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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BREAKING NEWS! Portland City Council Approves Greatly Reduced Fees for Historic Design Review

In a hearing held just this morning, the Portland City Council voted to support a proposed historic design review fee of $250. The City’s Bureau of Development Services had proposed a reduction from the current $950 to $475, but instead the Council supported efforts by the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources to truly make the fees more reasonably priced.

The new fee structure applies to the BDS’ “new Type I” application for smaller and simple projects. This new fee, along with a greatly streamlined historic design review process, takes effect on May 1st, for all Portland Historic and Conservation Districts, and designated Historic Landmarks. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center (authors of the Portland Preservation blog) helped form the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources and have worked for nearly a year to simplify the City’s sometimes unpredictable design review process. There will now, as of May 1st, be exemptions for ongoing maintenance and repair, shorter review times, and thanks to City Council today, a $250 flat fee for design review of basic projects. This is indeed a great achievement and makes our preservation advocacy efforts worthwhile!

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Changes May Be in Store at the Historic I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge, No. 17

Willamette Week recently reported, that the Portland Police Athletic Association has sold its building at SE 6th and Alder and plans are in the works for potential redevelopment. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to share a little of the building’s history.

The Francis J. Berndt designed I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge, No. 17 located at SE 6th and Alder. Built in 1908.

The Francis J. Berndt designed I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge, No. 17 located at SE 6th and Alder. Built in 1908.

The I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge, No. 17,  was built in 1908 and designed by little-known Portland architect Francis J. Berndt. Berndt was also the designer of the Henry building located at SW 4th and Oak downtown.  We don’t know much about Berndt, but what is most fascinating about his design for the lodge, is how it is almost identical to a building in London, England designed by  C F A Voysey and built only a few years earlier, in 1902. That building was constructed for the Sanderson Wallpaper Company and still stands today – known as Voysey House. Berndt’s Orient Lodge meanwhile, is the only known building in Portland reflecting Voysey’s unique version of an Arts & Crafts industrial building. In fact, according to sources, the wallpaper company building was Voysey’s only industrial building design.

Voysey House in London. Originally Sanderson's Wallpaper factory, the building was designed by C F A Voysey and built in 1902.

Voysey House in London. Originally Sanderson’s Wallpaper factory, the building was designed by C F A Voysey and built in 1902.

Oregonian article from December 20, 1908, announcing the first meeting to be held at the new I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge.

Oregonian article from December 20, 1908, announcing the first meeting to be held at the new I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge No. 17.

We’re still researching, but around 1962, the Portland Police Athletic Association acquired the lodge building from the Odd Fellows. Since that time they have used the upstairs as a gathering place and reportedly a members-only bar. The main floor retail space housed a long-time Portland office supply retailer until a few years ago when they retired and Citizen’s Photo moved into the space.

The I.O.O.F. Orient Lodge, No. 17, is listed as a primary contributing structure in the East Portland-Grand Avenue Historic District. Hopefully with this in mind, the new owners will pursue a renovation that celebrates this historic, architecturally significant, and one-of-a-kind, Portland building.

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Libraries Are Powerful

You know how it is. You hear a story about where you live and you think, “Hey – that’s pretty interesting,” and you tell someone else. Eventually the story comes back to you and you think, ‘Wait – that’s not what my aunt/neighbor/friend told me.” You resolve to find out what really happened with your house/block/region. Truth. Wow. A very big idea that probably involves History. Primary documents. Maps. Plans. Books. Wi-fi.

One of the places you can find all these things and answers about building and neighborhood history is the library at the Architectural Heritage Center. Named after Rejuvenation, its founding donor from when the Center opened in 2005, the library contains a wealth of architectural and local history resources. Staff, members, and scholars use the library for program creation, to research for the media, to help neighborhoods document their past and preserve their future, and more. Cataloging goes on and on, and there are literally thousands of research documents already available. And yes, there is wi-fi, so you can research on-line at the same time.

This Saturday’s library open house from 10 am to 3 pm is a great time to learn more. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to help answer your house history questions, and show you our recently-completed seismic upgrade measures. Items from the collection that are not normally on display will be available for viewing and you can see some things that are just cool whether you need them for a research project or not.

Two short courses on preserving personal archives will be offered at 11 am and 1 pm by Richard Engeman, historian, archivist, and author.

History is powerful. Recent news reports about rebels in Mali attacking Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba library, a repository of unique and rare manuscripts dating as far back as the early 1200s, remind us to take care of our own libraries. Why would retreating rebels take time under fire to destroy a collection of documents? Because they know that culture and history are powerful forces and the destruction of them is a punch to the heart and soul of a people. Why did Stalin order photographs altered to remove the images of those he had killed? Because he knew that by manipulating the physical record, he could exercise control over not only his own time, but the historical interpretation of it. The historical record is influenced by who manages the story line and the documents that support it. As Churchill wrote, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

In the world of our own library here at the AHC, our members and staff are careful stewards of what was collected by founders Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan, and given to us later by other thoughtful donors. Our repository of history doesn’t date as far back as Ahmed Baba’s, but we have many unique and rare items of local import and usefulness to share and preserve.

And there’s the ongoing query and challenge. What do we save, and how do we pay for saving it? What will best tell the story of our own time and what do we infer from the past by what items people “back then” felt were important enough to save, or saved randomly? What resources are most useful for architectural history researchers now, and how do we predict which ones will be of most import in the future? One solution today is to make digital versions that can be accessed online from anywhere, and the AHC has done some of that. But, that process, too, costs money, and we must balance the accounting books as well as the importance of the research books. In a digital era, there is still worth in preserving the originals, while at the same time making wise decisions about what best belongs online.

As a Facebook meme tells us, a certain subset of people, including me, still regret the destruction of the great library of Alexandria. In our time, we must not take the libraries in our lives for granted. Use them, support them financially, donate documents to them, and tell other people why they are important. For all of us here, and, yes, for the world.

Fiction is great and stories are powerful ways to transfer culture and teach people about life and how to live it with meaning and understanding. However, primary documents set the story straight when we need culture to be history, instead of folklore.

Come see us on Saturday. Truth can be stranger than fiction. Find out.

Written by Holly Chamberlain, Deputy Director, Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center

 

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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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The Latest News About Houses at SE 27th and Hawthorne

Yesterday, the Portland City Council agreed to a waiver of fees and allowed a zoning change, clearing the way for one of the two endangered homes on SE Hawthorne near 27th to be relocated. The re-zoning allows the Montgomery House at 2625 SE Hawthorne to be moved to a lot on SE Madison – behind the Rivermark Credit Union. It will then be converted into 6-7 apartment units.

The Buckman and HAND neighborhood associations, along with numerous concerned neighbors, worked tirelessly to bring this situation to a positive conclusion. This is just the sort of scenario that shows why Portland’s neighborhood association system is such a valuable resource.

It is unfortunate that the second house (2607) could not be saved. It is already in the midst of being deconstructed, so at least some materials from the home will be reused.

The new development on Hawthorne that is replacing the two homes will certainly not be the last of its kind. There are several current and former single family residences on main thoroughfares throughout the city and they should all be considered – at least to some extent – endangered. Most of these homes are not unlike the two on Hawthorne, in that they are not designated historic and have little protection against new development or demolition. Many of these homes – such as the wonderful concrete block house at SE 38th and Division (which is currently for sale) are also neighborhood landmarks. Perhaps it is time to take another look at these buildings and see if there are creative ways in which more can be preserved.

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Update on Endangered Hawthorne Houses – Public Meeting

Back in August we reported on two endangered historic homes on SE Hawthorne at 27th. Redevelopment at this site is moving forward and now it appears that one of the homes may be saved from deconstruction and moved to a nearby lot.

If you are concerned about these homes or have questions about the development, the Buckman Community Association will be discussing the issue at their monthly board meeting tomorrow evening.

Here are the meeting details:

Location:  Multnomah County Boardroom – 501 SE Hawthorne

Time: 7:00 PM

For more information about the Buckman neighborhood click here.

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