On a recent taping of Outlook Portland [along with the more well-spoken and clever Brian Libby from Portland Architecture and Cafe Unknown’s Dan Haneckow] host Rick Emerson asked me what my favorite Portland building was. Easy question: The Weatherly Building on 516 SE Morrison Street. My answer was somewhere along the lines of “elegant, handsome and a landmark for me when I first moved here from Boston.”
I was also asked what my favorite Portland building was that no longer existed. The answer wasn’t so easy. Being a recent newcomer to Portland [six years!] I really have no emotional attachment to Portland’s architecture. I don’t have memories of hanging out at that one bar that’s no longer there or going shopping at some long-lost store with my parents when I was a kid like long-timers do.
So, my answer wasn’t as concrete as had hoped. I chose Hotel Portland. Built in 1890 and leveled in 1951 for a parking lot [and later Pioneer Courthouse Square so I guess that ultimately makes it a win?] the building was one of the first I became aware of that was unceremoniously mowed down in Portland. A perfectly usable building. It happens a lot here in Portland [enthusiastically starting with urban redevelopment in the 1950s] and it’s ultimately changing the landscape. How many architecturally significant building have met their demise since I’ve moved here? I’ve lost count.
I’m always stymied when a building is demolished. Why tear it down? I’m not naive to think that every building should be saved – and maybe there’s a good reason for demolition, such as crumbling infrastructure, irreversible repairs, or it’s full of lead and asbestos – but simply removing a perfectly sound building because some developer has a woody for a new design concept [and one that will be out of fashion in 20 years, hell, five years – I can spot a 2004 project pretty easily] has to have some sort of checks and balances with the city. I certainly don’t have an answer and don’t know the wonkiness behind what makes Portland officials tick and how projects get pushed through [cough neon rose cough].
Which brings us [finally] to the Leftbank project on Broadway. Get this: the developers took an existing [and historically significant space] and beautifully renovated it into a completely usable space.
Originally known as the Hazelwood Building [see above photo], designed and built by architect A.E. Doyle in 1923, the building has a fascinating and notorious history. Once housing a restaurant, creamery, candy manufacturer, the building then morphed into a restaurant, beer hall, stood vacant, and most recently housed manufacturing companies. But the most infamous tenant was the Dude Ranch in the 1940s—ground zero for Portland’s jazz scene in the 1940s that attracted local talent and some heavy national acts such as Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole and a young Thelonious Monk.
Wow, how lame [and really lazy] is quoting yourself from another source? Very, lame.
Anyhow, I guess my point is that older buildings have a place, especially in the tight Portland land market. Tearing down perfectly fine structures so a developer can build “sustainable” condos is ridiculous. That’s why when a project such as Leftbank launches and succeeds it should be applauded and encouraged.