I remember seeing a poster or an ad that featured Burt Reynolds lounging in his bachelor pad at the Portland Plaza building from a movie still a few years back and then forgot about it.
Wait, Burt Reynolds shot a film in Portland? Indeed he did. It’s called “Breaking In.” I’m ashamed I’ve never heard of it. (Or ammmmm I?)
This 1989 American crime comedy film was directed by Bill Forsyth, written by John Sayles (!?!!), and stars Burt Reynolds, Casey Siemaszko, and Lorraine Toussaint. The film is about professional small-time criminals.
Their big heist in the film? Oaks Amusement Park. Yep. Big-time money to be had at the park. In fact, there’s a scene where Reynolds and Siemaszko are scoping the place out and watching security guards load BAGS of money from the day’s profits. (Who knew?) This also means there’s lots of great shots of the park.
Anyhow, the film is OK. Not great, moderately watchable. Of course, I loved it for all of the Portland scenes and I’ve screen capped a couple (mostly from Oaks Park – which is one of my personal favorite places in Portland).
We heard from Jd Chandler, author of Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon and the blog (a favorite around here) Slabtown Chronicle. He dived in and did some research, found one death that might have been related (a suicide by an attorney that worked in the building that didn’t occur in the building in 1957), checked day-to-day news…and found nothing.
Here’s what he wrote about the murder:
I finished my search of 1955 and no murder occurred in the Equitable Building that year or at any other time I can find. This “murder mystery” is a myth, it never happened. Sorry.
So, there you have it. Cased closed.
The Commonwealth Building (421 SW 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark Streets), was designed by architect Pietro Belluschi and built between 1944 and 1948. Originally known as the Equitable Building, the building is noted as one of the first glass box towers ever built, pioneering many modern features and predating the more famous Lever House in Manhattan.
Once upon a time, I worked in the building. It’s a favorite. It’s in great shape and really stands out as a mid-century masterpiece.
I remembered a conversation with the door guy (there’s a desk in the lobby and the door guy knew everyone’s name. EVERYONE’S NAME.) who mentioned that there was a murder on the 13th floor. A quick Google search revealed this:
“In 1955 a murder took place on the 13th floor apparently arising from a dispute between a prominent businessman and his wife over an affair.”
After that, the lead went cold and I found nothing. Years later and over the summer reader Nickole Cheron contacted me for more information. I had nothing to offer. She’d taken the research to the next level – Oregon Historical Society, Oregonian archives, local historians and also came up empty. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.
So, do we have a mystery on our hands? Did it even happen? Help us both out – leave anything you know in the comments section.
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.
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.
There’s a new Kickstarter campaign to renovate The Jennings, a wilted 100-year-old hotel in Joseph, Ore. And the individual behind the campaign, Greg Hennes, has some cool ideas to make the old hotel a destination spot for visitors.
The hotel has been a landmark in Joseph for more than 100 years. It’s sat vacant or underutilized for more than 30 of those years, a victim to some unfortunate 70s remodeling decisions.
Hennes, who runs Clutch Camera, a photo rental shop and studio here in Portland, purchased the old hotel and plans to use Kickstarter funds to transform the hotel, with the help from designers and craftspeople.
The Kickstarter campaign will help renovate the building but also give these designers a budget to buy materials. None of the designers are being paid. “Many are friends or colleagues of mine and they’ll have complete creative control. I have my own aesthetic and each of these artists will bring their own aesthetic and make it more diverse,” says Hennes.
Hennes isn’t wasting any time getting started – he’s already working on one of the rooms (when finished there will be eight rooms) and hopes each room, with each artist’s touch, will be different than his. If the Kickstarter campaign gets funded, artists will begin work at the hotel this summer. The first room will be ready in early July.
Local tradespeople will be employed, mostly for specialized labor (i.e., plumbing, electrical) and Hennes will bring in local craftspeople, while artists will featured through an artist’s residency program.
And then there’s the retrofitting of the hotel.
Ceilings in each room at one point were dropped from 12 feet down to 8-and-a-half with a whole new structure with 2x6s and sheetrock. “I’ll have to go through and disassemble all of that and rebuild a new ceiling,” says Hennes.
Most of the windows are aluminum, single-paned and need replaced, as do the existing vinyl floor coverings and textured sheetrock. Exterior work will include brickwork and painting, both huge and very expensive projects “but worth it because it will give it a complete and utterly different feel.”
Plans also call for balcony (“the only balcony in Joseph!”) access to be retrofitted into a collective kitchen/dining room that will adjoin the lobby.
So far the campaign is doing well – even descendants of the people who built the hotel have contributed – but with only mere days away, it still hasn’t met its goal.
If funded, the hotel will be a nice addition to Joseph and appears to be something the locals would welcome.
“People off the street who I’ve never met have said, ‘you’re the guy doing the hotel. Happy to see something happening with that place.’”
Been a bit quiet around here lately. I’ve been writing about beer and new breweries at The New School and doing lots of traveling for work (DC! NYC! Denver! Baltimore! San Francisco! Boston!). I’ve got topics and ideas I’m working on coming soon.
In the meantime, check out this cool map overlay of Portland – compare 1852 to 2015. It’s fun stuff! Check out the link:
Portland Mall in 1982 on 6th Ave next to Meier & Frank. Source: Wikipedia
When the Portland Bus Mall was unveiled in 1976 along SW 5th and SW 6th streets, shelters that graced the mall were some of the most technically advanced for its time and included amenities such as stylish (remember: 1970s) smoked glass and bronze design, pay phones, and a first-of-its kind monitor system that alerted passengers to arrival times of busses.
When the new mall was unveiled in 2009, the 70s architecture was ripped out and recycled as building materials by the project’s contractor. Sure, one can still see the outline of the old, oval shelters etched into the sidewalks, and the oh-so-70s planters along SW 5th and 6th. But for the most part, the new mall has transformed the streetscape with new shelters, bus trackers and better access to the storefronts along the street. The improvements were badly needed and most Portlanders at the time weren’t exactly bemoaning the loss of the old mall.
“Over the 25 years of the mall, the shelters were showing wear and tear and we just couldn’t maintain them,” says Bob Hastings, TriMet’s architect, who manages the architecture and urban design issues for light rail projects.
Thus began the retrofit of the bus mall.
Called the Mall Revitalization Project, it was “aimed to improve and repair the buildings and businesses along SW 5th and 6th to help increase their participation in the life of downtown,” says Hastings.
However, there is another holdout to our old bus mall. If you’ve recently strolled downtown along the mall on SW 5th, you’ve probably noticed the lone, 1970s surviving bus shelter and the coffee shop inside of it. Located near the former Congress Hotel (demolished in 1980) Caffe Viale, snuggled in an old shelter, complete with transit maps, original signage and icons, takes adaptive re-use to a new level. And it might have all started with a walk around downtown Portland back in 2004.
The coffeeshop kept all of the architectural elements of the old shelters.
Tad Savinar was working for ZGF Architects at the time and was an urban design consultant for TriMet. While strolling around downtown along the mall during a series of walks, Savinar, also a trained visual artist, was taking inventory of the “existing conditions” of storefronts, such as badly placed awnings, garbage cans in front of storefronts, and anything beyond that. He broke down his walks into 20-foot segments, examining the mall as more of a “human experience.” And then he started to notice the lack of important services – like coffee. Would a coffee shop be successful if it was strategically placed directly on the street?
Definition of adaptive re-use.
“I knew that all of these shelters were eventually going to come out and I started wondering about things along the mall that could be improved. Storefronts could be improved, lighting could be improved. All kinds of ideas. And one of them was the potential of rehabbing a bus shelter,” he says.
A study found – believe it or not – there was a dearth of coffee service in the area. Savinar then created a diagram of the number of office workers adjacent to the potential coffee spot and discovered there was a gap in service. He then approached Caffe Viale owners – who still have a brick and mortar location nearby – and they were game in setting up shop in the shelter. Money was accessed through the Portland Development Commission’s Storefront Improvement Program who then matched money from the business, as well as money kicked in from TriMet.
Old signage still exists on the exterior.
Certainly, new construction had to be done, including the addition of plumbing for water lines, electricity and waste lines, but the final product has proven to be a successful re-purposed project that adds life on the street, helps keep some of Portland’s post-mid-century heritage alive. The space also illustrates there are dual purposes and creative ways to re-use and re-adapt unwanted and (mostly) unloved structures, including a bus shelter.
The old shelter has new life as a thriving coffee shop.
Nowadays, there are just a few more coffee places to choose from, but the coffee kiosk still does brisk business during weekday mornings catering to bleary-eyed commuters in need of caffeine before work. Plus, it’s a kick to peep inside the kiosk and see a part of Portland’s transit history still alive while waiting for your coffee.
“It’s a wonderful addition onto the streetscape,” says Hastings. “It livens the presence of the mall and does a great job of reinterpreting the original mall shelter.”
We love the design. It uses an odd corner space creatively in a modern way, with a vibe towards the distance past but not too retro. It reminds us of something we’ve seen. Hmmmmm. Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s this (from the Centennial Exposition in 1959):
Deliberate nod to the ultra-modern architecture on display at the Centennial Exposition? Maybe. Probably not. Regardless, still cool. And it goes way beyond the condo bunker-look that’s been mowing down Portland’s neighborhoods.