. Powell’s apparently purchased the building in 1990 and it was home to their technical bookstore until they moved into their current facility on NW 10th in 2010.
Additional research is still needed on the old White Automobile Co. Building. As it would appear that its days are numbered, there is no time like the present to make sure we have a better understanding of this building and its place in Portland history – before it is gone for good.