Use, use & re-use: Leftbank Building

LB
Photo of the Hazelwood Building, courtesy of Leftbank.

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.

I wrote about Leftbank for Neighborhood Notes a couple month’s back, [illustrated by Kenneth Aaron‘s wonderful photographs] and here’s a blurb:

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.

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5 thoughts on “Use, use & re-use: Leftbank Building

  1. Nice post. I agree that from what I’ve seen, they’ve done a great job with Leftbank. Do you have any good vintage photos of the Weatherly Building?
    Also, why not try to compile a list here of “how many architecturally significant building have met their demise” in Portland?

  2. One thing I’ve seen a few times in Seattle is the removal of basically the whole building except the facade, and then rebuilding around it. It seems to be mostly in cases where they want to put in something higher-rise than was there previously.

  3. JulieD…They do that in Colorado in the “historic” gambling towns. Only the building fronts are old, and it’s all casino on the back side. That practice earned Central City near last place in a travel magazine ranking of historic cities to visit…not near the bottom of the best, but near the bottom of the worst.

  4. Our disposable culture in America easily crosses over from Water bottles to buildings. How old does something have to be before you consider it worth keeping for posterity sake?
    I collect vintage clothing. Just yesterday I was in a thrift store looking at costumes. I found a dress that I knew immediately was 90 years old. Sewn in the 1910’s. It has a few moth holes since it was made of wool, but other than that it was structurally VERY sound. I bought it for $4.99, much less than it’s historical worth. Back in the 1910’s they new to treat their belongings with care so they would last.

    Today, who would treat thier Gap jeans with care so they would last more than 2 years. Let alone a building to last more than 20.

  5. Re: the Weatherly building. I don’t know if you know this but there was once a movie palace attached to it called the Oriental Theater. The year that I graduated from high school (1967) the civic auditorium was being renovated. So we weren’t able to follow the tradition of graduating there that year. Instead we held our graduation in the Oriental. It was dark and hot and somewhat gothic. I loved it. They tore it down in the ’70’s.

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