This morning, it being the Monday after a long holiday weekend, instead of working I decided to tackle the giant pile of assorted papers, printouts, brochures, and other crap threatening to take over my desk. In so doing, I found three items related to local architecture which gave me pause.
First there was a pair of photocopied Oregon Historical Society photos of the St. Francis Hotel, the four story white brick building that stood at Southwest 11th Avenue and Main Street downtown before it was demolished in 2002. A new building of similar scale stands there now, designed by GBD Architects, and it seems nice enough - a fabric building. But back when the original St. Francis was still around, I wrote a Willamette Week article about it and had a special passion for it. The St. Francis was a nice old piece of the urban fabric, nothing exceptional like the similarly-fated Rosefriend Apartments but nevertheless attractive.
Of extra importance, though, was Gus Van Sant's classic movie Drugstore Cowboy having been filmed there. The St. Francis serves as the halfway house where Matt Dillon goes clean and William S. Burroughs aspires to do the opposite. There are a few other great Portland locations in that movie, incidentally, such as the Lovejoy Columns (in their original location beneath the now-replaced Lovejoy Bridge ramp) and the old drugstore at NW 21st and Glisan.
My winter cleanup also yielded a printed version of a powerpoint presentation from seminar I attended in New York three years ago about daylighting (the use of natural light to supplement or replace electric light by optimum window placement and other means). The hosts were Joel Loveland and G.Z. "Charlie" Brown, who head the Seattle and Portland BetterBricks daylighting/integrated design labs and also teach at UW and UO, respectively. At the time I was writing a New York Times article about daylighting. I also traveled to the Lighting Research Center in Rensselear, New York to learn about research into how natural light affects our biology and psychology. I've never thought about windows and natural light the same. You couldn't pay me enough to work in a basement or any other windowless room.
Finally I found a map of Portland designating seven of the Portland Development Commission's urban renewal areas: Downtown Waterfront, South Park Blocks, River District, Interstate, Oregon Convention Center, Central Eastside, and North Macadam. (Obviously Lents and the Airport renewal areas are missing.) Obviously these have not been a good couple of years for PDC on many fronts, from lawsuits to management to second-guessing on projects. But looking at the map with its individually color-coded renewal areas, my mind immediately began to fill in PDC related projects that exist there. I mean, after a while it really adds up. At the same time, I also imagined on the map much architecture and infrastructure that is yet to happen or now never will. One thing I think that has really hurt PDC is having a mayor like Vera Katz taking a strong leadership role with individual projects, especially in less well-to-do areas like Martin Luther King Boulevard. It's not too late for Tom Potter, and I like what he's trying to do with this big Vision PDX project, but he's at least late in showing that kind of line-item leadership.
What do these three miscellaneous bits of detritus from a writer's desk have in common? Well, the daylighting guide and the map to me are filled with possibility, and the St. Francis photos a relic of something lost. Two out of three isn't bad, but naturally it's that third item, the lost building, that registers most.