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.


Filed under Historic Preservation, Local History

9 responses to “Historic Cornelius Hotel May Soon Be Demolished

  1. We should also add that TMT says they have no immediate plans for new development in place of the Cornelius, citing the cost of needed repairs as the reasoning behind their decision to demolish.

    • ws


      Us readers need help navigating our zoning/planning/permitting processes in relation to the demolishing of this building. Can you help us understand? This is such a wonderful intersection they’re going to mess up, and it’s going to negatively impact its neighboring businesses and residences.

      Are you saying a developer can demolish a building and not have to develop it afterwards? There’s nothing that states they have to do something in x years?

      In other words, they can leave a huge empty lot that often attracts litter, tagging, vagrancy, and other negative urban behaviors for the rest of the city to deal with?

      Honestly, what is TMT’s long-term plans?

      Personally, I see huge costs in demolishing this structure and huge costs developing a new building here a la the original Virgina Cafe. It doesn’t seem they have learned their lesson.

      I suppose I am being critical without knowing the facts, but it’s hard not to react viscerally when you learn there’s going to be an empty lot and a demolished beautiful building. The benefits of this seem dubious. We should learn our lesson from the last pit they left Portlanders down the street.

      And I am “pro-development” type personality. More is better than less, but this stinks at first glance. Fool me once…

  2. danielle

    This is and has been one of my favorite buildings in Portland for years. It is a shame to consider demolishing it. Please continue to share news of the status of this beautiful building.

  3. Maybe some Scientologists can buy it and fix it up.

  4. Looks like an awesome building. Here in Peoria we have great buildings but a lazy preservation mindset which continues due to poor ownership.

    However, we have a recent success in the Hotel Pere Marquette. It was flirted with demolition but now will last another 100 years. This in a place where several hotels have been torn down.

    Hope this one can make it through!

  5. Ben

    I work next door. The building is literally falling to pieces thanks to TMT’s neglect. I’d be happy to see it go if there were plans to build on the lot, but tearing it down to leave another vacant corner in downtown is unconscionable.

  6. John A

    The City of Portland should step up to the plate and contribute some $ to the project. A veteran’s housing project sounds awesome and would do a huger service to our community. Why aren’t are politicians doing more to help our veterans? This needs to be given more consideration.

  7. Michael Conroy

    I agree with John A. We have a large veteran community and it would be a great use for this historic structure.

  8. Flavius B

    Heard some rumors that it should have been a Veterans housing project, but it fell through. :/

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