Monthly Archives: May 2013

Historic Cornelius Hotel May Soon Be Demolished

According to this article in the Daily Journal Of Commerce (subscription required),  the owners of the historic Cornelius Hotel, located at SW Park and Alder, are applying to demolish the building.  The building has languished for many years, receiving one of the City’s notorious “U” signs in the process.

TMT Development which owns the property,  backed away from their 2008 plans to rehabilitate the hotel and re-open it as boutique accommodations. Apparently a more recent deal to rehab the building for veteran housing has also been set aside. That deal reportedly hinged on money from the City of Portland, a deal that has since fallen through.

The Cornelius Hotel is one of the few remaining Portland commercial buildings with a mansard style roof, giving it a European flair while also standing out amongst its neighbors, even in its current state of disrepair.

C.1920 postcard of the Cornelius Hotel from the Architectural Heritage Center collections.

C.1920 postcard of the Cornelius Hotel from the Architectural Heritage Center collections.

The building is also historically and architecturally  significant. The architectural firm of Bennes, Hendricks, and Tobey designed the hotel in 1907.  Mostly known for his buildings on the Oregon State University campus, John V. Bennes also designed numerous Portland buildings and homes – in fact he has been credited with bringing the Prairie Style of residential architecture to the Rose City.  In later years, Bennes worked with partner Harry Herzog on one of Portland’s most famous landmarks – the Hollywood Theatre.

The hotel’s namesake is also an interesting, if somewhat forgotten, historical figure in Portland history. Dr. C.W. Cornelius came from a pioneering Oregon family (the town of Cornelius is named after his brother). He attended medical school and was a practicing physician, but he also acted, managed a theater, and spent time in Alaska during the height of the Yukon gold rush. In 1907 he apparently decided to get into the hotel business and soon afterward the Cornelius Hotel was constructed. Cornelius, however, hired out the day-to -day management of the hotel to a series of individuals and for a time, the hotel gained local attention for hosting everything from railroad officials to the king and queen of the burgeoning Rose Festival. Cornelius owned the hotel until his death in 1923 and by the 1950s it had become low-income housing. It remained that way until the 1980s. In 1985 a fire badly damaged the upper two floors of the building and since that time the building has been mostly empty, although a series of tenants have used the main floor spaces over the years.

Postcard from the Architectural Heritage Center collections.

Postcard from the Architectural Heritage Center collections.

While certainly never as large or as grand as the Portland Hotel, Benson Hotel, or the Multnomah Hotel, the Cornelius has stood for more than 100 years as a testament  to Portland’s aspirations as a growing city after the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition. After years of dereliction, the much larger Multnomah Hotel was rehabbed and opened once again as a hotel. Just down the street from the Cornelius, the Calumet Hotel (now known as the Esquire Apartments and home to Brasserie Montmartre), was rehabbed and reopened a few years ago. In Buffalo, New York, the Lafayette Hotel was recently rehabbed. It would be wonderful to see something similar happen to the Cornelius rather than the proposed demolition. Surely there is enough creativity in town to make that happen and perhaps there is  some insight that can be gained from some of these similar projects. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Perhaps there are some tax credit possibilities out there that have yet to be fully explored?

Postcard from the Architectural heritage Center collections.

Postcard from the Architectural Heritage Center collections.

Detail of Cornelius Hotel roof (c.1986). Courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries.

Detail of Cornelius Hotel roof (c.1986). Courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries.

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Filed under Historic Preservation, Local History