In last Friday’s Oregonian, critic Randy Gragg looked at the former Portland Oregon Visitors Information Center at Waterfront Park, which has in recent years been a restaurant space.
The building sits beside the Hawthorne Bridge, and I’ve often wondered about it while passing the structure. It has a very prominent position as essentially the only building that’s smack-dab in the middle of Waterfront Park. That’s because it was constructed before the park itself, and was originally situated between Harbor Drive and Southwest Front Street.
The building (pictured here in a 1949 shot by Richard Brown I scanned from the paper after finding nothing online) might have been torn down before now if not for the fact that it’s a unique public building of historic midcentury-modern vintage that was designed by one of the city’s top architects of that period: John Yeon.
As recently as the Parks Bureau’s master planning for Waterfront Park in 2002, the agency (which owns the building) reaffirmed that the space should continue to be a restaurant. But now that Multnomah County is planning a courthouse next door, cutting off the building’s most direct connection across Naito Parkway from the rest of down.
One other possibility floated in Randy’s piece is for some kind of bicycle repair facility with storage and showers for cyclists to use.
Personally, I’m not crazy about either a restaurant or a bicycle facility. The Visitors Information Center building was essentially built to be a kind of museum, a gathering place to learn about the city. Why not make it that again? But instead of handing out brochures like a traditional tourist information center, you could instead make it some kind of real showcase of Portland: anything from Nike shoes to old-growth forests to rock bands. And along the way, you could restore the building to something much closer resembling Yeon’s original design.
Before his death, Yeon actually said he thought the POVIC should be torn down, but a lot of others disagree, and so do I. However, this building has a been a gem in the rough way too long.
How about some kind of public-private partnership to restore this once very good, currently very dreary and potentially great future building? Maybe Parks retains ownership but a private-sector community fundraising effort from a combination of businesses, nonprofit philanthropic organizations and individuals makes it happen? Instead of buying a brick like people did at Pioneer Courthouse Square, you could buy a glass panel.
Meanwhile, what are some other uses the rest of you reading this could imagine for this building? What can realistically be done to transform Yeon’s original into not just reborn architecture but also reborn purpose?