Demolition of Single Family Houses – the Epidemic Continues

By Cathy Galbraith

If anything, the epidemic of demolition of single-family homes has only accelerated and concerns across the city of Portland neighborhoods are red hot. An estimated 389 demolitions took place in 2013; it’s rumored that a-demo-per-work-day is happening in 2014. It’s next to impossible to argue about the appeal to a home-owner looking for a quick and easy sale…all-cash offers for a house in “as-is” condition, saving any real estate commissions, no worries about underground oil tanks, dry rot, and poor insulation. Defects just don’t matter when demo-and-replacement is planned.

For the builder/developer, the economics are a sure bet. One single family home, whether exceptionally “modest” or “very nice” is purchased and then replaced with a much bigger and more expensive home (often more than one.) Given the great neighborhoods-with-character locations, these new high-end houses command top sale prices with guaranteed profit margins for the builders. They no longer need to worry about recouping the costs of a new subdivision, like installing utilities, access roads, and sidewalks. Instead, they are filling up the mail boxes of homeowners with enticing “quick sale – close in days” offers, looking for houses to buy and demolish.

So how can we counter the scraping away of a house that may be worth $475,000 if the replacement house can sell for $975,000 – – and there may be more than one new house? That’s the tough nut to crack and the City of Portland has made it exceptionally easy for the demo-and-replace builders – – while exceptionally disruptive on the surrounding owners and residents. The city’s impetus seems to be “density” (or maybe it’s conflict avoidance with the builders/proponents…) and trust me here – – it is definitely not the Urban Growth Boundary. Someone once told me that “planners don’t get paid to keep things the same” but I find it ludicrous when planning documents (and campaigning elected officials) talk about “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods” and then proposes absolutely nothing to protect the character that makes those neighborhoods so celebrated! It’s the context of vintage homes that blend so well with one another, the consistent use of high-quality materials, the regularity of setbacks, and the mature landscaping and trees – – that’s what helps make up the character and it’s what disappears with demolition and replacement.

After much debate, discussion, and a very practical look at the many issues at play, we propose the following potential “fixes” as a start:

(1) While notice to surrounding property owners, in and of itself, is not much of a fix, it does let neighbors prepare for noise, dust, and the possible exposure to environmental hazards (like asbestos.) Right now, notice is only now (recently) required by the city when more than one new house is proposed. There’s no notice/delay when a demo application and the replacement house permit are filed the same day. Asking builders to provide notice voluntarily (under discussion at the City) doesn’t cut it, if few builders do it. Either the city should require notice across the board, or provide an incentive for notice – – like a reduction in the cost of a building permit.

(2) Change the definition of “demolition” in the city’s development code – a big problem is that any demolition that leaves any portion of a house still standing (such as a partial foundation wall) is called an “alteration” or “remodel”, not a demolition (which are seriously under-counted, as a result.) More typically, many other jurisdictions use “at least 50% of a structure remains standing” as the primary criteria for an alteration/remodel. If that’s reasonable enough for other cities and counties, it should be acceptable for Portland.

(3) Houses that are obviously historic (but unprotected) are those that have long been listed on the city’s 1983 Historic Resources Inventory, but many houses have reached the age of 50+ since then. We propose a mandatory 120 delay for houses on the HRI or at least 50+ years old. These are likely the ones that need time for investigating alternatives to demolition. (The historic-but-unprotected late 1800s Goldsmith House in NW Portland was purchased by a group of NWDA activists (including our board member Rick Michaelson) from the demo/developer, just in time to save it from certain demolition.)

(4) Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house(s) –  One major concern is that after a demolition, a new house is not only usually bigger, but it covers much more of the lot, often changing the streetscape substantially. If the front and side-yard setbacks stay the same for the new house, the streetscape remains more like it’s traditional neighbors. Expansion in size of the new house should be allowed only at the rear of the site, minimizing impact on the street and to the side yards of its adjacent neighboring houses.

These provisions are a start at getting a handle on the demolition epidemic that’s only growing. We’ll be airing these on our blog and elsewhere as we look for the willingness of our elected officials to respond to the firestorm of concern that’s also only continuing to grow across our city and throughout “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods”

 

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Filed under Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Sustainability

An Epidemic of Demolitions

By Cathy Galbraith

Something insidious is happening and Portland’s traditional neighborhoods are seeing the cumulative effects of the growing epidemic of the demolition of single-family homes. There is something at work here…perhaps it’s the combination of house “flippers,” people who like closer-in locations but want a house that’s brand new…BUT how can the costs of acquisition, demolition, and new construction be anything but enormous? Perhaps that’s beside the point. What we do know is that in early-December, 2013 the city had already issued at least 230 demolition permits for the year-to-date. Residents in SE and NE Portland have sounded the alarm bells, knowing all too well that among the impacts are the continuing loss of the qualities that make up a neighborhood’s character and its physical identity.

The epidemic is even likely worse, since the city of Portland defines a “demolition” as the complete removal of a structure. Any number of what most of us would consider a “demolition” before building a new house is something different—if any part of the first house is left standing—like a single partial wall. That wrinkle lets a builder off the hook for public notification of neighbors; permits for these projects can even be classified as an “alteration” or an “addition,” not a “demolition.”

In an era of growing understanding that “the greenest building is the one that’s already built” how can Portland be heading in exactly the opposite direction? Perhaps it’s just another aspect of the “growth is good” mantra that permeates the Comprehensive Plan update…and the perceived city tendency to bend over backwards to allow (some would say encourage) admittedly unusual proposals like the 56 “micro-units” that will replace ONE single family home on NW Thurman Street. The Comprehensive Plan update is intended to address the next 25 years…at the rate we are going, how many houses will we lose just in the next five years?

Portland is a city that’s rightfully concerned about important environmental issues like its “carbon footprint.” In mid-2012, before the demolitions epidemic, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Preservation Green Lab” (based in Seattle) published a study on the environmental benefits of historic preservation, including the finding that for a new house in PORTLAND, it would take 50 years (!!!) to overcome the impacts of its construction. Among its findings, it presumed that Portland would demolish 1% of its building stock over the next 10 years. The study concluded that by retrofitting and reusing them—instead of demolishing and building new energy-efficient ones—it could meet a whopping 15% of Multnomah County’s total CO2 reduction targets over the same 10 years!

There are no easy answers to the housing demolition epidemic, but we will be calling people together soon to attempt to find some resolution. Please watch our website (www.VisitAHC.org) or sign up for our e-news to learn more about this new initiative.

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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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Filed under Historic Preservation, Modernism + The Recent Past

Cornelius Hotel Update as of 6/26/13

To follow upon our recent posts about the proposed demolition of the Cornelius Hotel (531 SW Park Avenue), TMT Development has gone ahead and applied for the demolition permit. You can now find this information on PortlandMaps.com. This is just the beginning of a process that will likely take several months and is not yet open for public comments. According to City staff, there will be a required “pre-application conference,” regarding the proposed demolition, on July 23rd at 8:30am at the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), 1900 SW 4th Avenue (time/date subject to change). While the public can attend this meeting, no public  testimony is taken at such pre-application conferences. Therefore, while it may be good to show TMT that  many people are interested in seeing the Cornelius saved, this is not the place to give public testimony. That time will come soon enough, however.

After the pre-application meeting, TMT can then apply for the demolition review.  Once that application is determined to be complete (and this could take some time), then the BDS will schedule a public hearing on the matter. In a nutshell, it may not be until sometime this fall that the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the future of the Cornelius Hotel.

Hopefully, this means there is still time to find a solution that leads to the rehabilitation of the Cornelius and its continued presence at SW Park and Alder.

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The Rose City Neighborhood and Lindquist Built Homes

Thanks to the work of intrepid Rose City neighborhood researcher Caryn Brooks, we now have a lot more information about one of the more prolific builders in this NE Portland enclave.

A Lindquist built home on NE 61st Avenue.

A Lindquist built home on NE 61st Avenue.

According to Brooks, if you have a 1930s English Cottage-style house in Rose City you may have a home built by the Lindquist family. The father, Eric Lindquist, along with his sons Fred, Harold (Hugo), Gus and Norman built a lot of houses in the 1930s, many with common features that are easily recognizable – if you know what to look for.

Advertisement for three new Lindquist built homes.  Oregonian October 29, 1933.

Advertisement for three new Lindquist built homes.
Oregonian October 29, 1933.

Most Lindquist homes have unique handmade fireplace tiles from the Markoff Mosaic Tile Co.

Example of Markoff tile. Image courtesy of Historic Preservation Northwest

Example of Markoff tile. Image courtesy of Historic Preservation Northwest

They almost all have ornate leaded glass picture windows.

Leaded glass window in a Lindquist house built in 1937.

Leaded glass window in a Lindquist house built in 1937.

The Lindquists built homes that are not excessively large, but they were built to last. Other architectural details that are common to Lindquist built homes include: mahogany trim and doors, colorful tile bathrooms, Tudor archways, and entry doors with “speakeasy” windows. All are hallmarks of the English Cottage style that was extremely popular in Portland in the 1920s-1930s.

One way to find out if you have a Lindquist home is to go to portlandmaps.com, plug in your address and click on the “historical permits” tab. If the oldest permit notes a Lindquist (sometimes spelled incorrectly as “Lundquist”) as the owner, it’s quite possible that you have a Lindquist built home as these homes were generally built on speculation.

Plumbing permit from 1937, showing Gus Lindquist as the property owner. You can often learn the name of the home builder by looking at permits like this one. Courtesy of PortlandMaps.com

Plumbing permit from 1937, showing Gus Lindquist as the property owner. You can often learn the name of the home builder by looking at permits like this one.     Courtesy of PortlandMaps.com

The Lindquists were not architects, but they reportedly worked with an architect who had an office on Sandy Blvd. We have yet to determine who that architect was, but by the 1920s it was starting to become quite common for architects to sell their designs to area builders.

One family member, Fred Lindquist also built an apartment building, in 1929, that today is on the National Register of Historic Places. The complex, located at 711 NE Randall,  was designed by noted apartment building architect Elmer Feig.

Lindquist Apartments at NE Randall and Hoyt. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lindquist Apartments at NE Randall and Hoyt. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Advertisement for Lindquist built homes from the Oregonian, June 2, 1940.  The Lindquists built homes in several Portland neighborhoods.

Advertisement for Lindquist built homes from the Oregonian, June 2, 1940.
The Lindquists built homes in several Portland neighborhoods.

While little-known, the Lindquist’s  houses in Rose City provide a distinctive appearance to the neighborhood and are great examples of a style that dominated Portland’s residential neighborhoods in the two decades prior to the Second World War.

A Lindquist built home on NE 62nd Avenue.

A Lindquist built home on NE 62nd Avenue.

If you think you have a Lindquist built home and want to discuss it with Caryn, contact the Architectural Heritage Center - info@VisitAHC.org – and we’ll pass along her contact information.

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The Cornelius Hotel – Demolition and Designated Historic Buildings in Portland

As of this afternoon, there is still no additional information about TMT Development’s plans for the Cornelius Hotel. The City claims to be unaware of any application to demolish and nothing shows on-line via PortlandMaps.com. Regardless, there is a detailed process in Portland when someone wishes to demolish a designated historic structure like this.

You can download the City’s Historical Reviews information here.  http://www.portlandonline.com/bds/index.cfm?a=53488 This explains the various review processes for historic buildings, including demolition review, which can be found in the last section of the document.

If TMT decides to move forward with a demolition, it is likely that the City Council would ultimately decide whether or not to approve such action. The process could take several months, but we will continue to monitor the situation and post any information we can get about the status of the Cornelius Hotel.

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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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