Oregon Design and Architecture Portland History

Burger King on Burnside, 1978

Surely you’ve passed the boarded up Burger King on Burnside. The preservationists don’t care [no one saves buildings built in 1977 – it’s either too soon or they’re not worth saving], it’s been on the market and off the market, and has acted as the “official eyesore” for the area for quite some time now.

But, back in 1978, it was included in the Portland Chapter American Institute of Architects’ Design Awards Program.

Seriously? A design award for a Burger King? That’s a real whopper [cough].

You be the judge:

"The atmosphere was to be such that a man in a coat and tie would feel as comfortable as a student."
"What was needed was a building that reflect the plaza-like nature of the downtown area."
"What was needed was a building that would reflect the plaza-like nature of the downtown area."

The cost was $64.00 per square feet and was completed in December 1977.

So, what the heck happened? Not enough traffic? Too much riff-raff? Just out of the reach of the downtown area?

People weren’t having it their way?

And now it sits, abandoned. Click on the image for the larger size, with a not-so-hidden message:

I have an idea: the “BK78 Condominium Project.”

Updated info 8/25/08: Commenter Curt Schulz’s lurid tale deserves a place in the post!

Extra bonus bad vibe: a transient was crushed to death in the hydraulic trash compactor in the late 80’s. Supposedly, the man crawled in looking for thrown-away food (or possible just a place to sleep it off) when an employee threw a bag of garbage on top of him and flipped the switch. Although the homeless man’s cries were heard almost immediately, it was too late……

[Current image courtesy of Cyclotram. Be sure to read his post, How to walk the Ross Island Bridge and not die, if you’re lucky. Here’s a link to his Flickr site with some great local snaps as well.]

UPDATE (9/16/10): The Burger King has been demolished. Brian Libby’s Portland Architecture, Peter Carlin at the Oregonian and Sarah Mirk at the Portland Mercury all wrote great pieces about it and the whopper shenanigans that went on there.

26 replies on “Burger King on Burnside, 1978”

I seem to think it was 2002-2003 that they closed it. The owner had two or three other stores that have been redeveloped.

As for why it went out of business… it was constantly surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes. No one wanted to go there. The place ended up having a 24hr security guard for the last several years it was opened.

I would like to know what is holding up the sale of that land. According to what I’m finding, they want $2.2 million dollars for it. Maybe that has something to do with it, as I do not know what land goes for in that area.

I used to frequent that BK when I was in sales in downtown PDX from 93′ to about 96′, and finally just went through the drivethrough… and yes, if any factors played a part in its closing, it was the homeless/prostitute/drug dealer/meth head/”east siders” that brought the business down.
The building itself is actually pretty big… with a few parking spots out back.
It seems it would be a perfect spot for a high-traffic burger joint… however, the Helen Swindel projects across the street don’t help!
THEN, they build a low-income housing project right next door, i’m sure THAT helped and that building is as butt-ugly as you can get… and to think, they have a great address right on Burnside too, the 747 Building? jeez, Portland is stupid.

Actually, that’s not technically a low-income housing project. It’s temporary housing for recovering addicts. I admit from a neighborhood-desirability standpoint it’s pretty much the same thing, though.

“east siders”? What is the implication there? It strikes me as offensive and ignorant stereotyping. Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood.

I ate there dozens of times in the 1990’s. And by “ate there”, I mean that I dashed through the drive thru lane for a couple of quick Whoppers and a Coke because there was no way I was getting out of the car and walking the gauntlet of drug dealers, prostitutes etc that constantly surrounded the place.

What an indictment of Portland Chapter American Institute of Architects. These are the arbitors of Portland’s architectural design?

I think it’s kind of cool looking. Very utilitarian and designed for the area, instead of plopping down another playschool looking bk.

I can give the AIA a break. Back then Portland was a much smaller town. Even the opening of a fast-food joint was a big deal, and the fact that it was slightly different from other fast-food restaurants was, sadly, architecturally significant at that time.

The local Burger King franchisee went belly up back in 2003 or so, and most of the chain was turned over to the parent company. This location, along with a few others, was closed due to low sales and/or high operating costs. This locations need for a 24 hour security guard certainly didn’t help the situation any, but a collision of corporate and government policies are what really killed off this store.

The new corporate owners of Burger King had just passed a mandate requiring all of its US stores to remodel within 5 years. All stores are now required to share a common look and to have a common kitchen layout. Remodeling the Burnside store to meet these requirements would have been prohibitively expensive and would have required a full rebuild. Many of these mandated changes would have made it next to impossible to get through the City’s design review process that is now requierd for such a location in the central city.

With the value of the land now worth so much more than the buildings on top of it, the corporate owners decided to cut their losses, close the store, and put the land up for sale.

What may be most astouding about the “BK of Doom” is that sitting at Burnside and Broadway, it’s located precisely at “Ground Zero” for downtown- the crossroads for eveything (even if it’s on the edge of what used to be the slummier side of Oldtown).

Even when this franchise was a going concern, it always had a dangerous vibe that didn’t encourage anyone to linger. I always felt like I was going to get a homemade shiv between my ribs along with my Whopper.

Extra bonus bad vibe: a transient was crushed to death in the hydraulic trash compactor in the late 80’s. Supposedly, the man crawled in looking for thrown-away food (or possible just a place to sleep it off) when an employee threw a bag of garbage on top of him and flipped the switch. Although the homeless man’s cries were heard almost immediately, it was too late……

Ha Ha!
We used to have an old Buick Le Sabre, 1972, 4 door. My mother got stuck in the drive-through in the early 80’s. I was just a kid, but it was embarrassing. We couldn’t get out until 3 other cars backed out of the lane. That car was my first ride, after graduating high school. Man that car had a big back seat….

Later in life, sometime in the early nineties, I met some guy there to buy a stun gun. My girlfriend at the time worked late, and I was worried about her being out. I answered an ad in the Boregonian, and the seller met me at that Burger King. Funny.

I’m going to be the lone wolf here, and say that the architecture of this particular BK isn’t an eyesore. In fact, it looks like something that would fit into SW Portland’s Mountain Park area.

Any long term resident of Portland will tell you that Burnside gets rather hairy at night. Driving to that BK can be tough, and the unsavory folk in the area makes me go for burgers somewhere else.

As an interesting aside, this Burger King comes up as haunted if you google portland haunted places! I was looking for some scary stuff to check out and this ghetto-ass boarded up BK that I’ve passed 100’s of times comes up.. HUH!? Sounds like the ghost of that poor old bum still wanders the place looking for half-eaten burgers…

Plenty of ex-Powell’s employees will note they DID eat at this BK from time to time. Best people watching during the $1 Whopper sales.

Too unpleasant to hang out and eat there? Try being employed there. I worked there one summer (the summer this store got a security guard, which really helped) and it was pretty hairy. Great education in real life for a teen, I must say. Working the register left you open to threats, propositions, lost international tourists with travellers’ checks, crazy people, and shifty money-changers.

People were always trying to reach in and grab the till drawer at the drive-through–one of my coworkers kept a section of broomhandle at that station so she could beat them on the arm. I just slammed the window as hard as I could. I also remember a coworker defending herself with a pot of hot coffee (yikes).

Addicts would nod off in the back dining area, and homeless would sleep there as well (most of the dining room, and the bathrooms, were completely out of the line of sight of the front counter–how stupid a design is that?!).

I had to clean the bathrooms sometimes and it was a real horror show. The mirrors were broken quite often, and there would be urine-soaked clothes laying around, and razor stubble from street guys trying to keep clean in there. Needles, flooding, you name it.

We used to slip the “waste” (food that had been sitting longer for X number of minutes) to the homeless. The managers forbad us to give it to those in need, so there was an extra incentive to do it. That place is loaded with bad karma.

I have a few nice memories of walking through downtown PDX at dawn, when the streets are empty and it feels like a movie backlot (a little too fresh and clean, and the buildings and street blocks are a little small). And I loved cracking flat after flat of eggs every morning to make the breakfast sandwiches. (We poured a whole bucket of egg on the grill and cut it into little squares.) It was a great way to practice one-handed egg-cracking; I could even do 2 eggs in one hand for a total of 4 at a time. And that was just in one summer! Imagine if I’d been there longer…uh, on second thought, no thanks.

Still, I can’t figure out why the property hasn’t sold. There’s been so much development all around it, even on the same block. Maybe not merely haunted, but cursed!

It used to be the place to go after inspection and before the Starlight Parade if you were a marching band kid in the early- to -mid-’90s. Of course, the overabundance of teenagers in tin-soldier uniforms would have temporarily crowded out the less savory influences.

I remember when this place opened!!Fall of Senior year at Benson.We’d ride the bus downtown and go to the BK…at the time, it was pretty cool.Spacious, clean and great spot to sit outside and people watch when the weather was nice.Was fairly safe for the first few years but when all the transients came due to the Rajhneesh bus ticket scams, the area went to hell.Curious how the city lets this dump stay boarded up all these years; apparently Portland is no longer ‘the City that works!’There needs to be some serious street cleaning/delicing in this area and take back a once great corner of the city…and truly shame on the AIA!!lol…

they are knocking the old bk (burger king) in downtown portland down to building a foot care clinic that is ran by ccc(city cental comcern). It was haunted by souls of homeless, drug users, prostitutes, and a secuity officer.


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