New Spaces, Old Places is an occasional look at adaptive reuse projects around Oregon and beyond.
Also known as the Emmett Building in Portland’s Central Eastside, the five-story building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by McNaughton & Raymond of Portland and built in 1915, it was added to the register in 1990.
Here’s what the Oregonian had to say about it in its July 1915 issue:
The second floor, reached by a fireproof viaduct from Burnside street will contain the offices, salesmen’s quarters, rest rooms and space for sample display and the balance of the building will be given up to general paper storage.
Total cost: $90,000.
If you’ve been in Portland for any amount of time, you’ll know this building better as the Towne Storage building. Up until a few years back, it was low-rent space for local artists. In 2016, it was retrofitted to include:
seismic strengthening, window sash replacement and refurbishment, brick and stone restoration, a new enhanced exterior entry and main lobby, restoration of the iconic steel water tower, and the addition of a new 8,750 SF Penthouse set-back on the roof with two exterior landscaped decks.
Once upon a time I wrote for Neighborhood Notes, a cool neighborhood, community-focused digital publication based in Portland. The now-defunct site went offline a couple of years ago but the editors have graciously let me repost a couple of the posts I wrote. Sure, the info is more than 10 years old. I’ve done my best to update posts but have pretty much left them untouched.
If this same article on historic movie theaters in Portland was written a mere 20 years ago, it would have been a completely different piece. Many smaller theaters thriving at the dawn of the 1990s closed, converted or were simply bulldozed. With the proliferation of mega-mall theaters, these family owned theaters, like many small, mom-and-pop shops, are dropping like flies.
In Portland, we’re lucky to have a solid core of neighborhood theaters that cater to families, film buffs, beer drinkers and the occasional moviegoer. Many, once beyond disrepair, screening porn or used as nameless storefronts, have risen from near-death and have even helped spark the revitalization of neighborhoods. Historical preservation meets beer, pizza and movies? That’s a win-win. Here’s a roundup of theaters to grab a cold one and enjoy a film.
Laurelhurst Theater The Laurelhurst owners have managed to keep the cool, indy vibe to the theater while adding more comfortable space and more screens, meaning you get to choose from a healthy mix of, say, a recent-run flick, ’40s noir, ’70s slasher or kid’s movie—all on the same day if you wish. (Update: They went first-run in 2018.)
Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, soda, water Food: Pizza and snacks Cool fact: The ginormous, beautiful, jaw-dropping neon sign.
Bagdad Theater & Pub Do you remember the first time you took a sip of a cold beer in a movie theater (no, that can of smuggled in, lukewarm Milwaukee’s Best doesn’t count) and thought “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Wonderful Middle East-inspired architecture inside and out, the Bagdad was built in the 1920s by Universal, is run by the McMenamin empire, shows mostly films but also hosts events.
Drinks: McMenamin’s beer (duh) on tap, wine, soda, water Food: Pizza, snacks Cool fact: Purportedly haunted by numerous ghosts from different eras.
Cinema 21 I will never forget the stunned silence of a packed house when the end credits rolled for The Battle of Algiers when it screened at Cinema 21 a few years ago. Showcasing a healthy selection of independent, foreign, classics and repeated screenings of cult-favorite, The Room, Cinema 21 last year began selling beer and wine on premise.
Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, soda, water Food: Standard, popcorn, candy Cool fact: Originally called the State Theater in the 1920s when it was built, its sign boasts a small—but very charming—neon display.
Academy Theater The story is familiar: theater gets built, gets remodeled, stops showing films, turns into a grindhouse, then gets leveled. The Academy Theater, built in the late 1940s, has gone through a wonderful metamorphosis since falling into disrepair while avoiding the wrecking ball. And not only does it show films, it’s helped grow a community. And this being Portland, the theater offers babysitting while parents can nosh on pizza and sip a beer. Top THAT, Regal.
Drinks: Beer on tap, wine, water, soda Food: Flying Pie Pizza, healthy alternatives such as fruit, salads and sushi Cool fact: The renovation painstakingly re-created the metallic two-story dome and 1940s-style round lobby.
Roseway Theater Like the Academy, the Roseway had seen better days until it was completely renovated a couple years ago. Built in 1925 with seating for 600, and like many theaters after the advent of TV, it had its space reduced and was on a slow downward spiral of its life. It has been lovingly restored, its wonderful neon rose on the marque is a neighborhood highlight, and it still has that cool vintage feel but the new space also offers digital picture and sound system, letting the theater screen movies in 3D.
Drinks: water, soda, coffee Food: Standard, popcorn, candy Cool fact: Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore (ask your parents) celebrated his 71st birthday at the Roseway in 1985.
Hollywood Theatre Probably the most well-known and ornate theater in Portland, and thanks to the unrelenting efforts of owners and volunteers, the old palace has managed to turn the corner, stay in shape and keep running. Built in 1926, and according to the Oregon Historical Society, designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the Hollywood was at the time it was built, one of the largest theaters in Oregon. Showcasing independent films as well as local filmmakers, the theater also hosts events such as the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It’s more than a movie theater, it’s a living historical monument as well as filmmaker incubator.
Drinks: Soda, water Food: Standard, popcorn, candy Cool fact: Was once the exclusive Oregon home of Cinerama, a popular 1950s widescreen process.
Moreland Theater This is another gem of a theater that has managed to stay intact, keep the original name and continue to screen first-run flicks. The theater featured live acts in the ’20s when it opened then switched to movies and hasn’t looked back. The ownership is wonderful and the place has a legit small-town vibe to it. Proof? One evening we bought tickets for a later show, grabbed a beer at a nearby bar, lost our tickets, came back, but were admitted anyway—since the employee who sold us the tickets remembered us.
Drinks: Soda, water Food: Standard, popcorn, candy Cool fact: Once housed an organ to accompany silent films and acts.
Cinemagic This micro theater tucked between a couple of businesses on Hawthorne is easy to miss if you drive—or even bike—by it every day. But at night, Cinemagic puts on quite the neon show with a magnificent sign. Built in the teens, making it one of the older surviving theaters in Portland, Cinemagic has gone through many name changes through the years. It also has the reputation as having the most uncomfortable seats in town. Still, prices are cheap, the movies are usually almost first run and if you live nearby you can always quench your thirst at a couple of nearby bars.
Drinks: Soda, water Food: Standard, popcorn, candy Cool fact: A great vantage point to admire the neon sign at night is across the street on a little concrete island next to the vintage shop.
Chad Casady recalls having breakfast with his wife, Melissa, and neighbors, throwing ideas back and forth, and the abandoned church around the corner came up in conversation. One of the ideas: turn the church into a taphouse.
So, after breakfast that day, the Casadys and neighbors walked over to the church and found the front door wide opened. “We helped ourselves, took a tour of the place, and it was a disaster,” says Casady. “The inside was not well kept, the whole thing needed to be gutted, the foundation looked pretty bad. Posts and beams were rotten. It looked like it needed some TLC.”
Built in 1891, the 127-year-old church, near Salem, was obviously neglected and that’s when most people would’ve walked away. In fact, it’s seen numerous tenants during the previous decades, with the last tenant living in the basement.
Casady, though, started the reconstruction process. At the beginning of 2015, he started research on the building, then researched construction costs associated with renovating it. He brought in an inspector, a foundation expert to take a look at the foundation and structure, and then a general contractor to map out what it was going to take. Then it was off to the City of Turner.
The City was exceptionally helpful, says Casady, but a maybe bit cynical at first. “When I came in, the city administrator said, “You know how many people have come in, just like you with some grand dream for this building?’ and I said, ‘I’m not in the business of dreaming, I’m business execution here, so if you want to help out, I’m interested in figuring out what it takes to get from step A to step B,’” says Casady.
From there, he continues to work with the city and county numerous times before putting in an offer. And then, even more research.
Demographics, speaking with local business owners about the market, the future of the city, and where they think the city is going. In fact, Turner is starting to see some changes, like a new community-based café that’s been successful. “It’s proving that the community is ready for something cooler than a mill,” says Casady.
So, how does someone like Casady, who has a background in tech (he’s VP of IT at Performance Health Technology in Salem) and no construction experience retrofit a hundred-plus-year-old building?
“I really didn’t understand how a lot of the systems worked, you know as far as like putting contracts together, getting approvals and stuff. I’ve never done a construction project. I was involved in building my own house, but not like this,” he says.
The key to success he believes is having a strong partner (Casady credits his wife Melissa as his true partner), hiring the right contractor, and if you can swing it, someone you know and trust. An old acquaintance, Ryan Records, of Records Construction has been his partner throughout the retrofit, as well as a team of solid subs to help guide the project.
The end game, of course, is to have a community gathering place, serve some local beers (they’re installing a 32-tap system with local beers from Salem including Gilgamesh, Salem Ale Works, Vagabond, and Santiam) as well as other Oregon and west coast beers.
But it’s also a bit more. Casady wanted a taproom, called Angel’s Share Barrel House (“Angel’s share” is the portion of alcohol that’s lost to evaporation with aged spirits—”if you want tasty booze, you’ve got to pay the Angels their share,” Casady says), and a place to hang out, but also help build a stronger community. With his own money funding the retrofit he believes the taproom will be more than a beer place.
“To bring something back that has been sitting there for decades, and people have just complained about this building and no one was doing anything about it. This is such an important piece of history for the community and we need to do something with it,” he adds.
Crowdfunding for retrofitting local buildings is one intriguing idea. I like it for a couple of reasons: One, the return is making your own neighborhood better or more livable and two the return is pretty immediate. You invest in a building around the corner, you can see the work being done daily. I also like it because you don’t have to invest handfuls of cash—for a crowdfunding site like NextSeed, the minimum is $100. Throw in an adaptive reuse component and it sounds even more appealing.
This brings us to a local project in Portland (in Woodstock): the Ye Olde Towne Crier (you might know it better as Grandma’s, copious smoking, and karaoke). Here’s the scoop: Tacee Webb, who has a 19 year career in retail, real estate and retail development, is retrofitting the space and naming it (actually going back to its original name) Ye Olde Towne Crier. The goal is to retrofit it “as a multi-level ode to Portland’s past and its current residents, a place to chat and dine among one another and enjoy the city’s brightest talent.”
So, why NextSeed? According to their website, “investing isn’t just for Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Everyone can now access exclusive investment opportunities and build a financial portfolio with local businesses.” The company focuses on helping consumer-facing, brick-and-mortar businesses in the food and beverage, health and wellness, fitness, hospitality and co-working industries.
And, according to Webb, by using NextSeed, “the risk is being absorbed so you don’t have to lose your house. It’s a higher risk for start-ups; this lets them get investors in a less riskier way.”
The project currently has raised $13,900 by 30 investors.
Webb hopes the Towne Crier will become a community gathering and destination spot as well as a local hangout for students of the Reed College neighborhood and locals from the Creston-Kenilworth community. The attached Treasury Cafe and Lounge will provide morning-evening service. Nighttime entertainment will include live music and whisky tastings featuring local musicians and artisans. Preeminent spirits expert Stuart Ramsay will oversee curation of the bar program.
“There are so many stories and it feels like a patchwork quilt that’s perfect for a community project,” says Webb. “There are many former customers in their 60s and 70s that have some great stories and we think it will help provide a sense of a place for them.”
The new space will also be a sort of repository for lost Portland restaurant artifacts: The stained glass windows are from Embers, the vintage neon Lounge sign (and its HVAC system) comes from The Overlook, while chandeliers from Der Rheinlander will grace the ceiling.
If you’re interested in helping fund the project (or any project), NextSeed provides some pretty decent details, from key terms, location analysis, and revenue sharing summary.
If you’re interested in retrofitting an old building in your own neighborhood, NextSeed is a good start. It doesn’t actually finance real estate purchases (Webb owns the building; she purchased it in 2017) but it can help you get on the path, and you’re going to need to be nailed down with your financials and have some semblance of a business plan (this is real estate, not a widget you’re working on).
Parting advice from Webb: “Have a strong team and partners. I’m not a restaurateur but my partner is. That’s been so helpful.”
I heard that phrase, repeated, as I was, well, shooting a picture of a building on NE Alberta last Saturday with my daughter. This time of the year is perfect for shooting pics of buildings. The leaves are gone, revealing structures, details, hidden gems that are usually camouflaged behind trees. (Tip: If you take a lot of pictures of architecture and people’s homes, it really helps to have a kid with you.)
So, there we were, strolling down a drizzly Alberta, after a quick stop in Salt & Straw.
When I heard the gentleman say his words, coming at me from the lot across the street, I immediately put down my phone and started to stutter something about “history, architecture Instagram something something.” Thankfully, he had a faint smile on his face, then asked “Why would you want to take a picture of that old thing?”
Then he started telling me the history of his building. His folks bought it in the 1960s. He purchased it from them in 1983 and has been there since then. He says it needs a paint job (well, yeah) but he’s also working on the interior. He also mentioned the previous owners, it was various shops on the bottom, with residents on top. The story sounded familiar. I had to Google the address later. And indeed, I found this from Vintage Portland:
So, now, here we are in 2018. The owner points around the neighborhood and shows me the changes. You can see the familiar pink and plywood sheathing of new taller, angled structures from the distance, surrounding the neighborhood.
He looks at my daughter eating her ice cream.
“Salt & Straw?”
“I smell that place all day long. Plus, the ice cream is too expensive for my tastes.”
Update 6/14/18: The Skulason home is for sale at $1.6 million. Marketing materials state clearly, as required: The house could be demolished. Could be. Hopefully not. Watching this one.
If you’ve never read Ralph Friedman’s books, get to it. His first self-published (before it was called DIY) book, Oregon For the Curious, cost $1.95 in 1965 and sold thousands of copies. If roadside places he covered back then were lost or almost lost, you can be sure that the hand-drawn maps he used and places he covered have long been paved over. His books are a joy, a tad esoteric, but primers for all kinds of cool and goofy Oregon history—and they’re pretty much at every used bookstore across Oregon.
His style wasn’t flowery; it was practical and informative. For instance, here’s his take on downtown Milwaukie from another, more current, book he wrote:
Visitors to Milwaukie sometimes ask for a walking tour brochure but there isn’t any; not that much of interest to see. Still, town has a few encouraging footnotes.
Yet, it’s kind of, well, true. At least back then when the book was penned. Until now, Milwaukie had a scorched earth policy with its historic buildings. The darling Oaks Pioneer Church in downtown Milwaukie? Moved, by barge, to Sellwood, where it’s loved and used for all kinds of events. (That one still hurts.)
However, in its defense, much of Main Street is still intact with shops and restaurants. And digging deeper, I’d have to start to disagree with Friedman on the lack of interest comment. If you dig a little deeper you’ll find all kinds of cool things, like a hidden lake park, an old grist mill, and the former site of Crystal Lake Park—a former dance hall, zoo and amusement park—demolished in the 50s for an apartment complex called, you guessed it, Crystal Lake.
Nope, says reader Rhonda Ihrig:
My grandparents owned the property from the 40’s through the late 70’s. I lived there from about 1959-1974 with my grandmother. It was sold shortly after and then the apartments were built. My grandfather built a log church in 1945-46, but he passed away and my grandmother pastored the church till it was sold. Their names were Rev. Maurice & Edna Brock.
Milwaukie is a mix of “former locations” and some still standing. But, buried and hidden between 1950s tract homes, you can still find a gem.
Like the Bardi Skulason home. Skulason’s home has been described as a fine country home, where he “devoted his leisure to the growing of fruit and flowers.” It’s also a pretty nice looking piece of architecture, described accurately as Colonial Revival, built in 1913.
Snuggled behind Providence Milwaukie Hospital, the homes sits, safe from developers and probably curious seekers like you and me. It does represent, however, some of the history that still exists in Milwaukie and its next-door neighbors, Oak Grove, hanging on as testaments that history is everywhere, and like Friedman and his books, you just need to be more curious and dig a little deeper.
I’ve been spending more and more time in the Central Eastside district. Each Wednesday I hop on at the end/beginning of the Orange Line and take the 20 minute ride in for a weekly gig I have with a content marketing agency. During lunch, I wander around and discover something new each time. Boxing gym? Check. Old restaurant storefront that looks like it comes from a noir flick? Check. Brick. Ohhhh, yeah.
I wrote about the area back in 2010 for Neighborhood Notes (now offline) and had this to say:
With newer businesses moving in, a strong sense of community among merchants, the addition of the Portland Streetcar, and after years of stops and starts, the area is definitely evolving and moving ahead full throttle but thankfully keeping its original, industrial history and soul intact.
I guess you could write the same thing today. At the time of the post, residential housing was forbidden to be built (I’m talking mostly the area around Water Avenue and a few blocks east). I wonder of that’s still the case.
Meeting someone for coffee recently, I walked down SE 3rd from the 500s down to the single digits at f&b and was blown away by the change. I’d only seen the Yard from a distance but up close? It’s huge. Like towering.
In 2010, I don’t think I would’ve guessed that block would be transformed so much.
Anyhow, the Central Eastside is probably my favorite place in Portland. It *still* has the grit, the produce heritage, the lack of sidewalks (stay out of the way of the delivery trucks — this is their territory). There’s now more places to eat and drink, and work. I’ll be writing more about this part of Portland that’s has undergone some huge changes and is going to see even more during the next few years.
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.
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: