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.
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.
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.
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.
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.