Author: John Chilson

Portland map nerds: Compare 1852 to 2015

Been a bit quiet around here lately. I’ve been writing about beer and new breweries at The New School and doing lots of traveling for work (DC! NYC! Denver! Baltimore! San Francisco! Boston!). I’ve got topics and ideas I’m working on coming soon.

In the meantime, check out this cool map overlay of Portland  – compare 1852 to 2015. It’s fun stuff! Check out the link:

http://drcmetro.maps.arcgis.com/apps/StorytellingSwipe/?appid=7cea8958740b4986905f5debf93e0c77

 

 

Bus shelter, coffee shop: Taking re-use to a new level

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Portland Mall in 1982 on 6th Ave next to Meier & Frank. Source: Wikipedia

When the Portland Bus Mall was unveiled in 1976 along SW 5th and SW 6th streets, shelters that graced the mall were some of the most technically advanced for its time and included amenities such as stylish (remember: 1970s) smoked glass and bronze design, pay phones, and a first-of-its kind monitor system that alerted passengers to arrival times of busses.

When the new mall was unveiled in 2009, the 70s architecture was ripped out and recycled as building materials by the project’s contractor. Sure, one can still see the outline of the old, oval shelters etched into the sidewalks, and the oh-so-70s planters along SW 5th and 6th. But for the most part, the new mall has transformed the streetscape with new shelters, bus trackers and better access to the storefronts along the street. The improvements were badly needed and most Portlanders at the time weren’t exactly bemoaning the loss of the old mall.

“Over the 25 years of the mall, the shelters were showing wear and tear and we just couldn’t maintain them,” says Bob Hastings, TriMet’s architect, who manages the architecture and urban design issues for light rail projects.

Thus began the retrofit of the bus mall.

Called the Mall Revitalization Project, it was “aimed to improve and repair the buildings and businesses along SW 5th and 6th to help increase their participation in the life of downtown,” says Hastings.

However, there is another holdout to our old bus mall. If you’ve recently strolled downtown along the mall on SW 5th, you’ve probably noticed the lone, 1970s surviving bus shelter and the coffee shop inside of it. Located near the former Congress Hotel (demolished in 1980) Caffe Viale, snuggled in an old shelter, complete with transit maps, original signage and icons, takes adaptive re-use to a new level. And it might have all started with a walk around downtown Portland back in 2004.

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The coffeeshop kept all of the architectural elements of the old shelters.

Tad Savinar was working for ZGF Architects at the time and was an urban design consultant for TriMet. While strolling around downtown along the mall during a series of walks, Savinar, also a trained visual artist, was taking inventory of the “existing conditions” of storefronts, such as badly placed awnings, garbage cans in front of storefronts, and anything beyond that. He broke down his walks into 20-foot segments, examining the mall as more of a “human experience.” And then he started to notice the lack of important services – like coffee. Would a coffee shop be successful if it was strategically placed directly on the street?

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Definition of adaptive re-use.

“I knew that all of these shelters were eventually going to come out and I started wondering about things along the mall that could be improved. Storefronts could be improved, lighting could be improved. All kinds of ideas. And one of them was the potential of rehabbing a bus shelter,” he says.

A study found – believe it or not – there was a dearth of coffee service in the area. Savinar then created a diagram of the number of office workers adjacent to the potential coffee spot and discovered there was a gap in service. He then approached Caffe Viale owners – who still have a brick and mortar location nearby – and they were game in setting up shop in the shelter. Money was accessed through the Portland Development Commission’s Storefront Improvement Program who then matched money from the business, as well as money kicked in from TriMet.

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Old signage still exists on the exterior.

Certainly, new construction had to be done, including the addition of plumbing for water lines, electricity and waste lines, but the final product has proven to be a successful re-purposed project that adds life on the street, helps keep some of Portland’s post-mid-century heritage alive. The space also illustrates there are dual purposes and creative ways to re-use and re-adapt unwanted and (mostly) unloved structures, including a bus shelter.

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The old shelter has new life as a thriving coffee shop.

Nowadays, there are just a few more coffee places to choose from, but the coffee kiosk still does brisk business during weekday mornings catering to bleary-eyed commuters in need of caffeine before work. Plus, it’s a kick to peep inside the kiosk and see a part of Portland’s transit history still alive while waiting for your coffee.

“It’s a wonderful addition onto the streetscape,” says Hastings. “It livens the presence of the mall and does a great job of reinterpreting the original mall shelter.”

 

A new direction for Lost Oregon

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It’s not news that Portland is experiencing growing pains. Amidst the artisanal food explosion, unicycle mountain biking, urban square dancing, and the country’s best beer scene (we’re biased), Portland is going through many changes to its neighborhoods.

As new residents move into the city and surrounding suburbs, apartments are being snatched up and developers can’t build new multifamily units quick enough.

Which is all fine.

Except, well, it’s not.

Many smaller, perfectly fine homes are being mowed down to make room for mixed-use housing, many without street parking for cars, while smaller, historical bungalows are being replaced with “historical” looking McMansions, that appear to look like they were purposefully built to not match the existing neighborhood’s characteristics.

Yet, we’re still optimistic. Despite these growing pains, there’s also more innovative design – especially in the retrofit building space – around Portland’s many different neighborhoods. From public artwork to ped-friendly streets to small homes, neighborhoods are reinventing themselves thanks to the close proximity to the Willamette River, the abundance of local food, walkable neighborhoods, and a DIY DNA that encourages small-scale manufacturers to thrive.

Lost Oregon is getting out of our comfort zone and beyond posting kitschy postcards and waxing on watered-down nostalgia. We want to be a part of the conversation to help shape the city – especially in the SE part of town (cough SE Industrial cough). Sure, we’ll continue to explore Portland’s past history. But we’re also excited about the current landscape, newer buildings, neighborhoods doing good things, and smart planning that makes the place.

In a nutshell, we’re moving to the intersection of the past and how it’s framing the present growth of the city. We’ll also keep an eye on the struggle (there are many) to maintain the aesthetics of existing neighborhoods while keeping Portland manageable – a tall order – and one we will explore quite often.

So, thanks for reading Lost Oregon!

Angles on Burnside

Oregon DJC reported last week (you’ll need a subscription to read the article) on the accelerated path that the Burnside Bridgehead project has recently taken.

One of the projects, Block 76W, on a small footprint of land in front of an existing plan, is being developed by Key Development and designed by Skylab Architecture:

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We love the design. It uses an odd corner space creatively in a modern way, with a vibe towards the distance past but not too retro. It reminds us of something we’ve seen. Hmmmmm. Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s this (from the Centennial Exposition in 1959):

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Deliberate nod to the ultra-modern architecture on display at the Centennial Exposition? Maybe. Probably not. Regardless, still cool. And it goes way beyond the condo bunker-look that’s been mowing down Portland’s neighborhoods.

 

What’s next for Milwaukie, Ore.? Look to the past, perhaps.

Milwaukie, Oregon, is an interesting place. No, really. It has a rich, historical past that’s often overlooked. The Lot Whitcomb, launched in December, 1850, was the first steam-powered craft built on the Willamette River. The Bing cherry was created in Milwaukie. Gary Gilmore, the first American to be executed in ten years after the death penalty was re-instated, attended Milwaukie High. So did his brother, Mikal Gilmore, author of Shot in the Heart and a well-known Rolling Stone magazine writer.

It’s mere minutes from Portland. A bus ride up McLoughlin can get riders to downtown in about 25 minutes; if you’re on a bike, you’re in Portland city limits in 10 minutes. Despite its proximity to Portland, Milwaukie also can feel like it’s miles and miles away. Many aging boomers who live in Milwaukie (and the sleeping giant known as Oak Grove, snuggled next to Milwaukie in unincorporated Clackamas county) like it that way. They want to be left alone. They like their privacy and they like the suburban qualities of their neighborhoods and large lots (count the RVs in the driveways).

But change is coming to Milwaukie in the form of light rail. Drive along McLoughlin and around Main Street and one can see the tracks being laid and the stations being built. Those who oppose light rail call it the “crime train” and believe that it will attract criminals and bankrupt the city. (They also want to stop “Portland Creep” but don’t mind commuting to Portland–where their jobs usually reside.) Those who favor light rail think it will bring new blood, new business and a boost to the economy.

Just a few years ago, Milwaukie had a solid jumpstart back what seemed like the beginning of some sort of renaissance. The popular Cha Cha Cha restaurant came to downtown in 2007, and a new restaurant, Hartwell’s, opened in the newly built mixed use project on Main, offering local craft beers, upscale food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian – and a cool foodie vibe that Milwaukie lacked (and still does). There was talk of more mixed-used projects along McLoughlin with condos on the top and retail on the bottom, while older buildings along the river were demolished to make room.

And then 2008 happened and the bottom dropped. Projects were stalled, businesses failed, Hartwell’s shuttered its doors and downtown reverted back to Sleepytown, USA.

Since then, there’s been new life on Main Street in downtown Milwaukie. Slowly, businesses have come in and existing businesses have expanded. Despite setbacks, like the beloved and popular Milwaukie Kitchen and Wine literally leaving town overnight and shuttering its doors, there seems to be an air of optimism. Retail space is opening up on the ground floor of office properties along Main (with rumors swirling of a yogurt shop and a “Mediterranean restaurant” coming to town) and some of the city’s downtown buildings are getting the retrofits they deserve (many that were desecrated back in the 1960s and 1970s). The riverfront park is slowly coming together (the view of the Willamette is stunning), the unsightly Kellogg Dam will be (eventually) removed and a movement to add murals around downtown is gaining steam. Then there’s the kick-ass Sunday farmers market that grows every year, the addition of the popular Breakside Brewery‘s production facility and tasting room, a First Friday that continues to get better and bigger each summer, and the creation of a Neighborhood Greenway.

Add to this, a younger population is moving to Milwaukie’s historical neighborhoods that want amenities like walkable and bikable communities, restaurants, healthy food options, shopping, cheaper housing (than Portland) and a sense of community.

In fact, a recent poll by the city revealed that:

…the community would like to see more shops in downtown to meet daily needs, such as a grocery store. Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that downtown Milwaukie should be a destination for meeting daily needs; 27% of the survey respondents noted that a grocery store was one of the things they would like to see in Milwaukie that is not there today.

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires over the next decade, or even five years. Will Milwaukie continue its reputation as a sleepy Portland suburb? Will it attract new families and new business?

Ironically, 50 years ago downtown Milwaukie and Oak Grove had many of these amenities that current residents want in 2014. Pharmacy? Check. Clothing store? Check. Department store? Check. A restaurant shaped like a tee-pee? Ummmm, got it. Appliance store? Ding ding ding. All of these were small and independently owned. Following are some snaps taken from a local yearbook from 1964 that helps illustrate the changes in the area, what once existed and what could make a comeback. Click on each for a bigger version:

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Long-gone New Tom Tom.

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Teeney’s – all types of apparel.

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Besides the sign, still there (now a teen center).

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Be sure to check out the Gay Blade plaque/fountain in front of Enchante.

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A different era, for sure.

The Witherspoon Building is getting a makeover

IMG_2145Built in 1890 as a saloon, dance hall, and brothel, the Witherspoon Building, located at 424 SW 4th, is in the final stretch of its 123 year renovation , or, “redemption.”

In January 2014, the Witherspoon Building will be home to Parliament as well as a creative collective, a sidewalk-facing creative flex space and a below-ground workshop. They are actively seeking designers, writers, programmers, technologists, small start-ups, and other modern makers to help them build something great.

How do I know this? A really cool marketing campaign.

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During one of my lunch-time walks, I noticed the building getting some retrofit work done to it and walked up to it to take a couple of pics and noticed the cool signage adorning the side. It had the name of the building and a URL to visit for more information.

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On the website, there’s a bit of history, a live-cam (!!) of construction work and a photo journal.

Every building in town getting this type of retrofit work needs a story behind it – what a great way to bring history alive while re-using existing infrastructure.