Illuminating ‘ghost signs’ with glorious light

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904 Commercial Street, Astoria, Ore., built 1924. Photo: Craig Winslow

Last February we attended the premiere Portland Winter Light Festival at OMSI. The outdoor celebration promised to illuminate “Portland’s waterfront through contemporary light-based art installations, engaging performance, and fun activities for all ages.”  We thought it’d be a mellow affair. Ya know, stroll around and look at some light installations.

Not quite. It was packed. Like sardine packed. So, if you go this year, get there right when the sun goes down! The installations are scattered around town but mostly at OMSI so be sure to take the Orange Line if you’re coming from the south.

Anyhow, one installation this year has us intrigued: Light Capsules by Craig Winslow.

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Wire Works, London, UK. Photo: Craig Winslow

As part of the Adobe Creative Residency, Winslow is bringing his international exhibit to Portland to present a series of ghost sign projections to reanimate Portland’s historic ghost signage. And, not just throwing a spotlight on a ghost sign. His projections are on each letter and lovingly restore long, lost signage (and history).  Here’s a list of the buildings in Portland he’s lighting up and here’s a video that illustrates how awesome the signs look:

Year-end review and introducing a podcast

Portland in the 1950s

Every blogger does a “best of” post every year. Except me. That’s because you have need a handful of posts to choose from and highlight. For 2016, I wrote …two. Yeah, that’s right. Two whopping posts.

It’s not that I don’t care about Oregon or Portland history any longer. I’ve been doing this blog for more than a decade. And I’m getting a little burned out on writing about the history. I’m more active on Twitter these days. And I’ve taken to Instagram – I love the architecture here and elsewhere and I share an unhealthy amount of pictures of buildings on Instagram.

Speaking of architecture, writing and researching for Lost Oregon the past 10 years had led me down the path of how cities grow, the history of buildings, how buildings are designed and built, and how existing buildings can be saved and re-purposed.

With that, I’ve launched a blog and a podcast called Built Blocks. I’m on episode seven and have interviewed a Los Angeles historian, Brian Libby from Portland Architecture, and most recently, Kevin Cavenaugh, the developer of the Fair-Haired Dumbbell. Give it a listen and subscribe!

I’ll be spending most of my time on Built Blocks than I will this blog. It ain’t a farewell  – not just quite yet.

That other gritty 1989 movie shot in Portland

I remember seeing a poster or an ad that featured Burt Reynolds lounging in his bachelor pad at the Portland Plaza building from a movie still a few years back and then forgot about it.

Wait, Burt Reynolds shot a film in Portland? Indeed he did. It’s called “Breaking In.” I’m ashamed I’ve never heard of it. (Or ammmmm I?)

This 1989 American crime comedy film was directed by Bill Forsyth, written by John Sayles (!?!!), and stars Burt Reynolds, Casey Siemaszko, and Lorraine Toussaint. The film is about professional small-time criminals.

Their big heist in the film? Oaks Amusement Park. Yep. Big-time money to be had at the park. In fact, there’s a scene where Reynolds and Siemaszko are scoping the place out and watching security guards load BAGS of money from the day’s profits. (Who knew?) This also means there’s lots of great shots of the park.

Anyhow, the film is OK. Not great, moderately watchable. Of course, I loved it for all of the Portland scenes and I’ve screen capped a couple (mostly from Oaks Park – which is one of my personal favorite places in Portland).

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Watch the film here:

A murder mystery at the Commonwealth Building? SOLVED!!

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UPDATE:

We heard from Jd Chandler, author of Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon and the blog (a favorite around here) Slabtown Chronicle. He dived in and did some research, found one death that might have been related (a suicide by an attorney that worked in the building that didn’t occur in the building in 1957), checked day-to-day news…and found nothing. 

Here’s what he wrote about the murder: 

I finished my search of 1955 and no murder occurred in the Equitable Building that year or at any other time I can find. This “murder mystery” is a myth, it never happened. Sorry.

So, there you have it. Cased closed. 

ORIGINAL POST

The Commonwealth Building (421 SW 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark Streets), was designed by architect Pietro Belluschi and built between 1944 and 1948. Originally known as the Equitable Building, the building is noted as one of the first glass box towers ever built, pioneering many modern features and predating the more famous Lever House in Manhattan.

Once upon a time, I worked in the building. It’s a favorite. It’s in great shape and really stands out as a mid-century masterpiece.

I remembered a conversation with the door guy (there’s a desk in the lobby and the door guy knew everyone’s name. EVERYONE’S NAME.) who mentioned that there was a murder on the 13th floor. A quick Google search revealed this:

“In 1955 a murder took place on the 13th floor apparently arising from a dispute between a prominent businessman and his wife over an affair.”

After that, the lead went cold and I found nothing. Years later and over the summer reader Nickole Cheron contacted me for more information. I had nothing to offer. She’d taken the research to the next level – Oregon Historical Society, Oregonian archives, local historians and also came up empty. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

So, do we have a mystery on our hands? Did it even happen? Help us both out – leave anything you know in the comments section.

Thanks!

Building renewal meets local food economy

Source: Ecotrust

Source: Ecotrust

If Portland’s Central Eastside is hot now, in the late 50s it was on fire. Literally.

Using newspapers and matches, a lone arsonist torched more than 20 warehouses and various properties throughout the area.

Thankfully, the firebug, Darrell Roesbery, a tire repairman, confessed to his landlady, telling her “I didn’t steal anything or kill anyone,” ensuring the buildings were empty first.

During his spree, Roesbery successfully burned down 816 SE Taylor, built in 1918 as a machine shop for an iron works company. Two weeks later Roesbery attempted to burn down the adjacent iron works foundry building at 820 SE Taylor. Thankfully the foundry fire was doused quickly and the building lives today as The Redd Foundry at 831 SE Salmon Street.

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I’m standing in the middle of the now-empty building with Ecotrust’s Sam Beebe. He’s showing me the Oregonian article about the arsonist that’s displayed on a wall, along with other articles and a map of the neighborhood.

Marked out in red on the map is the building that will soon see another architectural metamorphosis as The Redd on Salmon Street, a new project by Ecotrust.

The Redd, including the old foundry and a recently emptied marble and tile warehouse, will take up two city blocks and function as an urban ecosystem for the regional food economy. With the community’s help, it will help grow young businesses and connect them to Oregon’s bounty.

Ecotrust conducted a study on regional food production and infrastructure and discovered missing components: aggregation, warehousing (including freezing and cooling spaces), value-adding (like pickling, smoking) and distribution. This lack of services, determined the report, is hindering the local food economy.

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The Redd, hopes Ecotrust, will help amend this and assist Oregon’s small to mid-scale producers, fishers farmers and ranchers, not by acting as a farmers market, but as a place for producers to bring their raw materials, have them processed or stored, and then distributed.

Beebe offers an example: an onion grower brings in their onions, mashes them up as a dip and uses a packaging service at The Redd. The dip would then be distributed throughout the city via a delivery service. (B-Line, a bicycle-powered freight delivery company recently signed on.)

“Producers don’t want to drive around in their Ford F-150s delivering to restaurants. They can come in, drop off their product, and someone will support it on some scale,” said Beebe, including “labeling, legal and finance support and marketing.”

Connection to the past
As we walk through the huge, hulking space, Beebe points out sections that will see new life. The anchor of the space, an impressive 900-ton mechanical press, will remain and be cleaned up. In its heyday, it was the largest working stamp in the west and could bend, fold, and cut metal a ¼-inch thick.

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The big black wheel is the flywheel. The motor on top gets it spinning. It then engages the bigger gears, the bands engage, the clutch comes in, then it operates.

It was so loud that the warning sign nearby wasn’t to warn users about getting limbs severed, but to warn that its sounds could make them deaf.

“It apparently used to shake the block. And everybody would hear it when this thing was cranking,” said Beebe.

A mezzanine will be added in the old foundry – which will house food-oriented office services such as marketing and legal support. On the ground floor, sections will be built out to provide space for freezers, manufacturers (there’s talk of a noodle maker) and even a retail space.

The location of The Redd is spot on. We walk around the block and nearby are small-scale businesses, manufacturers and artisans. Across the street is Jim Dixon’s Real Good Food. The location is Ground Zero for a food revolution.

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As the Central Eastside rapidly changes, it’s refreshing to see existing buildings re-purposed for something as noble as local food production. If Ecotrust’s flagship location is any indication, The Redd will make the space thrive, incorporate good design and ultimately have a huge influence on the area.

As Jane Jacobs once said, “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”

The Redd illustrates that old buildings still have life and a purpose.

 

 

 

Posting from Instagram

Are you on Instagram? Let’s connect here. 

I’ll occasionally be posting photos from the Lost Oregon Instagram account to fill in between posts, start conversations and share photos that I’ve taken around Portland and Oregon, usually cool architecture, older buildings, industrial sites, etc. And I don’t plan on it becoming a pure photo site populated automatically with pics.

First pic up: Mid-century building, United Welding Supply, taken on MLK.

#modern #pdx

A post shared by John Chilson (@builtblocks) on

The Jennings Hotel: new life through Kickstarter?

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There’s a new Kickstarter campaign to renovate The Jennings, a wilted 100-year-old hotel in Joseph, Ore. And the individual behind the campaign, Greg Hennes, has some cool ideas to make the old hotel a destination spot for visitors.

The hotel has been a landmark in Joseph for more than 100 years. It’s sat vacant or underutilized for more than 30 of those years, a victim to some unfortunate 70s remodeling decisions.

Hennes, who runs Clutch Camera, a photo rental shop and studio here in Portland, purchased the old hotel and plans to use Kickstarter funds to transform the hotel, with the help from designers and craftspeople.

So far he has Lisa Garcia, interior designer and founder of Soñadora Handmade, Matt Pierce of Wood & Faulk, and Brendon Farrell, architect and designer of Keeps Limited Edition, in the wings to begin work.

The Kickstarter campaign will help renovate the building but also give these designers a budget to buy materials. None of the designers are being paid. “Many are friends or colleagues of mine and they’ll have complete creative control. I have my own aesthetic and each of these artists will bring their own aesthetic and make it more diverse,” says Hennes.

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Hennes isn’t wasting any time getting started – he’s already working on one of the rooms (when finished there will be eight rooms) and hopes each room, with each artist’s touch, will be different than his. If the Kickstarter campaign gets funded, artists will begin work at the hotel this summer. The first room will be ready in early July.

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Local tradespeople will be employed, mostly for specialized labor (i.e., plumbing, electrical) and Hennes will bring in local craftspeople, while artists will featured through an artist’s residency program.

And then there’s the retrofitting of the hotel.

Ceilings in each room at one point were dropped from 12 feet down to 8-and-a-half with a whole new structure with 2x6s and sheetrock. “I’ll have to go through and disassemble all of that and rebuild a new ceiling,” says Hennes.

Most of the windows are aluminum, single-paned and need replaced, as do the existing vinyl floor coverings and textured sheetrock. Exterior work will include brickwork and painting, both huge and very expensive projects “but worth it because it will give it a complete and utterly different feel.”

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Plans also call for balcony (“the only balcony in Joseph!”) access to be retrofitted into a collective kitchen/dining room that will adjoin the lobby.

So far the campaign is doing well – even descendants of the people who built the hotel have contributed – but with only mere days away, it still hasn’t met its goal.

If funded, the hotel will be a nice addition to Joseph and appears to be something the locals would welcome.

“People off the street who I’ve never met have said, ‘you’re the guy doing the hotel. Happy to see something happening with that place.’”

For more information and to contribute go here.

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