On December 7th, staff and volunteers from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center had the wonderful opportunity to tour the former Arleta Library on SE 64th and Holgate. More recently referred to as the Wikman Building, the now vacant facility was recently declared surplus property by Multnomah County after having served as a juvenile facility for several years. Thanks to the generosity of Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack and facilities manager Mike Sublett, we all certainly learned more than expected about the Arleta library’s past, present, and future.
The Arleta Library was built, with support from the Carnegie Institute, in 1918. Folger Johnson was the architect. Johnson designed several Carnegie libraries in Oregon, including those in St. Johns, South Portland, Gresham, Hermiston, and Pendleton. His work also included the Albertina Kerr Nursery and the Town Club in Portland’s Goose Hollow neighborhood. Many Folger Johnson designed buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1970s, a new Holgate Branch library opened and since that time, the Arleta Library building has been used primarily as office space for Multnomah County.
On December 22, the Multnomah County Commission will consider the possible sale of the historic library to an interesting coalition consisting of Southeast Uplift, the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association, the Foster Area Business Association, and ROSE Community Development. If the deal is approved, the library may see new life as a neighborhood community center. There is clearly a lot of interest in adaptively re-using the building in a manner that serves this diverse community. Our hope is that whoever takes possession of the building also recognizes its historic and architectural significance and maintains its historic and architectural integrity. From our tour of the building, it would seem a clear candidate for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Such an honor would give some much needed recognition to the Foster-Powell neighborhood and its historic resources. It may also open the door for possible grant opportunities or other mechanisms that would support the building’s rehabilitation.
And lets also not forget that a historic renovation could also be a job creation tool. For example, the building still retains its fantastic original windows, which could be repaired (not replaced) and made air-tight. Such work would maintain the building’s original appearance while also making the building more energy efficient. Along the way, local craftsman could be hired to complete the work.
So while the future of the Arleta Library is unclear, it does appear that the building will find a new use that supports the community. This could be a great example for other such projects involving underutilized buildings around the city.