Category Archives: Modernism + The Recent Past

Neighborhoods Beginning to Take Action Over Demolition Issue

Last night the Eastmoreland Neighborhood announced they would be staging a “park-in” to keep yet another demolition from occurring. Here’s the text of their announcement from their Facebook page:

DEMOLITION UPDATE:

The developer at 3620 SE Rural has circumvented the ENA’s 120 day delay for demolition and plans to raze the house tomorrow morning. A park-in to block the bulldozer may be the only way to prevent this violation of public trust and to prevent the work-around to our hard won delay. The park-in will be at 8am tomorrow morning at 3620 SE Rural to block the developer from tearing down this home. Cars need to be in place by 7:00am (or so). Details below:

This PM , neighbor Winky Wheeler received a door hanger demolition notice that the subject house at 3620 SE Rural will be demolished tomorrow effectively violating the 120 day delay imposed by the ENA. The details and confirmation of the delay may be found below. In conversation with Kareen Perkins who administers title 24 for the City she explained that the developer (among others) had found a work-around for the delay.

Yesterday, July 15, the applicant withdrew the demolition permit with the 120 day delay and pulled the permit applications for both houses applied for some weeks ago effectively violating the intent of the regulations. The neighborhood association was not notified of the event by the City as no notification is required. Following the withdraw of the original applications, the applicant filed for a permit for one house and received simultaneously a demolition permit with no delay.

The developer is operating within the one demolition for one permit application loophole that developers have maintained in place with the support of Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the DRAC (Development review advisory committee that is largely staffed with building owners and developers). The DRAC meets at 8 AM tomorrow-1900 SW 4th. Attendance is encouraged.

The developer previously applied to reconstitute and divide 3 substandard lots for narrow lot housing. That request has not yet been approved although other aspects of those permit applications were substantially approved. The application for the lot split challenged by the ENA was one reason for asking for a delay of the demolition. Emily Sandy at BDS is responsible for that review.
City Official emails for commenting on this and other demolitions are:

CHARLIE HALES, MAYOR, (503)823-4120
e-mail: mayorhales@portlandoregon.gov

NICK FISH, (503) 823-3589 
e-mail: Nick@portlandoregon.gov

AMANDA FRITZ, (503) 823-3008 
e-mail: amanda@portlandoregon.gov

STEVE NOVICK, (503) 823-4682
e-mail: Steve.Novick@portlandoregon.gov

DAN SALTZMAN, (503) 823-4151
e-mail: dan@portlandoregon.gov

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by home builder Renaissance Homes

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by Renaissance Homes

This morning, indeed there were several cars parked in front of the home, making it impossible for a bulldozer to access the house. This action certainly attracted the media as representatives from TV, radio, and print news were all on hand. After a brief discussion on a nearby side-street, Robert McCullough, the head of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and Randy Sebastian, the head of Renaissance Homes, agreed to a one week delay of the demolition. As noted in their announcement above, the primary concerns here are not about the individual demolition, but how it was approved and what the new house(s) will look like in relationship to their neighbors and the neighborhood. It is clear that the City’s recently adopted demolition delay period has some pretty serious loopholes, the biggest of which is that there is no delay if a developer wants to demolish and replace a single house with another single house. In this case, Renaissance readily admitted to the media that they will eventually build at least two houses on the property, even though their circumvention of the delay period was based on only a single house replacing the existing one. So while cooler heads have prevailed for the moment, the frustrations over demolition policy continue.

The current policy regarding demolition in Portland is not working. But beyond that the situation with this house exemplifies a disturbing trend in the city. Builders keep snatching up such homes, like this one on Rural Street, knowing that they can build something bigger and new, and then sell it for a significant profit. The result is that a house that is perfectly sound and usable (but probably in need of some refreshing), as well as somewhat affordable ($375,000 in this instance), will be replaced by a home or homes ranging from $500,000 to over $1 million. If neighbors are outraged about this sort of “change” it isn’t just because a new house is coming in, it is because the more this happens the less affordable these neighborhoods become, meaning that young families and such are completely priced out of the market and forced to look for housing elsewhere and further away from the city center.

Another issue here is the complete lack of consideration given to the existing homes. During the park-in this morning, Mr. Sebastian mentioned more than once how the house on Rural Street was “functionally obsolete”. If we are to accept the argument of functional obsolescence then we may as well tear every old house down, because what the developers really mean is that the house is just old and, since they are in the business of building new, it doesn’t fit their business model.

There is also an environmental sustainability factor here that must not be forgotten. Every time we knock down these older homes tons of building waste is sent off to our landfills. In too many instances little or none of these materials are recycled in a meaningful way. It is not enough that the news homes replacing the old ones are LEED certified. Reports have shown that older homes can be made virtually as energy efficient as the new ones and that in doing so, the river of demolition debris is greatly mitigated. It is absolutely amazing that in Portland, a city that loves to tout its sustainability work, there is continued support for the wanton destruction of the environmental and social (i.e. livability and sense of place) legs of the three-legged sustainability stool.

On July 31st at 2:00PM, the Portland Landmarks Commission will be making a presentation to the Portland City Council on the demolition issue. We hope that many of our fellow historic preservation and neighborhood livability supporters will attend this presentation at City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave.). The City Council needs to see that people really care deeply and are upset by what is happening in Eastmoreland and many other Portland neighborhoods, so much so that they are beginning to act with park-ins and it is possible that other forms of civil disobedience may not be far behind.

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Filed under Events, Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Modernism + The Recent Past, Sustainability

More Demolitions on the Docket

According to the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the owners of a house at 3058 SE Woodstock are proposing to demolish the home and replace it with two single family residences. Eastmoreland, like many Portland neighborhoods, is constantly facing this sort of piecemeal redevelopment, which all too often ignores existing neighborhood context and history. With no protections in place, these neighborhoods are feeling the full brunt of the renewed interest in real estate redevelopment in the Rose City. Here’s a link to a recent real estate add for this classic 1958 home. The home was originally built for Kathryn Swenke, who moved here after her husband’s death in 1957. Swenke was apparently an avid gardener. In he 1960s, she hosted meetings of the Eastmoreland Garden Club at the home and also hosted annual picnics for the local chapter of the Red Cross Gray Ladies.

On Tuesday, July 23rd, there is also a meeting to learn more about the proposed demolition of the Cornelius Hotel located at SW Park and Alder.  Follow this link to learn more about that meeting, but public comments are not allowed at this particular meeting.

Most demolitions in Portland happen without notice of any kind, but we do know there is one planned for the home at  713 N. Humboldt and another at 2606 SW Buckingham.

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Future Uncertain for Now Closed University Station Post Office Building

According to the Portland Business Journal,  St.  Mary’s Academy has purchased the building that, until recently, was home to the University Station Post Office. As yet we don’t know what will become of the building that was once a showroom for the Francis Motor Co. auto dealership.


We do know, however, that the building was designed by architect Richard Sundeleaf in 1946 and constructed in 1948.  Later alterations have taken away some of the International Style flavor of the building but the distinctive exterior columns – a trademark of Sundeleaf’s industrial designs – remain intact. Perhaps St. Mary’s will consider returning the building to its former glory. Given that the building was very solidly constructed, it should be adaptable to new uses.

Francis Auto Sales at 1505 SW 6th Avenue in Portland c.1956. University of Oregon Photograph.

Francis Auto Sales at 1505 SW 6th Avenue in Portland c.1956.  University of Oregon Photograph.

To put this building in context – at the same time it was being constructed,  Pietro Belluschi’s Equitable Building, now the Commonwealth Bldg., was being built at the other end of SW 6th Avenue.  Together these two buildings marked Portland’s entry into post-war commercial architecture and the modern age of glass and aluminum building construction. New uses for aluminum became popular in post-war America as factories shifted away from military applications toward other uses in order to sustain corporate income and employment levels.

Pietro Belluschi's Equitable Building (Commonwealth Bldg.) at 421 SW 6th Avenue. University of Oregon Photo.

Pietro Belluschi’s Equitable Building (Commonwealth Bldg.) at 421 SW 6th Avenue. University of Oregon Photo.

The old Francis Auto Sales building may not be as architecturally significant as the Equitable Bldg., but nonetheless it should not be forgotten for the new age of building construction and the Golden Age of the automobile that it represents.

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Two Potential New Historic Districts Under Review

Through the hard work of many volunteers, two new Portland area historic districts are now up for review and potential listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has recently posted information about the two districts on their website. The documents contain a wealth of great history and architecture in two very distinctive (and different) Portland metro area neighborhoods.

The first is North Buckman in Southeast Portland. It is perhaps the oldest east side Portland “suburb”, and contains a wealth of late 19th and early 20th century homes and other buildings.  The Historic Buckman Association, has been working tirelessly to nominate at least a portion of their neighborhood to the National Register as one of the few tools that can slow down the the influx of neighborhood-character-destroying redevelopment. You can read and download the nomination here: http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/HCD/NATREG/Pages/Central-Buckman-Historic-District.aspx

The second neighborhood seeking historic district status is Oak Hills in Washington county. This 1960s neighborhood has a number of architecturally significant homes, from the like of Robert Rummer, and is also a classic example of a planned unit development from that period. Oak Hills has been in the news in recent years as residents there have been trying to avoid the impacts of an adjacent road widening project. You can read and download the Oak Hills nomination information here: http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/HCD/NATREG/Pages/Oak-Hills-Historic-District.aspx

If all goes as planned both nominations will be forwarded to the National Park Service, with a recommendation for National Register listing, in May, 2013.

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Historic Preservationists to Attend Upcoming City Council Meeting

At the Wednesday, March 7th, 9:30AM meeting of the Portland City Council, historic preservationists from around the city are planning to gather in support of reforms to the historic design review process and fee structure. This comes in the wake of recent concerns raised in the Buckman neighborhood (and elsewhere) over the exorbitant fees for even minor exterior changes to a building in a designated historic district.  Preservationists are encouraged to show up and show City Council that these places matter – even if you don’t wish to testify.

There’s more information at this Facebook event site.

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Architectural Heritage Center Teams Up With Smartphone App Developer Tagwhat

The Bosco-Milligan Foundation owns and operates the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland, OR  whose mission, in part, is to inspire people to conserve the art, craft, and context of historic buildings and places. In their latest venture, the AHC has teamed up with the developers of the smartphone app Tagwhat,  to continue in their quest to help both Portland residents and visitors alike better understand the architectural history of the Rose City. Tagwhat bills itself as “The mobile encyclopedia of where you are” and their easy to use application is a great way to learn more about the city from right where you are standing.

Users of the application are able to filter Tagwhat “tags” by subject based channels.  For Portland, these channels include one dedicated to content uploaded by the folks at the AHC. Thanks to the help of an intern, over 70 buildings and sites around the city have (to date) been “tagged” with content ranging from building dates and architects’ names to fantastic photos showing how a particular building looked maybe a century ago. Users are then able to share virtual postcards via Facebook or email, so you can show your friends back home (or across town) how great the architecture is in Portland.

In many instances, the tags also include links to more information, such as an entry about a local architect that can be found on The Oregon Encyclopedia. The AHC hopes to have more than 150 tags, covering much of the city, uploaded into their channel by the end of March.

Click on the map to learn more about the buildings and other sites on the AHC’s Tagwhat channel.

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2011 in Review – and in Rhyme

A long time ago the Galaxy Restaurant – not far away
Was slated for demolition, but remains empty to this day

Soon the Hollywood Theatre will have a new building adjacent
But is the building’s design compatible or complacent?

For now Storrs’ paraboloid remains hyperbolic
As Columbia River Crossing talks have become vitriolic

Lovers of old architecture are still stymied by demolition and deconstruction
Is it worth losing our history for a small tax deduction?

The sad loss in Richmond of a home known as Waverly
Means a new private park that doesn’t seem very neighborly

In Vista Brook and Oak Hills people swoon over Rummer
To diminish these neighborhoods would really be a bummer.

And as Buckman pursues their historic district
Design review fees have some neighbors ticked

On the South Waterfront there’s a vacant garage for the old Greyhound fleet
To see this building saved would certainly be a treat

The new Claybourne Commons will have an impact in Moreland
But the loss of The Woods is more than some can stand.

A surplus old library could see a new civic use
A shining star on the horizon in a neighborhood that’s withstood much abuse

Historic preservation myths abound about NIMBYs and Obstructionists
We’re really just lovers of the past not phony historicists

And what of the oldest buildings in our city so fair?
Hallock-McMillan and others – it’s great to know that people really do care

And oh yes, the Portland Plan is still on the table
With your help we’ll keep Preservation there – For as long as we are able

The Bosco-Milligan Foundation – Architectural Heritage Center

Wishes you a Happy New Year!

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Public Comments on the DRAFT Portland Plan Due by December 28th – Where’s Historic Preservation?

Written public comments for the draft Portland Plan must be submitted by December 28th. Bosco-Milligan Foundation executive director Cathy Galbraith presented testimony at a recent public hearing on the Portland Plan, expressing concern that nowhere in the document is the term historic preservation even mentioned.  In fact, there is only one reference to “historic resources” to be found in the draft document – a big disappointment to those who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to keep the conversation about historic preservation moving forward.

In addition to concerns over the lack of mentioning historic preservation, here are some other excerpts from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation’s comments about the Portland Plan draft. Please consider sending your own comments to the city before the 12/28 deadline.

Entirely absent from the Plan is any acknowledgement of the existing Historic Resources Inventory

The issue of “community character” in the traditional neighborhoods is a concern that was raised time and time again in the earlier Portland Plan workshops. The omission of this concern throughout most of the Plan is an oversight that needs to be addressed now.

The Plan’s segment on Complete Neighborhoods cites (page 101) the need to “increase housing in areas with services” while ignoring the earlier description that these areas are primarily built out. 

We do want Portland to at long last be a leader in social sustainability (page 10) – as important as and equal to environmental sustainability that has been the focus of much of the city’s efforts. Avoiding displacement and understanding and preserving historic and cultural connections should be an overriding goal of any equity agenda. The once-celebrated Albina Community Plan (1993) led to the start of displacement in N/NE; it was well-intentioned, but has long been described as “aspirational.” What’s relevant for the Portland Plan is that many of the lofty “action steps” that have gone unfulfilled in the Albina Community Plan read much like those in the proposed Portland Plan.

The Plan includes a city role in “helping to catalyze complementary local development” (page 25) for expansion of PCC Cascade, and “Develop new land use investment approaches to support the growth & neighborhood compatibility of college and hospital campuses in the comprehensive plan update” (page 47.)  Our concern is the expansion through demolition and displacement that has been typically practiced by these institutions. A more important first step should be the public deliberation and adoption of institutional “master plans”, before it’s presumed that college and hospital campus expansions will be undertaken without detriment to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The historic preservation community, property owners in Portland’s Historic Districts, and developers are now assertively raising the issue of the city’s unreasonably high historic design review fees, in particular; the $3,000+ application fee for individual landmark designation has already proven to be a disincentive for designation, with a total of two such applications in the past nine years. Portland’s historic design review (and landmarks designation) fees are higher than all other Oregon jurisdictions and higher than for any comparably sized municipality throughout the U.S.

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A Visit to Vista Brook

One of dozens of Rummer built homes in the Vista Brook neighborhood. Rummer himself, reportedly once lived here.

Last week, Bosco-Milligan/AHC education manager Val Ballestrem had the great opportunity to visit the Rummer-packed Vista Brook neighborhood in the Garden Home area of unincorporated Washington County. Together with local architectural historian and mid-century modern aficionado Jack Bookwalter, they met with a few residents of the neighborhood, saw a fantastic concentration of Robert Rummer built homes, and learned of concerns over a nearby sewage pump station.

Jack Bookwalter in front of one of Vista Brook's Rummer gems.

Vista Brook lies just north of Garden Home Rd., roughly between SW 84th Ave. and SW 92nd Ave. The northern border is the Fanno Creek Trail and just beyond that lay the Portland Golf Club. It is a classic postwar suburban neighborhood with tree-lined curvilinear streets. Also at the northern end of the neighborhood stands a circa 1930s home – certainly the oldest in the vicinity – and a sewage pump station owned and operated by the City of Portland. The future of the home and pump station is the subject of growing neighbor concern.

C.1930s home at the northern end of the Vista Brook neighborhood. The home is slated for demolition by owners, the City of Portland, in order to expand their nearby sewage pump station.

City of Portland sewage pump station located adjacent to several homes in the Vista Brook neighborhood.

Although the 1930s home mentioned above pre-dates the formal development of the Vista Brook neighborhood, long-time residents view the older home as a sort of neighborhood landmark. So it is no surprise that some neighbors are upset over the potential loss of the home, which once stood on several well-manicured acres, but now stands in the path of an expanded sewage pump station. Apparently, the City of Portland wants to expand their existing pump station (first constructed in 2000). They have acquired the old home on the adjacent property and are trying to get the project OK’d by Washington County. If the pump station is expanded the old home would be demolished along with its surrounding gardens. This is the first bit of neighbor concern; as with many neighborhoods, people hate to see their hyperlocal landmarks lost.

Neighbors’ second concern has a more direct impact on Vista Brook residents, especially those that border the property where the new pump station may be built. Several houses, including one that Robert Rummer once called home, lie adjacent to the pump station property and residents are weary of the noise and vibration the larger pump station may cause. Confounding neighbors’ concerns is that since the neighborhood is located in unincorporated Washington County and the pump station project is a City of Portland project, it is unclear who should respond to their concerns.

November 21, 1965 Oregonian advertisement for Rummer Homes

Development of the neighborhood once known as Bohmann Park began around 1956. From looking at newspaper ads from that period, the first homes in Bohmann Park were typical postwar ranches and split levels. But by 1965, Robert Rummer was building homes in his signature style in the neighborhood and soon the name Vista Brook had replaced the Bohmann Park moniker. Rummer continued to build homes in the neighborhood throughout the 1960s creating perhaps the highest concentration of his work; entire streets in Vista Brook are lined with Rummer homes. It is this high concentration of Rummer homes, and the fact that the neighborhood retains much of its original context, that has residents also considering the possibility of pursuing National Register Historic District status.

Although such a listing may not help with the pump station issue (since that issue is likely to come to a head very soon), it could help prevent or lessen the impacts of future encroachment of incompatible development. The process to obtain historic district status is however, challenging, time consuming, and potentially expensive. Val and Jack advised Vista Brook neighbors to discuss the possibility of historic district status with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

So if you are ever out in the Garden Home area, consider taking a drive or a walk through this great intact mid-century neighborhood. If you like Rummer designs you won’t be disappointed.

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The Hyperbolic Paraboloid and the Columbia River Crossing

As criticism of the proposed Columbia River Crossing continues to fester (there are those who despise the proposed bridge’s design and others question the need for a new bridge at all), a little talked about North Portland building faces an uncertain future. The Pier 99 building lies right in the path of the CRC project, should it eventually move into the construction phase.

The Pier 99 building was designed by architects John Storrs and Si Stanich, with structural engineer James G. Pierson, perhaps most notable for their work on Oregon’s 1959 Centennial Exposition. Originally called the Totem Pole Marina, the building is a rare Oregon example of  the “hyperbolic paraboloid” design. In fact, when it first opened, the Totem Pole Marina was reported to be the first commercial use of the hyperbolic paraboloid roof in Oregon. Just months earlier, Storrs, Stanich, and Pierson had worked together on the Forest Products Pavilion at the Centennial Expo, which included a similar roof design, but as with other Centennial buildings, it was only a temporary structure.

In 2008, the Oregon State Historic Preservation office determined that the Pier 99 building was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This determination came on the heels of a required Section 106 report noting the building’s significance. Such reports are generally required whenever federally funded projects pose a potential impact on historic resources.

Caption and headline from September 8, 1960 Oregonian article about the new Totem Pole Marina building.

Since there appears to be no feasible way to construct a new Columbia River Crossing with the Pier 99 in its current location, the next step is mitigation for the would-be historic structure. At this time, it is unknown what the final outcome will be, but moving the building to a nearby location seems one possible solution. It is also unfortunate that news of the building’s situation was not made more public – and sooner – especially since it has been more than three years since the Pier 99 was identified as being in the way of the CRC’s presumed “progress”.

Photo of Pier 99 building from 2007 Section 106 report.

The public can apparently still comment on proposed mitigation measures for the Pier 99.

Contact Derek Chisholm, (971) 322-7942 or dchisholm at parametrix dot com for more information.

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