Powell’s Planning New Mixed-Use Building on North Park Blocks

According to this announcement at the city’s Bureau of Development Services website, plans are underway to demolish the old Powell’s Books technical bookstore building and replace it with a new seven story mixed use building with retail on the ground floor and apartments above. The existing building at 33 NW Park Avenue is a two-story structure from 1916, that has no historic designation, but is a classic example of 1910s automobile-related architecture.

In 1916, the automobile was rapidly changing American culture and just as in other cities, auto-related businesses were popping up all over the Portland. Just two years earlier, the Ford Motor Co. had opened an assembly plant in southeast Portland and the construction of garages and showrooms were entering a boom period that continued at least until the Great Depression. In the midst of this boom, the White Automobile Company of Cleveland, Ohio chose to open a showroom on the North Park Blocks, enlisting the architectural firm of MacNaughton and Raymond. MacNaughton and Raymond are possibly best known as the firm whose alterations to the 1890 Marquam Grand Opera House, may have led to that building partially collapsing in 1912. It was after that incident that most of the firm’s work was relegated to smaller warehouse and showroom type buildings, many of which were built in Northwest Portland. Included in their work during this period was also the recently demolished Kiernan Building – longtime home to the Dirty Duck tavern.

Announcement of the new White Automobile Co. building in the February 20, 1916 Oregonian newspaper.

Within months of the building opening in 1916, a fire at the White Automobile showroom, destroyed 23 cars, but apparently did little damage to the building itself.  Within weeks, the White Automobile Co. was back up and running with frequent ads in the local newspaper touting their fine luxury cars. However, White only remained at their NW Park and Couch location for a few years. By the early 1920s, they had relocated to north Portland as their business also began to shift more toward freight trucks.

News story about the fire at the White Automobile Co. building. From the December 17, 1916 Oregonian.

In subsequent years, the old White Automobile Co. building became a warehouse  – housing the Stubbs Electrical Co. for many years. Powell’s apparently purchased the building in 1990 and it was home to their technical bookstore until they moved into their current facility on NW 10th in 2010.

Additional research is still needed on the old White Automobile Co. Building. As it would appear that its days are numbered, there is no time like the present to make sure we have a better understanding of this building and its place in Portland history – before it is gone for good.



Filed under Historic Preservation, Local History

5 responses to “Powell’s Planning New Mixed-Use Building on North Park Blocks

  1. Please save this important building in Portland’s history. Too many of these early twenty century commercial brick buildings are being demolished. The general character of Portland’s NW neighborhood is being lost.

  2. Over on the Portland architecture blog, there is another post about the proposed new building. http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2012/05/lever-architectures-thomas-robinson-discusses-pncas-new-park-blocks-residence-hall.html

    To quote the architect: “You have these great existing buildings on the park blocks, these old brick warehouses. We asked, ‘Why do people like these buildings?'”

    On one hand the architect is saying how great the old buildings are, but at the same time the one that they propose to demolish can’t possibly be made to work. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

  3. Is this the last White Automobile showroom Nationally? The last species before death. We have to save this building from demolition. I am an Architect in San Diego (former Portland resident in mid- Ninties.)
    I am dismayed that the citizens of Portland can designate only with owner’s consent. This is not the law in San Diego. The owner’s property can be designated without consent here and thank goodness.
    Adaptive reuse is the correct architectural response to the site at 33 NW Park. The past is the future and the most progressive architecture. New architecture is dead. The old is chic, it is sexy, it authentic, it is American, it is masculine without being brutish, its feminine with intelligence. Protest at Powell’s, maybe the father will speak to his daughter. Emily, align with the radical preservation movement. The last great book store saves the last auto dealer edifice and survive the great depression. What? am I in the fiction section?

  4. mikemeade

    Sadly, a parking lot larger than the proposed new building sits diagonally across the park. It’s a shame that the existing building couldn’t be sold to cover the cost of the parking lot. I’d much rather have an empty historic building than a blight of a surface parking lot. In a perfect world we could have a wonderful new building and save the historic fabric that makes the park blocks so wonderful.

  5. edf

    I just threw up a little in my mouth. Portland? In the Midwest, demolition is business as usual, but IN PORTLAND! Its been 4 years since I’ve been in town, but I can still picture perfect see every room in Powell’s. Is this the work of the city – so so very disappointed.

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